Wave Wave: fiendishly difficult, fiendishly great

iOS title Wave Wave joins the hallowed ranks of those games that are just so incredibly difficult that you can't help but play them. How does that even work?

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

iOS title Wave Wave joins the hallowed ranks of those games that are just so incredibly difficult that you can't help but play them. How does that even work?

(Credit: Thomas Janson)

Dong Nguyen's Flappy Bird wasn't a sophisticated game in terms of looks, but on a gameplay level, it was very clever indeed. It managed to tap into that sweet spot between excruciatingly difficult and utterly unplayable with an absolutely bare-bones gameplay interface. In that respect, it ranks alongside the likes of Terry Cavanagh's Super Hexagon (indeed, Cavanagh himself played tribute to the game).

That sweet spot has now been reached by a new game: Wave Wave, by Melbourne-based indie developer Thomas Janson. Janson calls his creation "a savage arcade game", an assessment we find entirely accurate: it is savage, and we can't stop playing.

The game employs a very minimal interface, and the mechanic is simple: you control a black line, weaving in between black triangles, like uneven teeth arrayed along a track. The line moves in two angled directions, and you hold down on the screen with a finger to change its trajectory. You can steer outside the track, but nothing in this game is your friend: the triangles, which seem to disappear at the edges of the track, extend invisibly out, which means you can still crash into them. Additionally, you rush along at a fantastic pace — and the entire track will randomly warp and rotate, keeping you from getting comfortable, ever.

There is a power-up that slows movement right down for a few seconds, but even that doesn't necessarily make things easier, as it can throw you off your rhythm quite abruptly, and each of the three sub-modes within Infinity mode — Random, Rotator and Repeater — presents a different challenge. Random is just, well, random; Rotator rotates the track continuously; and Repeater tests you on how often you can repeat the same section of track without crashing. All of these levels are timed, so you're constantly trying to beat yourself — and they can be played in split-screen mode against another player, too (although we recommend you stick to the iPad for that one).

Alternately, you can play the more straightforward levels, each of which has a finish line and isn't nearly so likely to make your head spin when you put the game down.

In Galaxy mode, you have to avoid objects scattered along the track. In this mode, you can enter a sort of "hyperspace" by tapping rapidly that increases your score somehow, but is difficult to maintain. All tracks are randomly generated, but there are still difficulty levels, from "tough" all the way through to one so insane it doesn't even have a name (if you get good enough to unlock it, let us know).

It's all packaged up in some very slick visuals: the line and triangles are black, arrayed across geometrically patterned, brightly coloured tracks — and a frenetic electronic soundtrack reminiscent of chiptune keeps up the pulsing ambience.

All in all, claims of savagery notwithstanding — or perhaps even because of them — Wave Wave is an excellent piece of arcade game design, and will test your hand-eye coordination, patience and skill to the ultimate limits.

It's available now from the iTunes app store for AU$2.99, with an Android version coming soon.