Rhythm games are all about following a set of strict patterns, but Hextech Mayhem understands how fun it can be to break the rules.
Hextech Mayhem: A League of Legends Story is one of the first two Riot Forge initiatives — games designed by indie studios set inside the League of Legends universe. Unlike the story-heavy, long-form RPG Ruined King: A League of Legends Story (which surprise released on the same day), Hextech Mayhem is a short and relatively simple rhythm game. But there is depth below the surface. Hextech Mayhem doesn’t just reward players who follow its prompts judiciously. The real meat of Hextech Mayhem, and what makes it special, is the improvisation it inspires.
Through over 30 levels and three boss fights, I control Ziggs — a fluffy explosives expert — in an auto-running, left-to-right side-scrolling platformer. But instead of just jumping to avoid obstacles, Hextech Mayhem is also a music game. There are visible prompts strewn throughout each level, and I need to hit the corresponding button in time with the beat. Green prompts note where I need to time Ziggs’ jumps, white dropping prompts tell me to send him immediately back to the ground, and bomb prompts tell me to throw one of Ziggs’ unlimited supplies of bombs. It’s like playing a Mario game where you have to carefully jump to the rhythm.
When you’re playing well, Hextech Mayhem’s variety of sound effects meld into the music to create a perfect harmony. The buildings in the background dance in-sync to the music, and some sweet guitar fades in when I’ve hit several prompts in a row without missing. In its best moments, it’s impossible for me not to bob my head along to the music, working as a kind of self-metronome to keep me in the groove.
But while Hextech Mayhem is fun, cute, and groovy when I’m just following instructions, it doesn’t punish me for going off script. Each mission has several sections that encourage me to play to the music how I see fit, jamming on buttons to send Ziggs flying without ruining my combo. Combined with the visible prompts, these empty spaces let me enhance the music with my own creativity. There are also invisible prompts during this section, and if timed well, they allow me to pick up collectibles — but they’re in no way necessary to hit.
These invisible prompts are hidden inside the beats of the music and take me onto new paths if I can hit them. In the breaks between visible prompts, a metal box on the ground might suggest I jump along with the music, whereas a wayward vent means I should slam Ziggs into the ground rather than let him fall naturally. These hints are hard to see at first, but they’re so tied to the music that I began noticing them after only a few levels.
All the while, I’m increasing something called Mayhem — a stat that tracks how many guards, boxes, vents, walls, and balloons I destroyed on my way to the finish line. Hitting 100% of the visible prompts is a great way to get a good score, but great scores require a high Mayhem level as well, asking score chasers to experiment and find all the invisible prompts.
As someone who doesn’t often play music or rhythm games, my improvisation and effort to discover invisible notes did tend to get me in trouble. But having the freedom to experiment and play alongside the music helped me get more in-tune with the songs and improve as a player. It’s easy to imagine fans who really invest themselves in Hextech Mayhem creating some incredible routes through each level — even beyond the invisible inflections — enhancing the music with their own explosive rhythm, and then realigning themselves in time for the next prompt. For those of us who can’t do that on our own, finishing the game unlocks a mode that shows a path to 100% Mayhem, giving a lot more guidance by filling the empty spaces with visible prompts.
Although Hextech Mayhem stands strongly on its own merits, it’s also riffing off the League of Legends universe. Hextech Mayhem follows Ziggs, an explosives expert intent on blowing up the glamorous city of Piltover, with the scientist Heimerdinger acting as his foil. League players like myself are already deeply familiar with this pair, but the cutscenes and pre-mission dialogue do a nice enough job of selling these characters to the uninitiated — they’re like Cogsworth and Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast, if Lumiere had a penchant for pyromancy instead of dine-in entertainment.
In all of Riot’s games, the focus is on groups of these heroes acting in dynamic multiplayer modes — be it as chess pieces, cards, or the regular controllable Champions. But Hextech Mayhem is hyper-focused on a single spot in the universe and a single relationship, offering a new perspective entirely. There’s not a lot of lore or story, but Ziggs and Heimer’s big, familiar personalities shine through the dialogue, the increasingly ridiculous mechs they both create, and the explosions all around them, living up to the “League of Legends Story” subtitle in a satisfying way for longtime fans.
Hextech Mayhem is a lot of things in a small package: It’s a music game with an excellent soundtrack, a League of Legends game that doesn’t punish players not-in-the-know, and a rhythm game that lets you color outside the lines to find new routes to pursue. But it’s that last part, the freedom to jump around to your own beat just in time to fall back in line, that will keep it in my memory.
It’s rare that a single feature adds both accessibility and depth, but Hextech Mayhem stands out as a unique title capable of generating creativity on what otherwise seems like a linear path.
Hextech Mayhem: A League of Legends Story was released on Nov. 16 on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC. The game was reviewed through Epic Games Store using a press account provided by Epic Games and on Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Riot Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.