Sometimes a game just grabs you in every conceivable way. The gameplay is fun and challenging. The sound is perfectly suited to the setting. The atmosphere is engrossing. It is the epitome of a game that you can pick up and play for a few minutes or sink hours into to try and master the more difficult aspects of it. To be honest, this has been on my to-do list for awhile, but because I first played the game on the 3DS, I felt limited in the ways I could share screenshots and convey just what I wanted to in this review. Finally, I picked it up on Steam, found everything just as satisfying, and got to writing. Today, I’ll be talking about a game that is among my modern favorites, a game that reignites that gamer spark within me, that sticks with me as fondly as some of my childhood favorites. Developed by Terry Cavanagh, today’s game is VVVVVV.
VVVVVV is a platformer/puzzle game with a very simple mechanic: press the button to flip. That’s it. You move left and right and press the action button to flip upside-down and (hopefully) land on the ceiling. Along the way you’ll run into spikes, objects and gravity-shifting widgets that will add challenge and variety to your quest, throwing you back to the last checkpoint if you don’t time your flips just right. Difficulty escalates as the story progresses, however the 3DS version provides many other side-games in which you can try out some new themes and tricks, all with varying degrees of difficulty, ensuring that whenever you pick up the game you can find something that will suit your mood. No-Death Mode a little too much for you? Maybe a simpler map with only nine screens will scratch that gaming itch for the time being. The PC version includes access to customized maps that will provide endless variety (or perhaps just frustration, but that’s how it goes with user-generated content). There’s practically no end to the fun to be had with this game!
The story to VVVVVV is a simple one. While traveling in their spaceship, Captain Viridian and his crew find themselves dragged into a spacial anomaly and sent to different locations by their malfunctioning teleportation device. Separated from his ship and his friends, Viridian sets out to rescue everyone and return to their proper course, and maybe pick up some trinkets along the way. The games tutorial stage is more straightforward, but the game soon expands so that you can explore the entire map and navigate the dimensional maze as you see fit. Perhaps you’re finding the four-screens of spiked tunnels too difficult right now. How about running over to the room with destructible floors instead?
VVVVVV is a retro-styled game with blocky pixel protagonists and chiptune soundtrack to match. As I have discussed in the past, this sort of thematic decision is best implemented when the developers use it as a vehicle for their vision and not simply as an excuse for an easier aesthetic to attain. Cavanagh was not interested in copping out—retro styling is the beating heart of this game. Everything is nostalgic, yet new—an accomplishment that’s not impossible but often falls flat. In VVVVVV, the synthetic beats and brightly contrasting graphics take the flat and make them come to life, immersing the player in its wacky little world.
It cannot be overstated how much the soundtrack of this game truly completes it. While some games seem to have little coherence between aesthetic and soundtrack, Magnus Pålsson (aka SoulEye) really embraces the blips, boops and synthetic shifts of chiptune music and makes something great. The fast-paced electronica constantly motivates you into action, compelling you to take risks and make mistakes that will ultimately push you to finding new and exciting ways to overcome a puzzle. That is, if you don’t just stand in place for awhile and get lost in the soundtrack itself—the music pairs up with this game so well that listening to it is likely to draw up memories of past playthroughs and add meaning to experiences in future ones.
VVVVVV is, in my view, near flawless in its execution. It pulls you into its puzzles and boils down the concept of platforming to such a basic level that you’re able to start playing at any skill level. It’s a great example of “easy to learn, difficult to master”. It’s hard for me to go on without belaboring the points I’ve already made, so I’ll end on this statement. If you haven’t played VVVVVV yet, you should definitely do so. Buy the game, buy the soundtrack, tell your friends, check out the level editors online, and ultimately, just sit back and enjoy.