VVVVVV (pronounced vee-vee-vee-vee-vee-vee) is one of those games that perfectly balances its many aspects. It’s challenging without being overly difficult, it’s story is intriguing without being overbearing, and it’s retro style graphics and music strike a chord between old and new school gamers. I can’t definitively say it’s “the perfect game”, but it comes damn close.
VVVVVV puts you in the shoes of Captain Viridian, whose ship has been stranded in an another dimension due to some form of “dimensional interference”. Following the crash, Viridian discovers that his crew is missing, and he takes it upon himself to find his missing comrades. Like most indie games, VVVVVV is light on plot, but it doesn’t detract from the experience in any way. The occasional dialogue and information that is gathered from computer terminals helps to fill in the background story and creates a tone of mystery and exhilaration that lasts throughout the game’s campaign.
What sets VVVVVV apart from the hundreds of other indie platformers is the way jumping is (or how it isn’t) handled. Throughout the game, players will have to use Viridian’s (sole) ability to invert gravity to navigate the environment. Granted, the gravity-flipping mechanic isn’t something new (NES fans might remember Metal Storm), but it works so well due to the game’s perfect design. The game is very non-linear, allowing you to tackle the expansive world in whatever order you see fit, and each new section introduces a level mechanic that you will be forced to “master”, before you move onto another area (not unlike Braid). The game never relies on the same ideas for too long; instead, you will be dealing with trampolines, auto-scrolling environments, moving walkways, and deteriorating platforms all within a short period of time. Similar to the gravity-flipping, these mechanics aren’t completely original, but when they are combined with fantastic level design and great pacing, everything comes together to make a truly special game, that is very, very replayable (Portal anyone?).
Terry Cavanagh (the game’s developer) utilizes VVVVVV’s gravity flipping mechanic quite well; granted, he’s made a game that is very difficult, but it never feels cheap or punishing. Don’t get me wrong, you will die a lot, but the game features a very generous checkpoint system, and with instant respawns, you won’t have to backtrack more than a few seconds to get back to where you were. Very similar to Super Meat Boy or Flywrench, VVVVVV understands exactly how difficult it is, and strikes a balance between challenging platforming and the payoff of beating a level. Graphically, the game is meant to resemble a Commodore 64 game, specifically Jet Set Willy, with each room/screen having its own name, and the trinkets serving as collectibles. Despite the retro design, the game maintains a very clean aesthetic, and looks very fluid in motion. The soundtrack is entirely chiptune, and is probably one of the best video game soundtracks of the last decade. The tunes are infectious, and they have a sense of wonder to them, which matches the pacing of the game. Some highlights include “Pushing Onwards,” “Potential for Anything,” and “Passion for Exploring.” You can looks up the soundtrack (titled PPPPPP) on YouTube, or you can check it out on the Souleye’s (the composer) website. Furthermore, 3 tracks from the game are available for download on the Rock Band Network.
If you’re into indie games, or if you’ve checked out my Indie Games of Yesteryear article, you probably know that VVVVVV was released on the PC back in early 2010. The 3DS eShop version was ported by NICALiS, whose previous work includes the WiiWare and PC ports of Cave Story. The experience translates well onto the 3DS’ handheld, with the smooth controls and fluid motion kept intact. One useful addition is the ‘real-time’ map, which shows Captain Viridian’s position on the bottom touch screen; on the PC, the map was only accessible by pausing the game. As expected, the game makes use of the 3DS’ 3D capabilities. Despite the game being strictly 2D, the effect is pulled off quite nicely, and is used to distinguish the fore and backgrounds from each other. In July 2011, VVVVVV 2.0 launched on PC, Mac, and Linux, and added a level editor and custom levels, with level designs by famous video game developers such as Minecraft creator Notch. While the level packs (and some new ones) have made it onto the 3DS, the level editor is completely absent. NICALiS has stated that a level editor, leaderboards, and more could come in a future update, but it would depend on how well the game is received by players. Considering there is a wealth of new levels for players to enjoy on the PC/Mac/Linux versions, its sad to see them absent on the 3DS version, especially since it costs more on the handheld ($5 vs. $8).
While it lacks a level editor, and some might be put off by the short campaign (you can probably finish in 2-3 hours, but there are unlockable modes and 20 trinkets to find), I really can’t recommend VVVVVV enough. It is one of the best platformers I have every played, and is one of the games that truly legitimizes independent game development. If you don’t have a 3DS, or you’re a stingy bastard, pick it up on Steam, which in all honesty is the definitive version.
Editor’s Note: While I won’t give a perfect score to the 3DS port, which lacks a level editor and importer, I would, without a doubt, give a 10/10 to the PC/Mac/Linux versions, as they are the definitive versions.
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