Once again I find myself at odds for a title. I promise I’ll try to post something more interesting than game reviews soon. This will make Humble Bundle Review #6, VVVVVV by Terry Cavanagh, whose website and blog I shall be trawling at once when I’ve written this review – trawling like a ravenous pigeon searching for pastry crumbs on a busy high street pavement, I might add.
Wherein I tremble on the verge of typing every v I happen to require five more times than is necessary.
In VVVVVV you play the captain of a spacecraft which recently crash landed in the proximity of an abandoned research facility of some sort. Your crew was scattered across the area by a malfunctioning teleporter when they tried to escape as the ship went down, and it is your task in the game to track them all down so that you can repair your ship, and leave. To do so you must skillfully employ your talents of moving left, right, and inverting gravity to traverse a large, and frankly obscure environment, overcoming various passive-agressive obstacles as you go.
I’m never thrilled by the concept of manipulating gravity when I see it touted as the premise for a (usually indie) game. I’ve written this paragraph five times now and this is the first time I’ve not been reduced to foamy, frothy ranting. However, VVVVVV pulls it off very nicely indeed. Rather than use gravity inversion as a gimmick and excuse to make an otherwise sub-par game because you’ve come up with some spec of innovation, VVVVVV has reduced its mechanics to the point at which gravity inversion is pretty much all that’s left, then really polished itself up and built on this concept to become a great success.
Excellent level design is key to this success. Since there is no jump button, and you can only invert gravity when you’re standing on solid ground, level design really has to be spot on. It is, and there are some interesting ideas that have come from this limitation. Good examples of this are the small number of occasions on which the player is required to invert gravity and navigate to the end of a long tunnel of spikes, only to stand on the opposite ceiling and do the same again to make it over what would otherwise be a small jump. Spikes, and pretty much anything else, stationary or mobile, that is drawn in a different colour to the room you’re in will kill you, and send you back to the last checkpoint you passed. This is another area in which the level design pays off. Checkpoints are so frequent that you won’t find yourself frustrated by having to redo previous obstacles in order to get back to the one you’re struggling on. You’ll still likely get frustrated on the later levels mind, but this is tempered by the early introduction of harder, optional routes along which lie Shiny Trinkets.
There are twenty trinkets all in all, and you’ll be able to go back and get any you miss at any point in the game, so there’s no stress there. I’d advise you to get them as you go, however, as they help to train you and give you an idea of the things to come. I don’t usually bother with collectible items in games, and some of these were really hard to get hold of, but I figured there might be something in it for me, enjoyed the challenge, and got them all in the end. A particularly difficult one of these can be found in one of the aforementioned spiked-tunnel obstacles. The tunnel I had to navigate to get the screenshot below was one of the most sadistic things I think anyone has legally done to a large audience since Justin Bieber was signed, and I almost had tears streaming down my face when I finally succeeded.
Graphics in VVVVVV are a simple and charming affair. I won’t describe them – why would I when there are screenshots all over the place. Colours are bright and environments are varied enough to be interesting and even sort of atmospheric. Coupled with the amazing soundtrack by Souleye, which I’m listening to now for the second time in a row, the game has an awesome aesthetic that would make any Modern Wall of Duty, or AAAAAA title go and cry in the corner until its next iteration’s release. The soundtrack just ended again, but I’m up for another play-through yet! One noteworthy feature, before I move on, is the Analogue mode, a filter which simulates a bad analogue connection and can be seen (minus bizarre frame falling) in all but one of these screenshots. I really enjoyed playing with analogue mode on, but I’m afraid I had to disable it for the last two shiny trinkets, as it is rather distracting.
I really hate you for some of those trinkets Terry Cavanagh, even though I actually had a lot of fun through my clenched teeth. It’s about time I brought this overlong review to a close. VVVVVV is a rather short game, so I had intended to write it a very short review. For all its shortness though, this is one of the most fun modern platformers I’ve played in a long while – managing to be both innovative and enjoyable to the extreme.I guess the quality, and the fact that I felt caught sort by the end of the game were what left me enough motivation to go and get the remaining shiny trinkets though, and even though this was an enjoyable experience, I think it might have dragged if it was even twice it’s length.
In summary, VVVVVV is a top-notch game that you should play regardless of your apprehensions. It’s not going to eat up a ton of your time, and if you’re really troubled by some of the challenges involved, there are built-in aids for disabled gamers. Graphics, sound, and story are charming, but it’s the gameplay that shines.