On the face of it, VVVVVV is a charming retro looking game. Then you play it and swear profusely; this suprisingly is part of the joy. The first paid for outing by Terry Cavanagh (best known previously for the excellent Don’t Look Back) ˙ɟo ǝlqɐdɐɔ ǝɹǝʍ noʎ ʍouʞ ʇ,upıp noʎ llıʞs ɥʇıʍ sǝlzznd ɥsıpuǝɟ ɟo sǝıɹǝs ɐ ɥƃnoɹɥʇ ƃuıddılɟ noʎ sǝǝs ʌʌʌʌʌʌ
Your aim is to explore and manuver yourself through different sections of the ship to find your five missing crew members. The only controls are left, right and a vertical flip, and with so few options you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would soon become boring. It doesn’t, rather it goes from strength to strength introducing new challenges and enviroments that really do put your abilities to the test. You will die, many, many many times in this game. Often you’ll be flung into a new room and die. Fret not though, as here there are no lives to be cheaply snatched away and you’ll be reset instantaneously.
This process of death is a key component in learning what you have to do, often showing you what is required simply and quickly. The moments you swear are not at the game, but rather at yourself for your clumsy man paw fingers ruining the perfect plan you had in your mind. It’s an oddly pleasing sensation to not feel I unfairly failed, at no point becoming frustrating. Even when I was dying 30 times in a row I wasn’t apopoleptic with rage, rather it made those moments of vindication all the sweeter and I revelled in the challenge presented.
The key to playing VVVVVV is to get into an almost Zen mindset, relying on pure muscle memory and incredibly quick timing judgement to advance. There’d be moments where after seeing my little smiley ship captain ping back and forth insanely fast through miniscule openings I’d be thinking “Holy bejesuz, did I just do that?” Yes. Yes I did. I’ll admit I’m not often a fan of punishing gameplay, preferring to by mollycoddled to some degree so I’m not overwhelmed. For perhaps the first time I’ve become a fan of high difficulty thanks to VVVVVV, charmed by not just how it plays but how it looks.
One thing that helps you remain calm in VVVVVV is the cutesy and retro graphics. Your little avatar the ship’s captain always has a cheery little grin on his face, up till he dies when it turns into a sad frowny face. Unless you’re a heartless monster (like Craig) it’s impossible to stay mad at the little guy. Elsewhere subtle shifts in the themes and colours between sections are effective and keep the scenes viscerally interesting. One thing I really appreciated is that for every single room at the bottom of the screen are small text quips; sometimes containing clues to the challenge others just rewarding or teasing you the player.
Despite having many games to play at the moment, I keep returning to VVVVVV. Even after completing it once and having a rough idea of what’s ahead I enjoy proving to myself it was more than luck that got me through. For those of an insane disposition there’s the suicidal option of an iron man mode, which I will never ever attempt but look foward to seeing the youtube video of the person who makes it happen. Otherwise there’s more sane variations for the casual player dipping in and out with a time trial and flip mode to grit your performance on.
This is a brilliant little title then that’ll last around 2-4 hours with added replayability. That may seem short, but Portal was of a similar length and just as enjoyable. The only things I can find at fault with it are checkpoints sometimes requiring you to cross a screen each time you die to get back to where you were and feeling a little lost trying to find where the next level begins. For the price of £10 it is a no-brain needed suggestion to go buy it right now and support Terry in making great games like this. Hopefully he’ll give his next game a more journo friendly title, as giving an all inital game six Vs for us to pun off is a shit. I’m not one to shy from a challenge, so I’ll give it a shot – Veni, Vidi, Velcro, Vici, Vamoosi. Vale!