VVVVVV is a modern 8-bit game by Terry Cavanagh. He has gathered clout with his other games – Pathways and Self- Destruct, to name a few – but his new platformer looks to cement his acclamation in the indie community.
Combining inspirations from Metroid, Metal Storm, and frustratingly hard NES titles (Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man), VVVVVV mixes styles from the past to create a quick and entertaining dimensional romp.
Cavanagh makes his goals apparent in the beginning. The 8-bit sprites, simple menus, and one button layout streamline the experience and put VVVVVV‘s gameplay in the spotlight. He takes liberties with psychedelic colors and backgrounds, and an outstanding score by Magnus Palsson, but his focus on challenge through brutal platforming puzzles remains consistent.
The small but open world is filled with voids, spikes, and strange enemies; players bypass these hazards by reversing their personal gravity. Pressing spacebar, or any other button assigned to do the same job, flips the hero onto the ceiling or the floor. It’s been done before, but Cavanagh’s clever level designs generate exciting platforming, and stretches the mechanic to the limit.
He separates the map into sections, each square area represented by a room with a unique name. The names relate to content in the room, or insight into the developer’s journey. “In Single Bound” references Superman’s abilities as you jump over a large “building”, and another (pictured below) says, “Do I have to name every room?” The names are exceptionally clever, and offer levity when the game is at its toughest. It motivates exploration, not by size or atmosphere, but a desire to read all of the titles and conquer all of the puzzles.
While VVVVVV is inspired by Metroid and Metal Storm, it isn’t anything like them. The gravity mechanic is given new life through disappearing platforms, escort sections, and strange lines that reverse gravity mid-flight. A particularly nasty section requires you to navigate through a moving room called the tower. Spikes on the bottom of the screen pursue the hero, while spikes on the top of the screen keep you from moving too quickly. It’s a battle of timing, placement, and memorization that rivals the later ship levels in Super Mario Brothers 3.
It can be incredibly challenging, but it’s alleviated with a plethora of checkpoints. There is a checkpoint in almost every room, forcing the player to waste less than ten seconds when he dies. This puts a larger focus on the difficulty of the puzzle, rather than a test of endurance. It’s easier to endure and enjoy a puzzle or platforming experience when a player is not being punished with ten minute walks, or forced to replay entire levels.
For those of you that do like a challenge, the game offers a multitude of modes that satiate masochists. There are time attacks, and a no-death mode that forces a game over screen once the player dies. You can earn these through playing the game, or they can be conveniently unlocked through the menus in the beginning.
Cavanagh has also done something completely different with an accessibility option. Gamers can take certain portions of the game and switch them on or off to suit their needs. If a gamer can’t handle the backgrounds, flip them off. If a gamer has a mental or physical disability that hinders their capabilities to play the game, they can slow the game down. It’s wonderful step to using accessibility the correct way, and not making the game too easy from the start.
VVVVVV‘s one, and substantial, sin is its criminal length. The game is priced at $15, and it’s only 3-4 hours long for completion – including collectibles. There are extra modes, like time attacks and invincibility, but it’s not enough to warrant the price tag.
If you want, you could unlock everything from the get-go and forgo any searching at all. This is a benefit because it gives you access to the, and this can’t be stressed enough, phenomenal soundtrack. Magnus Palsson created a chip soundtrack masterpiece that rivals established series like Mega Man and Castlevania.
It’s hard to enjoy a game that kills you 1056 times, yet VVVVVV rejects that idea with it’s simple gameplay, plentiful checkpoints, and fantastic music. It punishes and tricks you, but the entire time, like the perpetually optimistic hero, you will be grinning – even if your wallet isn’t.
The 8-bit graphics cater to VVVVVV's inspirations. It's colorful, funny, and an incredible effort by one developer.
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The "flipping" mechanic is given a fresh pair of legs with clever design and challenging puzzles.
Magnus Palsson's soundtrack is a f#*%(*^ revelation.
Extra modes may bring core gamers back, but the initial experience will be enough for most players.
VVVVVV offers clever platforming, a superb soundtrack, and challenging gameplay. But it's extremely short, and the $15 price tag is asking a bit too much.