Gravity flipping intergalactic platformer and death by spike simulator VVVVVV has already resulted in heavy casualties at Kotaku. My first playthrough of the game ended with my character dying more than 900 times.
Such is the torment of VVVVVV, an old-school platformer from developer Terry Cavanagh featuring simple controls and a smartly explored mechanic. Unlike other platformers, there's no jump button, only an option to control the direction of gravitational pull so that the player may fall upward or downward.
Assuming the role of a smiling spaceman searching for the missing members of his ship's crew, VVVVVV is as much puzzle game as it is reflex (and patience) testing platformer, a mini-Metroid-like adventure full of instant deaths by spike. Does that sound fun to you?
Every Room A Puzzle: Unlike Metroid, VVVVVV is less about exploration on a macro scale than it is on a micro one. Nearly every room features some new exploration of the play-with-gravity, avoid-the-spikes mechanic. There's a surprising amount of variation throughout, when conveyor belts, bounce pads and killer drones are thrown into the mix, ensuring that VVVVVV never feels like its designer failed to explore the gameplay possibilities.
Up To 8 Colors On Screen At Once: Simple in presentation though it may be, VVVVVV's lo-fi, Commodore 64 caliber graphics are lovely in their minimalism. Sure, there are dazzling effects like scrolling backgrounds and not a hint of flickering, but VVVVVV does not overstep its graphical bounds with excessive visual tricks. Magnus Pålsson's fantastic chippy pop soundtrack is probably worth owning (or at least VVVVVV's jukebox mode is worth unlocking).
Sometimes Frustrating Every Few Seconds: Cavanagh was generous with the checkpoints, but VVVVVV can still be incredibly frustrating, partly due to keyboard-based controls and frequent dying. It's not particularly hard (unless you're trying not to die 900-plus times) as careful thought and occasional luck will overcome any obstacle, but the game's trial and error moments can seriously test one's patience.
VVVVVV is a fantastic little indie game that's worth experiencing for the well rounded exploration of its relatively simple gameplay mechanic, its incredibly smart level design and spectacular retro audio-visual presentation. The game is peppered with witty writing and an apparent attention to detail, making, at the very least, the game's demo a must-play.
If VVVVVV has one unfortunate barrier beyond the old-school difficulty, it's the price. At $15 USD, some may balk at the two hours worth of gameplay that a single playthrough will warrant. While there's plenty to see and do after blazing through the game's core campaign, the steeper than expected asking price will probably turn some off. (But surely you've paid $60 for an eight hour game, right?)
But for the gamer who has had his or her sensibilities offended by, say Mega Man 10's "easy mode," VVVVVV is for them.
VVVVVV was developed by Terry Cavanagh, published by distractionware and released on Windows and Mac PCs on January 10. Retails for $15.00 USD and can be purchased online. A copy of the game was given to us by the developer for reviewing purposes. Played main single player game to completion, tested unlockable bonus modes. Died 904 times, obtained ten shiny trinkets and got at least two of the jokes.
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