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VVVVVV’s Old-School Chiptunes Are Flippin' Fantastic

Image: Nicalis / Terry Cavanagh / Kotaku
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Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s new, daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. VVVVVV was one of the top indie games of 2010, and its tremendous soundtrack played no small part in elevating the already-great material.

VVVVVV (longplay / VGMdb) is hard to pronounce, but easy to play: You walk around and press a button to flip gravity and that’s about it. In theory. The fiendish level designs in Terry Cavanagh’s breakthrough ZX Spectrum-inspired platformer will have their say, too. Oh, will they ever.

And goodness if the soundtrack by Magnus “SoulEye” Pålsson (Bandcamp) isn’t phenomenal, a 34-minute demonstration of latter-day chiptune mastery that went down as an instant classic.

Let’s listen:

borjitaea (YouTube)

It’s so good throughout. But! I want to suggest that two tracks in particular are superlative, and are what spring to mind when VVVVVV comes up. Or comes down. Or comes back up again.

Pushing Onwards” is the game’s theme song, at least in my head. It carefully builds up over the course of two minutes, little sub melodies swirling in and out in playful improvisations. Is 1:45 the climax? Nope, still building. Only, finally, at 2:25 does the tide come crashing in, take a little rest, and then rise up one more time to play us out as the goosebumps slowly subside.

Second is “Positive Force,” which takes the climactic theme from “Pushing Onwards” and almost immediately stomps the gas pedal to spin us through yet more invigorating variations of the first song’s electric chiptune trills.

The rest of the album’s strong too but that’s the heart of it, to me.

In a blog post, Pålsson said, “I wanted to make uptempo happy songs that would ingrain themselves into your minds whether you want to or not, hopefully so much so that you’d go humming on them when not playing, and making you want to come back to the game even more.”

Aw, he sounds like a positive force himself. And mission accomplished: Since writing this I’m feeling the urge to replay the game... 3DS, I’m thinkin’.

If you need more where that came from (Sweden, I guess), SoulEye collaborated on the metal-remix album MMMMMM (playlist / Bandcamp) with FamilyJules7x and also presided over PPPPPPowerup! (playlist / Bandcamp), in which lots of guest artists with diverse styles get in on the action. Neither supplants the original OST, but you might dig some of the variations on offer.

That’s it for today’s Morning Music! ¡sʇuǝɯɯoɔ ǝɥʇ uᴉ ᴉɥ ʎɐS ˙ʇᴉɥs ’u‘ uʍop ǝpᴉsdn ɯ’I ‘dɐɹɔ ɥo ɥɥɥɥɥ∩˙˙˙ ...Uhhhhh. Whew, OK, not pressing that button again.