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VVVVVV (or V6, or 6V, or sextuple-V; whatever you want to call it) is a tough game to describe, and with a name like that, appropriately so. Released in early 2010, by Terry Cavanagh, the title has gone on to receive several awards, including the “Most Fun and Compelling” game award from IndieCade in October 2010. Personally, I had only heard passing mentions of the game until recently, so when the chance to review it came up, I gladly jumped at the opportunity. Just over a year since it’s release, let’s take a look at whether or not “the letter V six times” holds up it’s reputation.
The very least I can say about the game is that it’s an interesting little platformer, the twist being that at the press of a button, you (or more accurately gravity) flip 180°; at the first press, the ceiling is now the floor, and vice versa. It may sound simple enough, but the game makes sure that you’ve shaken that notion soon after you start. Moving platforms, dissolving platforms, spikes, enemies, and other assorted dangers stand in the way of Captain Viridian rescuing his shipmates. The first few areas as fairly simple, requiring a few flips, and at most a few deaths here and there as you learn the mechanics. Shortly thereafter, the game proceeds to continue increasing the difficulty all the way to the end.
All of the rooms are cleverly designed, with each one feeling fresh and exciting to run and flip through. However, if you think that because you’ve handled games like Braid and Super Meat Boy, so you’ll have no trouble, I believe a few sharp spikes would like to have a word with you. All joking aside, this isn’t to say that the game is impossibly or unreasonably hard – all mandatory rooms can be solved within a few attempts. Through the entire course of the game, only one room felt genuinely unfair, though after finishing it, I felt an equal sense of reward, so it all works out in the end. On the other hand, in order to collect all twenty of the game’s trinkets (small disks that unlock new songs for every few you collect), be prepared to be frustrated. There are a few of the trinkets that I haven’t collected, and honestly never think I will. The rooms aren’t impossible, they’re just really, really difficult, and I do not think that I have the patience to get them.
The first thing that you’ll probably notice about VVVVVV is that graphically, it’s incredibly reminiscent of games from the Commodore era, and honestly, it works wonders. The entire world flows together nicely, whether you’re flipping around inside of your ship, or just falling through empty space, the pleasantly pixelated graphics feel perfect. The music is equally as fitting, with the entire soundtrack being made of chiptunes, once again harkening back to it’s Commodore/Atari-esque roots; combine that with the ability to unlock songs by finding trinkets, the soundtrack is impressively robust. Coupled with the pixelated landscape, exploring everything from wide open spaces to corridors feels like a blast from the past. The premise of the game is simple enough that the minimalistic design works fantastically, but there’s a definite touch of modern indie game design; a device that shoots the word “LIES” that you have to avoid, an overwhelming sense of dread at certain points, it all creates a wonderful experience.
All of the design throwbacks to the gaming times of old also seep into the gameplay, and while in some cases that works, there are a few times where that’s not a good thing. As I mentioned before, only one room really felt unfairly difficult, but many of the rooms are difficult due to the trial-and-error approach needed, instead of relying on skill. Trial-and-error definitely has it’s place in games, platformers especially, but there are a few cases in VVVVVV that took it to the extreme; in one room, I amassed over 100 deaths, even though I knew exactly what to do. Again, a large part of that burden rests on the player for not getting better at figuring paths out, but with as often as that happened, I can’t help but feel that it wasn’t just my lack of skill. Luckily, that’s only a minor issue, and whenever you finish one of those areas, you do feel quite accomplished, so I’d say it’s worth the struggle.
I spent a good half hour trying to think of a witty way to sum up my review in a six word sentence, only using words that started with V; if you couldn’t tell, that didn’t quite work out. All in all, VVVVVV is a fantastic platformer, with enough charm and challenge to hold your attention for quite some time. The level design is impressive, as is the soundtrack (which is also available for purchase, under the title PPPPPP), which combine to create a great experience. With twenty hidden trinkets to collect, a fairly large map to explore, time trials, and other alternate play modes, there’s plenty to do. At the modest asking price of $6.99 (USD), it’s hard to go wrong regardless, but trust me when I say that if you like chiptunes, indie games, and platformers, this is definitely a must buy.
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