|Platforms||Windows, OSX, 3Ds|
I’ve been on an indie game kick this year, playing some really excellent platformer and adventure games. In a somewhat random string of events, I ended up playing three pretty different types of platformers over the course of a few weeks, and in preparation for our recent five year anniversary celebration, all full reviews were put on the back burner.
The first of these three is VVVVVV, developed by Terry Cavanagh and released in early 2010, VVVVVV is a short but challenging open world platformer. Our hero, Captain Viridian, suffers some kind of accident to his spaceship and his crew is scattered across a new dimension. The controls are simple: all you can do is move left, right, and well, flip the gravity at your whim.
The next two platformers you’ll hear from me about are NightSky and Bit.Trip Runner, and while they’re all technically rather distinct, they can, after all, be boiled down to 2D platformers at the core.
Impressed with Steve’s glowing review of VVVVVV from last year, I bought it on Steam and stuck it in the long queue of games to play. Booting it up brings on an instant wave of nostalgia. VVVVVV would feel right at home on the Commodore 64 or even my first console, the CalecoVision. Everything from the graphics to sound to gameplay is pitch perfect mid 1980s gaming, but the level design and features are clearly influenced by 20 more years of an evolving industry.
The mileage the game gets out of reversing gravity is pretty incredible, every single puzzle is based on the concept, heck, just traveling from point A to point B can require some frantic flipping. And while the game isn’t very long by any standard, it never feels old or gimmicky. VVVVVV also utilizes a relatively small amount of screen real estate, which forces a quite a bit of screen flipping. Most of game’s puzzles are also based around the hiddenness on the other side of the screen, with a seemingly infinite number of spikes ready to send our Captain to an early inter-dimensional death.
But thankfully, VVVVVV features a simple and well executed checkpoint system. Before nearly any complicated set of maneuvers lies a checkpoint that Viridian will immediately flash back to upon death. One of the best parts of Super Meat Boy is that while you died a ton, the game was always very fast at returning you to the beginning of the stage, VVVVVV pulls off the open world version of this just as well. Sure, there can be frustration in a singular puzzle, but you’re never forced to conquer too many challenges in a row that you’ll want to rip your hair out.
VVVVVV’s soundtrack is a stellar set of chiptunes with such high energy you can’t help but replicate it on screen. Each major area in the game’s world plays another song, and is actually a great differentiator between different sections of the map. I don’t listen to a lot of video game soundtracks, but I have it playing now.
Being an open world game, the game relies on the built-in map to help you navigate and find your missing crew, so slowly the revealing the map and checking out your progress is very important. But for whatever reason, the game seems to unveil parts of the map for you without you ever exploring them. Just something that bugged me since I was using it as my main guide of where I have been before and where I needed to go next. I assume it was trying to be helpful, but it sort of discouraged me from playing on more than I needed to.
Unless you’re willing to take on a few of the game’s challenges or try to collect all the secrets, VVVVVV is quite a short game, I’ll admit I was disappointed with the size of the map in the end, but the experience is still well worth it.