VVVVVV Review (Mac/PC)

VVVVVVery Good

Despite every advancement in gaming over the past twenty years, 2D is still not dead – and if programmers like Terry Cavanagh have anything to say about it, 2D shall never die. The rise of downloadable games has greatly aided the once declining retro gaming scene. It breaks down barriers from programmers to customers like never before possible. Not only do downloadable services totally eliminate the lengthy and costly manufacturing and distributing process, they make it possible for any programmer to design videogames that would have been impossible just a decade ago.

Take last year’s VVVVVV. No, I didn’t leave my hand on the keyboard too long, I just named one of the best damn indie games I’ve ever played. Not only does the game perfectly capture everything that makes retro gaming great, it also manages to avoid many of the common pitfalls of retro gaming in the same stroke of brilliance. Should you get this game a shot? Yes. Why? Read on.

Story

VVVVVV tells the story of a spaceship that finds itself trapped in a gravity weld, warping space and sending the ship to another dimension where suddenly gravity can be manipulated on the fly. Captain Viridian is tasked with finding his five missing crew members if he hopes to escape the field.

Graphics

VVVVVV was designed to mimic the look and feel of a Commodore 64 game made with modern computer specs. The game has extremely basic, one color sprites and at most has eight colors on the whole screen at once.

However, even considering the low tech graphics, it looks brilliant on a modern computer. Backgrounds are lively and animated and give the game a sense of flare and sophistication, reminding the player that no, they’re not playing an old game but merely one that’s meant to appear as such.

Audio

2010 was a very good year for chiptune fans. Not only did we get the fucking fantastic Scott Pilgrim vs the World soundtrack by Anamanaguchi, but also the indescribably awesome VVVVVV soundtrack from musician Magnus Pålsson, who goes by the artist name Souleye.

The music in VVVVVV is all fast, frantic and upbeat, almost dance music with chiptune elements. In fact, I could very well imagine hearing this played at a night club and hundreds of people jamming out to it. I know I sure would. The tracks are much more involved than could be done on actual 8-bit hardware as they employ I would guess around 8-10 sound channels instead of four and have the benefit of 21st century audio editing to further enhance it with echoing, fading a few voice samples and other effects not possible in true l0-fi sound.

Here’s Pressure Cooker, one of my favorite chipstunes I’ve heard in a good while. Enjoy some delicious win.

Gameplay

VVVVVV is a platformer with the unique distinction that you cannot preform any sort of attack or even jump! Instead, Viridian can invert his gravity at will and walk on ceilings. The game is built around the sole ability. You’ll find that to complete rooms, you will be flipping Viridian constantly. Although there is no jumping ability, you have complete access over Virdian’s movement when he’s falling in either direction. By slightly nudging left or right you control where Virdian goes.

Control

The controls in VVVVVV are so dead simple that the game can be played entirely with one hand on just the arrow keys with an occasional thumb on the spacebar. It’s simple use of the arrow keys makes it so well suited for a classic DB-9 joystick with a single fire button it’s a shame the game doesn’t support gamepads! This is one game that would be perfect for a USB modded Atari 2600 controller. I suppose you could use a program like joy2key, but it’s annoying and I wish I didn’t have to bother doing that.

Here’s a complete list of all the commands in the game:

Left/Right Arrow Keys: Move Viridian left or right
Up/Down Arrow Keys: Invert Veridian’s gravity. Also can preformed with the Spacebar or W keys
M Key: Mute Audio
LT: Enchant film
Enter/Return: Open menu
Escape: Open quit menu

Frustration

VVVVVV is by design, a game where you will die. A lot.  Like every few seconds a lot. For all that dying, you’ll be surprisingly calm. See, there are respawn points on almost every screen so you’ll rarely be frustrated by the constant retracing your steps that other games might pull.

All the challenges are possible and the solutions will come to you after a good deal of study. For all that VVVVVV manages to avoid frustrating the player though, I found the segment where you have to guide and protect Veronica to be by far the worst aspect of the game.

She can’t invert her gravity and seems to be so scared she will always try to stay within a few feet from Viridian, even if that means walking into a death trap. When she dies you have to retry as if you died. For such an otherwise challenging but fair game without the frustration normally associated, the Veronica rescue is an obvious flaw that I just can’t overlook no matter how much I like the game.

Availability & Price
VVVVVV is available for both Windows and Mac OSX. It costs $5. You can download it from http://thelettervsixtim.es/. You have no excuse not to go at least try the demo. If you like it, it’s $5 well spent, but even if you don’t like it, it’s still $5 well spent.

History

VVVVVV is heavily based on the kind of gaming seen during the second generation on systems such as the Atari 2600, Intellivision or Commodore 64. In fact, a skilled homebrewer by the alias Paulko64 has built a beta of VVVVVV for the C64! It’s still in the early stages, but once finished, I can’t wait to get it a shot.

Overall

Good

  • It’s 2D and captures not only the style but the pick-up-and-play nature of the best oldschool Atari 2600 or Commodore 64 games
  • Quite possibly one of the best soundtracks for any game
  • It’s five bucks
  • Even though you die constantly, its frustration is kept at a minimum thanks to numerous respawn points
  • Did I mention it’s 2D?

Bad

  • The game requires trial and error, which may put some off from the onset
  • Using a keyboard is no substitute for a gamepad. It’s too bad VVVVVV doesn’t have a control configuration menu
  • It’s not on any of the current consoles, limiting it’s reach
  • Victoria escort challenge sucks balls. Blue women always mean trouble.

Conclusion

VVVVVV is really quite outstanding. It strikes a complex balance between opposite ideas. It’s dead simple in design yet offers an amazingly complex world. It’s frustrating; you will die at least once on most screens. Nevertheless, you will keep coming back for more. It has primitive graphics and an amazingly elaborate soundtrack.  The main character Viridian is little more than a stick figure yet is one of the most likable characters in recent memory. I could go on, but suffice it to say that VVVVVV is a masterpiece.

You owe it to yourself to at the very least download the free demo.

Data

Platform: Windows PCs and Mac OSX

Genre: Action Platformer

Release Date: January 11, 2010

Developer: Terry Cavanagh

Publisher: N/A

Also from the developer: Don’t Look Back, Pathways, Judith and Bullet Time

Game Length: ~5-8 hours

ESRB: N/A

Buy/Skip: Buy

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One Response to “VVVVVV Review (Mac/PC)”

  1. Loved this game. As you said, Vividian is a great guy: love the constant smile on his face! Did you unlock everything?

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