So there were a bunch of sales on Steam and as usual I was too tentative to buy anything. $5 for 5 indy games? But I already own two and two more of them aren’t Mac compatible! And this fifth game. VVVVVV? Is this the stupidest name ever? A more courageous friend of mine did buy the pack though and a few days ago I played it his place. The next time I could touch my computer I bought this $5 masterpiece.
The entire game is built around a single game mechanic, gravity inversion. It’s a platformer where, instead of jumping you press space to invert your personal gravity and walk on the ceiling. The games charmingly worthless story pits you as a space captain who’s ship and crew have entered another dimension. So I guess that’s why you can walk on the ceiling when you feel like it! Each area of the dimension provides a simple twist on this mechanic. One area will have you dodging projectiles, another will have bars that force you to change gravity mid air. The games most frustrating sections involve leading lost crew members back to the ship, these fools rank slightly above lemmings on the intelligence scale and will whine to you about girl problems while you frantically save their life.
Aside from the game’s devastating difficulty, veterans of Zebes will immediately feel the strong influence of Metroid on this title. The game’s presentation and soundtrack is very reminiscent of the original on the NES, giving the game a similar lost and isolated in space feel. Even more strikingly, some screens feel as though they were ripped directly out of Metroid games. When I was first playing it at my mate’s place I was all “THIS IS THE BIT WHERE YOU HAVE TO ISE THE ICE BEAM TO JUMP UP!” and “OMG YOU NEED THE VARIA SUIT TO GO THROUGH THERE!” Like the screen below. I can’t remember the part, maybe it’s Brinstar?
A two dimensional platformer featuring simple sprite work and chiptunes, VVVVVV invokes memories of a happier, simpler time. It borrows from the present two, notably two key concepts of modern game design; infinite lives and checkpoints. You see VVVVVV is hard. It’s fucken hard. I’m not a fan of metaphors so I won’t use one but I really need to stress this game is fucken hard! Seen below is a screenshot I took when I finished the game. You’ll note in the screenshot below my number of deaths: 1474 – I died every eight seconds in the three and a half hours I spent beating the game and collecting all twenty ‘shiny trinkets’. To counter this merciless difficulty, VVVVVV embraces two very important concepts found frequently in contemporary game design. The first of these is checkpoints. The game contains checkpoints in almost every single screen of the game, sometimes multiple! While you don’t restart at these checkpoints from booting the game you do reappear there, almost instantly, following death.
The other modern concept is of course infinite lives. As we all know lives were really just a relic of arcade games where you had to give the player a game over screen to make them pay another dollar to keep playing. While some idiot companies like Nintendo still think it’s appropriate that Mario Galaxy has lives, VVVVVV graduated from the school of game philosophy sometime after 1995. There are no game overs here. So with infinite lives and frequent checkpoints there is almost no penalty for dying and there is also almost no chance to stop playing. That 3:28:56 above? That was in 3 sittings, on the one evening. I only stopped because my faggot friends made my play counter strike with them.
VVVVVV costs $5 in American currency and can be downloaded over Steam or from it’s homepage http://thelettervsixtim.es/ . It is worth every cent.