Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Developed by: Terry Cavanagh
Published by: Nicalis
Platforms: PC, nearly everything
Feeling Like: My life got flipped turned upside down
The name is ridiculous, but that’s my sole complaint. The fundamental gameplay and ingenious level design is so rooted in basic video game platforming that it’s hard to convince you of how unique it is. The same goes for the graphics, purposefully embodying a game from before even the NES’ time. It all works, don’t let the look deceive you.
I was sold immediately. For one, it was cheap, but I think what drew me to it was how simple the controls where. Move and flip gravity. That’s it. There’s not even a jump or run option. How much milk can you squeeze out of such a simple concept?
Turns out, when you’re Terry Cavanagh, quite a bit.
I think of this kind of game as a “Bottle” movie, or play. “Bottle” meaning the story is usually set in a single room or location, accompanied by a small cast with minimal (if any) special effects. I’m almost always in the mood for one; the good ones are spellbinding. Because you don’t have a lot of visuals or cinematography to rely on, it comes down to the fundamentals: writing, directing and acting. There’s no room for distractions, which means there’s no fat available. The action comes from the expanding dialogue and performances; only masters in their field can compel modern audiences in this style.
VVVVVV is a Bottle video game. The mechanics don’t change. You’re a captain trying to rescue your crew. You can reverse polarity so you’ll flip upside down. Performing the action again will put you right-side up. Every nature of obstacle is in your way. They will test your timing, patience and mental mettle. Death is quick, but so is recovery. It’s sublime in its simplicity.
This is the kind of game that lends itself to so many skill levels. Even the most inexperienced gamer can understand the puzzles presented in front of them, and the most skilled speedrunners will find every opportunity for shaving seconds off their final time. Upon first glance, not every solution will be apparent right away. If death was laborious or costly, you’d be far less likely to experiment. But since you’re playing with house money and checkpoints are so frequent, there’s nothing too daunting. Go. Run into those spikes. Try a risky polarity switch. See where that tunnel spits you out, you’ve got nothing to lose.
Oh, you’ll die. I died 586 times in two hours of gameplay. Even if I knew the solution, doing it could be another matter entirely. Hence why I averaged a death every 12 seconds. Moving platforms and other perilous traps will ensure your brain and your fingers have to be completely in sync if you’re going to move on. It’s not an easy game, but it’s an easy game to like.
Equally strong is the soundtrack. It’s completely appropriate and a perfect match for the game; the songs are weird, retro and unbelievably creative.
VVVVVV wouldn’t have worked without the soundtrack. It’s not just the melodies you’ll hear over and over, it’s how it matches with the world you’re zipping through and your character’s unrelenting smile. You’ll start tapping your toe to the beat and get into a rhythm. No matter how tricky a single room may be, you’ll know the solution soon enough and success will follow.
What a brilliant little game.