The near unpronounceable ‘VVVVVV’ is the independently developed platform puzzle game by Irish programmer Terry Cavanagh. In this quirky little title you play as Captain Viridian. The very plain looking stick figure who is forced to evacuate his space ship along with all the other members of his crew. While teleporting to safety Captain Viridian has gotten split up from his crew and it’s his job to find and escort them all safely back to the ship. To do this you need to explore the surrounding desolate, hostile & often wacky environment using a mixture of precise platforming and some mild puzzle solving.
The game is built on the foundation of a single gameplay mechanic which is Captain Viridian’s ability to shift gravity. This gravity shifting can propel him from floor to ceiling at will, however you cannot perform the transition in mid air, forcing you to make safe landings in whichever direction you’re heading. This is literally the only ability captain Viridian possesses (other than being able to run left and right). There’s no combat, weapons, powers, magic, there isn’t even any jumping or climbing! The entire game is controlled using only three keys.
‘VVVVVV’ is set on some sort of science lab / space colony. There are open planet surface areas, caves & caverns, a few building / factory type areas and a huge vertical shaft. You are free to explore the game’s map in any manner you like with your only goal being to find the other crew members. As you explore around you’ll discover teleporters that not only help you manoeuvre around the map quickly but also save your progress. Occasionally between rescuing crew members you’ll be dragged into a set piece which takes place away from the main map. These segments are usually pretty challenging and involve completing a series of obstacles while simultaneously having to protect your rescued crew member.
Despite the simplicity of this game’s structure it is actually very deep. A lot of effort has gone into creating several puzzles & problems which explore all the possibilities of what can be achieved controlling a protagonist with a severely limited skill set. These obstacles include rooms surrounded with spikes, ropes which alter the direction you are travelling in, moving / crumbling ledges and mazes that constantly loop until you find the correct method of breaking the cycle.
The first thing that’ll strike you when you first see ‘VVVVVV’ is it’s pretty dramatic art style. VVVVVV has been created in an 8 bit style which is not uncommon for an indie platform title, however rather than basing the graphics on the more common NES or Master System styles this game appears to be more in keeping with 80s/early 90s European home computers such as the ZX Spectrum or the Commodore 64. The influence behind the games art style is affirmed in the game’s opening sequence which features a mock C64 loading screen. The game is very dark with large solid black background panels offset by the near neon brightly coloured minimalist sprites. This art style not only emulates that of the technically limited ZX Spectrum, but also helps lend the game it’s mysterious, eerie, lost in space vibe. Other character traits ‘VVVVVV’ shares with 80s euro computer titles are the random shapes and objects which travel across the screen and the quirk of each screen having its own unique name.
All of the music in VVVVVV is classic chip tune and sounds as if it was made using the Commodore Amiga pro tracker. The tunes and melodies featured in the game are fantastic. Very catch and really help keep you engaged with the action on screen.
As well as the retro vibe, ‘VVVVVV’ shares another trait which is common amongst modern indie games, and that’s the level of difficulty. It’s a game where you’re likely to die constantly, shifting slowly but surely towards each check point (of which there are many). It’s very punishing in as far as there is a lot of danger & you die in one hit, and then very forgiving in as far as you never usually die too far away from a checkpoint. One risk with this particular method of game design is that the developers can use this framework to create a very unbalanced game, where it doesn’t matter if a challenge is unfair or unrealistically difficult providing it can technically be achieved. ‘VVVVVV’ does fall victim to this in places which is a shame, but since a lot of the puzzles in this game are well thought out for the most part I can just about forgive this.
The game is short but will require some skill in order to beat. If you have experience with challenging platform games you’ll probably beat this within 2 – 4 hours on your first attempt depending on how much exploring you want to do or how lost you get. After a few playthroughs I’m sure it’ll be possible to speed run this title within the hour if you’re really good. This may be a bit too much for light gamers.
As you progress through the game you can unlock a variety of alternative games modes and bonuses such as specific mission replays, time attack modes and fan made missions (a very welcome addition that offers a lot more variety once you’re through with the main game). What’s strange about VVVVVV is that although it’s short it is very satisfying to beat. It’s like sitting a platform game exam and running through the final few screens feels elevating. Although you can unlock alternative games modes I keep finding myself restarting the main game just to see how well I do.
If the main mission wasn’t challenging enough you can up your game by attempting you collect the 20 shinny things which are hidden throughout the map. The difficulty in acquiring these 20 discs ranges from easy to off the scale! One particular disc is so difficult to collect that I gave up on scoring 100% completion with very painful hands. The obstacle you have to overcome to reach this disc is to fly through a network of narrow spike laced tunnels to reach a small platform only to be forced quickly reverse the gravity and traverse the same tunnels all over again, this time in reverse, all to get to the other side of a small obstruction which is only a couple of pixels high!
Unfortunately as I played the 3DS version I was deprived of one of this titles most interesting features. If you purchase the PC version you will have access to an extremely comprehensive level editor which allows you to create your own puzzles and challenges using many (if not all) of the instances and functions available in the main game. I’ve seen the editor in use and it’s very powerful and user friendly.
‘VVVVVV’ is an extremely interesting little title which is a lot of fun to play, all be it frustrating at points. Even if you’re not really into puzzle or indie titles I think it’s definitely worth trying at least once. Although I did enjoy the 3DS version I would recommend buying it on PC given that it’s currently almost half the price and includes the level editor.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo 3DS code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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