January 20, 2012

Review – VVVVVV

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 8:46 am

There’s something very heartwarming about indie games on Nintendo hardware. Seeing Cave Story across several Nintendo platforms was like an endorsement from gaming royalty for instance – a nod from the company that built those first pixilated worlds out of thin air and inspired so many to follow in that pursuit.

As such, Terry Cavanagh’s PC indie title, VVVVVV, is a welcome sight on the 3DS’ eShop, but I wouldn’t want any idea of indie fan-service to undermine the move, given that the game’s level of polish and play earn placement on the list of eShop offerings worth the investment of player’s time and money regardless of how many people worked on the title.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with why, let’s fill in some blanks below.

Encountering a spaceship catastrophe, players find themselves exploring an alternate dimension as Captain Viridian, searching for lost crew members in the hope of escaping. Beyond the ability to move left or right across the screen, Captain Viridian’s only ability is changing gravity, allowing him to switch between standing on the ground and ceiling. This leaves players constantly switching their footing to explore the black void that quickly reveals spiky pitfalls and teleporting hubs on the road to mapping the entirety of space the game offers.

The charm here, aside from the Commodore styled visuals, is how deceptively simplistic the aesthetics appear to be at first glance. With no intentional disrespect, VVVVVV initially looks like the sort of game one could quickly slap together – though it takes very little time with the game to realize that such a statement is far from the truth.

VVVVVV is filled with meticulous design trickery, some of which will feel overly sadistic when you’re trying to fall through connecting screens while avoiding the placement of spikes and other deadly obstacles. And then there are smaller moments of realization, such as springboard screens where moving forward at full tilt will allow Captain Viridian to clear obstacles via the game’s inherent momentum.

Then, perhaps one triggers a sequence where the bottom of the screen starts moving to hurry the player upward through obstacles at a dizzying pace – you can’t rush, and you can’t crawl, you just start trusting the pacing the game manages to impart on you. Or maybe you curse and walk away, but chances are you’ll come back around before too long.

I’ve certainly cursed this game enough times only to come back to it. That pull owes plenty to the fact that I can always see where I want to go next, and spot the route that will get me there despite the number of deaths involved in the process. Add a spirit of earnest old school exploration, of wanting to know what’s in every blackened corner of the map, and it’s hard to stay mad for any real stretch of time.

With that said, exploration doesn’t feed a traditional connection to an emerging world. The fact that I didn’t catch myself humanizing the characters as an emphasis stuck with me, not as a negative but rather an interesting note while traversing a game that relies on naked curiosity, merciless challenge, and occasional oddities. Rescuing the crew is just a happy incidental while attempting to grasp the hostile space that is so initially overwhelming.

Completing the game unlocks additional modes of play, though players can also choose to unlock these at their leisure beforehand.

This release includes several player-created levels, as well as a Time Trial mode and a No Death mode should you wish to see just how far you can travel through the game without dying.

There’s also a Flip mode, which allows players to flip the entire game and addition stages vertically – at least in theory, since enabling this mode presented me with black screens of nothingness and seems wanting for an out of order sign at the moment.

That hiccup aside, VVVVVV has turned up at an important time, just as the eShop seems eager to offer 3DS owners a reason to take its existence seriously, and hopefully opens the gateway not just to ports of other independent titles, but toward setting the eShop up as a platform for more small and independent developers to ply their trade. That’s probably a little overly idealistic of me, but it’s a pretty thought worth having all the same.

Terry Cavanagh, Nicalis


Nintendo 3DS (3DSWare)


Release Date
December 29, 2011


*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

1 Comment »

  1. Interesting game! For some reason I haven’t tried VVVVVV yet. That, or I probably already bought it from and Indie or Humble bundle and can’t find my download hey hehehe.

    Comment by EdEN — January 25, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

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