VVVVVV: Testing Your Personal Limits of Sanity

By – Mike Bezek

752 deaths in 2 hours.  Think about that for a second. Recall all of the soul-crushing, mind bogglingly hard games you have played over the years and ask yourself how many keyboards you have smashed after dying on the same level, or quest, 15 times in a row.  An average person might shelve the game only to stare at it angrily until they decide to either forgive it, or maybe never pick it up again. VVVVVV (or V6 from this point on) is a game that will kick you when you’re down and spit in your face, but the masochistic beauty of its design and nostalgia-filled thumping soundtrack will keep you coming back for more.

I Flip, You Flip, We All Flip And Lose Our Minds

V6 is quickly becoming a solid gem of a game within the gaming community simply due to its triumph in level design. This is not to say that you are going to enjoy the design on your first go.  In fact, you won’t. The game gives you but only a few panels to acclimate yourself before you are thrust into the fray and are literally given pixels of breathing room for a single maneuver. You’ll quickly discover that one mistake in this game means instant death, and you’ll make this wonderful discovery over, and over and over again.

Unlike almost every other game in its genre, this is a platforming game, in which you are unable to jump.  Instead, you have the singular ability to change your gravitational orientation.  In other words, you traverse each level by flipping from floor to ceiling and back again.  You lack the ability to rescind an incorrect jump; once you flip, you have committed. You will soon come to terms with the fact you are going to botch 70% of your attempts to successfully flip your way through a room filled with spikes and floating letters spelling out “LIES”, traveling at the speed of light with the sole purpose of killing you. And sometimes, the sooner the better.

You are going to die… a lot.  Most of the time, it is your fault, but sometimes, the movement mechanic fails to translate the move you attempted.  Now before you attack me with your pitchforks and accuse me of having the dexterity of a toddler, let me explain. The character has the tendency to “skate” on surfaces when you make any type of movement.  V6 is so hell-bent on precision, and demands that the player execute every move perfectly; however, it lacks the dead-on movement system that would make such absolute precision possible.  V6 misses the mark in a big way.

This leads to much frustration where you desperately try to land on a block no larger than the width of your character, only to have him slide right off as if you just crash landed on an ice-skating rink. No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot seem to compensate or predict how much you are going to slide when making split second movements.  This lack in precision was almost a game-breaker for me.

Thankfully, the game has a checkpoint system that is a literal godsend.  Without it, the game would have been menacingly difficult, and would have fallen straight on its face. Before any major challenge, and even the simple ones, you will pass a small (C) icon, to which you will return upon your eventual death. The time between dying and being placed at your checkpoint is a matter of a single second. You will not wait around for a loading screen, or even a few-second-drag for the level to reload. You are thrust straight back into your challenge with no delay.  This simple, yet age-old, innovation is what saves the game from being something you regret ever placing on your hard drive.

Interstellar Space Opera On A Budget

Assuming the role of the bumbling Captain Viridian, you are tasked with rescuing your fellow crewmates from the VVVVVV universe that you “accidentally” crashed into. Scattered through the game are computers that spout scientific nonsense about interstellar travel that really do much to further the very thin story. While the characters give the game some life, the real stars are the names of each level within the game. Each panel has a witty title that will not only make you smile, but sometimes, it also gives you a bit of a hint on how to complete said level.

The Monochromatic Journey

With visuals that are ripped straight from the Commodore 64, V6 is a game that takes no liberties in creating a visually memorable experience.  The color palette never goes beyond the basic color wheel for any environment, ally, or foe.  A small box of Crayola crayons has more variety and aesthetic appeal than V6 on a whole; however, I hold no ill will towards the designer.  This game harkens back to the olden times of gaming where an attempt to get past the first level was enough to make a grown man cry.  V6 is mainly  forgiven for its simplistic palette because what it lacks in visual appeal, it makes up for with its spectacular level design.

Each section of the game is crafted in a similar way, but yet also introduces small nuances to make your already difficult journey even harder.  Static hazards like spikes slowly give way to moving objects that test your ability to make two moves in literally half a second. Moving platforms, (some of which crumble at your feet), corridors that transition you from one side of the screen to the other, and more obstacles wait to be conquered.

While these challenges may sound daunting enough to make an average gamer ragequit, the feeling of accomplishment you receive after barely making it out  alive will propel you to the next task that thirsts for your alien-like blood.

I Liked 8-Bit Techo-Synth Before It Was Cool

There is a mixed bag of reviewers out there who argue that VVVVVV is a game that does not have “true chiptunes” to compliment the 8-bit look of the game. These people are the same people who would argue about the frame of a Matisse painting, and ignore the genius of the painting itself. The soundtrack of this game is pure old school bliss, but with a synthetic injection of modern-day beats to truly make it a pleasure for the ears. Heavy electronic beats come at you like a bastion of digitized audible goodness, and will have you bobbing your head, as well as forgetting about the fact that you just died 20 times in a row on the same challenge.

Fans of Animaguchi, and the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game soundtracks will land right at home with this game. I am not saying that this game just has a great soundtrack.  I am saying it has one of the greatest chiptunes-esque soundtracks of the last 15 years, no holds barred.

14 Minutes Of Fame

I think I have had longer lunch breaks then the total playtime of my first run of V6. 2 hours into the game, where I’m thinking that I am going to at least have another 2 or 3 hours to go before the credits roll, my masochistic bliss is suddenly interrupted by the ending.

One of the hardest things to swallow was the “overworld” that seems to exist solely to make the experience 5 minutes longer. There is literally nothing to do in the overworld except discover the handful of levels that populate the majority of the playtime. While I do recognize this as a good option over a simple stage select screen, there could definitely be something, anything, to do in what is largely a void. Even the inclusion of various teleports around this vast swath of nothingness seems to cheapen the experience by existing only to alleviate your frustration with the numerous dead ends.

Never Forget Your Roots

V6 is a game that totally blindsided me.  It slapped me across the face like an angry lover who wanted a good reason why I was out drinking with my rendered-polygon friends for the past 20 years. There are plenty of developers out there who are trying to create a difficult experience in order to tie their “old- school” game together, but not like V6. This game puts it all on the table within the first 5 minutes, and shows you that you are either going to love it or hate it.  Although it is a short journey through unknown star-systems with our perpetually smiling, occasionally frowning, Captain Viridian, it is one that will challenge and delight you every step of the way, provided you don’t break your keyboard.

ValueScore – Was It Worth My Money?

The most important question we ask ourselves after every game we play here at TPG is if we felt robbed or rewarded in the end.  V6 is a game that originally had a price point of $15, which was a very unbalanced playtime to value ratio. I, as well as many others, shied away from the game because of the price point alone. There are a plethora of selections from the indie market that are the same caliber of quality for as little as $5. Recently, the standalone product has been reduced to an easier to swallow $5.  What’s more, it is offered in the Humble Indie Bundle 3, which greedy donators can purchase it for one-fifth of a penny. This new price is very much reflective of the product itself, in which you are offered the same playtime as a standard iOS games with the same price tag.

VVVVVV Summary:

  • Time Played – 2 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – No.  Fullscreen scales to 1024×768
  • 5.1 Audio – No
  • Bugs – None
  • DRM – None
  • Control Scheme –  Basic keyboard platformer controls (Customizable)
  • Consolitis – None
  • Game Acquisition Method – Purchased by reviewer

TPG is proud to present VVVVVV its highest award: The Green ValueScore Seal:

TPG does things differently around the internet.  Read our Review Scoring Statement to learn more about how we score our reviews.

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