VVVVVV is one of the few games that is perfection. It is not the most ambitious, nor most hyped game of 2010, but what it is is a difficult, challenging, and incredibly polished platformer. VVVVVV was made by Terry Cavanagh and released on distractionware.com for $15, and while it looked cool, I (foolishly) didn't think it was worth the price. When it came onto Steam for $5, and my friend recommended it vehemently, I had to take a look. Lo and behold, the game turned out to be one of the best this year.
VVVVVV is a strange title for a game, but it smartly tells you everything you have to know about the game. The story revolves around 6 spaceship crew members who, while going out looking for a solution to the problems in their own dimension, have crashed their ship in the VVVVVV dimension. Every single crew member has a name starting with V, and as Captain Viridian, you have to save all of these people and fix your ship. The title VVVVVV also resembles a row of spikes, which is appropriate considering how many spikes you will be impaling yourself with throughout the game. The story can be "beaten" in 2 hours, but to get all the 20 collectibles hidden throughout the world, it'll take you 3 hours. After you get all the items in the game, you can play a survival minigame, replay the game with the entire world flipped upside-down, replay levels in time trial, and unlock cheats through the main menu. If you want to get the best value out of VVVVVV and get every mode and collectible, it'll take you around 10 hours. Luckily, unlocking all of this stuff doesn't feel like a chore, mainly because of the gameplay and brevity of the story.
The gameplay in VVVVVV is all about your character going up, and going down. There is no jump button, just the ability to have your character fall upwards or downwards. You cannot change direction midair, and the slightest pixel touching an obstacle will kill you. There are frequent buttons with the letter 'C' on them to mark a checkpoint, and you can quick save in the menu. All of the level design is cleverly made to be as difficult as possible, without being unfair. The game goes in a room-by-room (or screen-by-screen) fashion in an open world 2D environment. Every time you come close to a crew member you have to save, the rooms start having names, which often mock the player in a humorous fashion, or make game references. Each crew member has their own distinct level design, so for one level you may have to deal with Pac-Man game conventions, where when you enter one side of the screen you exit another, or in another level the screen will constantly go upwards, making for a limited time to loiter and get collectibles. Each level plays well with rules you learn over time in, and the simple idea of going up or going down is taken to the next level. The open world just begs to be explored as well, with one easter egg in particular that will raise some eyebrows.
I can't really talk about VVVVVV without talking about the presentation, so I might as well gush right now. The game is stylized with 8-bit graphics, and the music is like that as well. Every room has a different color than the ones next to it, so it's easy to identify where you are. The music is great, and makes it that much more exciting to go through an incredibly difficult part in VVVVVV and succeed. There is no voice acting, but the names of the rooms as well as the textbox dialogue quips are humorous, and often inspired a chuckle or laugh from me. There are a few set moments when you are forced to play a certain level, but the dialogue for these sections vary depending on who is with you. One visual bug is that if you play the game full-screen, you will get a blurred view at first. Luckily, you can turn this off in the menu, but it was an annoyance to have the edges smoothed out for an 8-bit game. It is undeniable though, that a lot of effort went into the look and sound of VVVVVV. Speaking of undeniable, VVVVVV is undeniably hard. You will die repeatedly, over, and over, and over again just to get one collectible or beat one room at times. It's a safe bet that by the end of the story, you'll have died at least 1,000 times. You die so much, there's even a Death Counter. Yep. I've gotten all the collectibles and modes, and right now I'm at 3,000 deaths. One example of this is a collectible that is nearly impossible to get. On the Steam forums, it's known as Vidi Veni Vici. Essentially, you have to fly up for 6 screens barely missing spikes, hit a collapsing platform, shift back to falling down, avoid a false route that kills you, and go back down the same way to get a collectible that was blocked from you by a tiny, tiny block. It's very difficult. I still played for an hour straight just to get that though. VVVVVV is one of those games that despite how difficult it is, it never feels unfair, cheap, or frustrating. I just kept coming back for more, and it was incredibly satisfying to beat these challenges. The physics take some getting used to at first, but you get used to them, and start to appreciate them. VVVVVV isn't for masochists, it's just very difficult.
So yes, VVVVVV is an independent 5 dollar platformer on Steam, but it's simply perfect. There is no aspect of the game I can point at and say; "Wow, I wish that wasn't like that." or, "That needs improvement." The whole game is perfect, and maybe the fact that it's so limited in scope and ambitiousness allowed it to be so good. It's a 2D platformer that clocks in at 42 MB. The sheer quality and fun will win many people over though, and I think that VVVVVV is a definite contestant for Best Independent Game of 2010.
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