VVVVVV is a game that every gamer should play, and every game developer/development student should study. Simple in execution, VVVVVV’s (almost) one-man army developer Terry Cavanagh must draw out the insecurities in every budget-haemorrhaging publisher and developer across the globe, for he has achieved single-handedly what many developers fail to achieve after wasting years and spending millions on - gaming perfection.
Of course, gaming perfection does not necessarily mean it is the best game ever (although it must be a strong contender), what it means is that the game is boiled down to the core DNA of what makes great games - playability, character and soul.
The beauty of VVVVVV comes from its aforementioned simplicity. The player controls Captain Viridian, who must find his missing crew when his spaceship is drawn into an alternate dimension. You can move left and right, and can switch gravity with a button press, and you will be switching gravity often while traversing the flip screen levels. In a throwback to classic games such as Manic Miner, each screen has a name, sometimes a humerous observation of the theme, others a cryptic clue to progressing.
Scattered about the levels are collectable trinkets, but unlike many games where collecting is padding; here they serve as temptation to venture off the path into great peril, should you have the confidence and patience to attempt it.
Checkpoints are fairly placed, and there are plenty of teleports to discover, which act as a fast-travel mechanic. You can keep track of your progress via the map screen, which will show areas you have visited, and unexplored areas are greyed out.
Many reviews of VVVVVV complained of the high difficulty, but unlike many difficult games with unfair balancing or lack of clarity and design intentions, VVVVVV is difficult in a good way. There are some seriously frustrating moments in the game, but never is the game to blame, it is usually a breakdown of your own composure under pressure of a taxing screen. (I have been known to scream at a game childishly with frustration, but with VVVVVV I was laughing at myself with every repeated error).
The story exists as little more than justification of events, but that’s fine, the game doesn’t need a by-the-numbers plot, and what little dialogue exists is natural and amusing.
The visuals are nice and simple. VVVVVV utilises a limited colour palette, and generally sticks to a few shades of the same colour per screen. The overall style is influenced by C64 graphics, and it works perfectly, again reinforcing that you don’t need fancy shaders to immerse a player into a world. Likewise the music is nice, reminiscent of chip-tune music of the 8-bit days.
While not the longest game around, VVVVVV’s lifespan is increased significantly thanks to the bundled level editor, and if that’s not your thing, you can always download custom levels from the thriving VVVVVV community.
A special mention must be made of Terry Cavanagh’s decision to include options specifically to improve accessibility for disabled gamers, namely a God Mode and a Slow Motion mode. It is refreshing to see a developer go that extra mile to make a game accessible.
I can’t really think of any negatives for this game, I suppose many gamers accustomed to recent generations will not have the patience for the difficulty and lack of hand-holding that this game offers, but for me, that is the true genius of VVVVVV.
If you have never played it, I implore you to check it out right now.