Released on: January 11 2010
Available Platforms: PC, MAC OS X, Linux, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, iOS, Android, Ouya, Commodore 64, Pandora
Price: $5.49 CDN ($4.99 US) (Steam), $13.49 CDN ($9.99 US) (Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4), $3.49 CDN (iOS, Android)
Published by: Nicalis (Nintendo Switch, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, Nintendo 3DS) , Terry Cavanagh (PC, MAC OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, Ouya, Commodore 64, Pandora) Developed by: Terry Cavanagh
By now, it is no secret that I am a fan of classic and retro style video games. There is just something so nostalgic about pixilated graphics. So while browsing Steam, there was a sale on smaller independent games. One of these was a game called VVVVVV, an oddly named game I had heard about from gaming YouTubers. With the Steam sale that was going on, I decided to grab it. So was it worth it?
VVVVVV has a compelling story despite its simple looking graphics. The player takes control of Viridian, a captain who had to evacuate their spaceship that is affected by dimensional interference. Viridian escapes unscathed, but the dimensional interference caused Viridian’s separation from their crew. Their mission is to rescue the scattered crew and free themselves from the dimensional interference. While exploring Dimension VVVVVV, Viridian will find terminals that they can activate for additional lore. With a little bit of tweaking, the plot could easily be from an episode of Star Trek, which is what I love most about it. VVVVVV also does an excellent job explaining its name. VVVVVV is the name of the dimension Viridian is trapped in, while also being the initials of the crew (Viridian, Violet, Victoria, Vermillion, Vertillary and Verdigris).
The graphics of VVVVVV are delightfully minimalistic. The retro art style gives the impression of “less is more.” Every level has different color schemes that help distinguish itself. What I find genuinely amusing is the enemy design. Due to the minimalistic nature of VVVVVV’s graphics, the enemies either have ridiculously simple designs or are just words. It is funny to think about the word “TRUTH” killing the player. On a technical level, VVVVVV is phenomenal. I do not have the most powerful PC in the world, so being as optimized as possible is always welcomed.
The music in VVVVVV is a dream for any retro game fan. Using a music style called “chiptune,” VVVVVV perfectly emulates soundtracks from old computer games. Chiptune music has always been addicting for me to listen to, and VVVVVV’s soundtrack is no exception.
VVVVVV’s gameplay is easy to understand. The player can move left and right but reverse their gravity. This gravity reversal mechanic is how the player will get around the many platforming challenges VVVVVV will throw at them, from flipping to avoid an oncoming enemy to temporarily walking on the ceiling to bypass a bottomless pit. Some traps will flip the player automatically, forcing the player to account for an additional flip when overcoming the obstacle. VVVVVV is the kind of game I love playing. The game is simple to learn, but the obstacles are what challenge the player. What I find so endearing about this design philosophy is that every mistake I made truly felt like it was my fault. If the player dies, they restart to the last checkpoint they found. The time it takes for the player to continue after death is pleasantly short, taking roughly two seconds. It is so brief in fact that I often find myself dying right after restarting. Even when I do repeatedly die due to the short respawn time, it is a feature I appreciate immensely.
VVVVVV has six different levels within the overworld of Dimension VVVVVV. While the early levels play regularly to give the player the chance to get accustomed to the game, most other levels have a specific theme or gimmick to them (like the lines as mentioned earlier that flip the player automatically.) The player also has access to a world map to help them navigate Dimension VVVVVV. The overworld is an excellent place for the player to regain their barrings after an extended break. When the player finds the terminals mentioned earlier, they will uncover more of the map. The terminals will also point the player towards points of interest and potential secrets. The different ideas, colors, and tricks, of VVVVVV help make it feel lively. When saving one crew member, the player escorts them back to their ship. With the overworld being as open as it is, it makes exploration that much more exciting!
VVVVVV has a level editor that allows players to make and share their levels. This level editor is robust and gives the player the option to add any asset from the main game. If the player wanted to, they could potentially make an entire VVVVVV world for other players to explore filled with crewmates to save, trinkets to find, and message boxes. The player can even decide the size of their world. The inclusion of a level editor often means that there are seemingly infinite levels to play, an idea that I can always get behind.
VVVVVV’s biggest shortcoming is the brevity of the main game. If my Steam page for VVVVVV is correct, I beat VVVVVV within 2 hours. For a first playthrough, that is quite quick. I understand that there are trinkets to find for the completionists, but getting to the end of VVVVVV can be done within an afternoon. I acknowledge that this can be seen as a positive if the player likes beating games as quickly as possible (called speedrunning).
Speaking of findable trinkets, they are the game’s most significant source of challenge. While being optional, some of the trinkets require near-perfect execution to collect, leading to a lot of frustration. There are only twenty trinkets to find in the game, but acquiring them all is recommended only for the bold.
One last minor complaint I have with VVVVVV is with its momentum when moving left and right. When the player presses either left or right, Viridian doesn’t move right away. They pick up speed similarly to Mario from the Super Mario Bros. series. In VVVVVV, however, I often find myself either over correcting, falling short, or overshooting my jumps. It might not sound like a big deal on the surface, but platformers do require precision. Far from a deal-breaker, but the movement physics of VVVVVV is something to consider for new players.
Despite its brief main game and brutal completionist requirement, VVVVVV is an expertly made retro-style puzzle platform game. With straightforward controls, excellent level design, a level editor, charming visuals, and a fascinating story, VVVVVV is very easy for me to recommend.