Approximate Time Spent playing at time of writing: 12 hours
Modes of play: Single Player
VVVVVV is a platform game with some interesting mechanics and a fair amount of variety and challenge. Your controls are very simple as you can only move left or right, interact with certain parts of the screens (although this is only for saving, teleporters and flavour text and map unlocks), and instead of a jump, you can flip gravity. So, like Splosion Man, VVVVVV takes a new twist on the basic platform game mechanics and then provides you with a bunch of well-designed levels to play around with that mechanic. The levels are generally quite challenging to get through, but also reasonably low on punishment, as there is always a checkpoint only moments away from anywhere you’ll die. However as a new player you will very likely die a lot over and over again until you get familiar with the next few screens you’re attempting to get through to the next checkpoint – and also because the keyboard controls are very sensitive indeed. I am personally incredibly unfamiliar with playing a platform games on a keyboard, so this maybe something I’m noticing more when others do not. On the other hand I suspect I enjoyed the challenge in VVVVVV even more than I might of otherwise, because it also forced me to play on an unfamiliar control system to me, and I enjoyed the learning process.
To progress you generally need to make multiple perfect movements and flips between checkpoints and the timing and movement needs to be very precise to get it right, even one such sequence can be quite tricky, and in the tougher bits of the game there are some quite difficult challenges of succession too, which you’ll have to re-start each time you die anywhere along them. If you’re the kind of person that’s easily frustrated by this, then VVVVVV definitely isn’t for you. But if you’re more like me you may find this kind of challenge a lot of fun to beat! There’s never much in the way of a puzzle as to what you should be doing next, the game is pretty much pure execution. There’s only really one ‘puzzle’ throughout the whole game in fact, which I inadvertently looked at a guide for because it was so unusual to get a puzzle I thought it was a bug – and I was slightly annoyed when I discovered it wasn’t a bug and something I probably would’ve enjoyed figuring out myself if it had been made clearer it was actually a puzzle. Bah.
There is more of an exploration element to VVVVVV though than other comparable titles, because most of the time if it doesn’t seem like you can make it through a particular screen or area, in fact, you can’t, and you must search around for a different place on the map to enter – because in between the main levels there’s a kind of Super Metroid / Castlevania Symphony of the Night type of free-roaming map you can go around. This was a nice surprising touch for me, however there’s not really that much done with it overall – the meat of the game is very much in the main challenge levels.
There’s a huge variety of challenge & punishment levels on offer in VVVVVV. As I mentioned earlier beating the game “normally” is quite challenging, but for the most part, not very punishing. However the first stage to upping the difficulty is to attempt to collect all the “shiney objects” in VVVVVV. These are somewhat like the cakes in Splosion Man, and whilst attempting to get them means you’ll explore a little bit more, it really only adds to the difficulty – both challenge and punishment are ramped up if you attempt to go for all the shiney objects. Like in Splosion Man, I recommend that you do so, as for me, it added a lot more interesting challenges to the game. Once you do collect all the shiney things, and this maybe a minor spoiler – you unlock a secret lab area which basically amounts to your in-game Achievement/Trophy room. There are numerous much more difficult challenges to go through here – mainly involving playing the game through over again but with decreasing amounts of deaths – right up to finishing the whole game without dying. These are very disappointing to me though, as they all just mean massively increasing the punishment level of the game, and only increase the challenge by making you perfect your knowledge of the levels. This is very similar to Splosion Man’s hardcore mode of course, yet VVVVVV’s method just doesn’t appeal to me to even attempt it very much in the same way Splosion Man did. I think there are a number of reasons for this. Something about the singular fixed goal of Splosion Man appealed to me more – “can you do it like this?” – whereas VVVVVV’s is just open ended, how few deaths can you complete it in… all the way up to a no death game – which I know is impossible for me to do. Well, perhaps not literally impossible, but I would probably have to devote an enormous chunk of my life to it! I am actually intrigued to know if anyone has managed the feat – there’s still nothing on youtube other than (most likely) hackers. There’s also the shame that VVVVVV offers no extrinsic rewards that I can ‘show to the world’ in the way Achievements and the like can be. The other major reason I feel is also easiest to explain by a comparison to Splosion Man, and that’s in VVVVVV the game mechanics are simpler and are ‘purer’ execution. Sometimes you can make a mistake in Splosion Man and then use a great bit of skill and ingenuity to recover from the situation as the movement options are a lot more flexible, whereas this is practically never the case in VVVVVV – you screw up by an millimetre, you die. CGN has also covered this topic brilliantly with his description of this game, and others, as very linear challenge. So to get really good at VVVVVV it would literally mean perfecting that execution task on a level over and over again – there would be a lot more ‘pure’ memorisation involved which wouldn’t interest me as much. And also, there’s far less reward for me in doing this kind of execution task than in other games. To be honest, if I wanted to spend that much time to perfecting something I would generally want to do it in a competitive game, for the more tangible victory rewards, or something that gave me a lot more chance to involve my enjoyment with other people, for the social rewards. Simply put, I don’t like the idea of making my life’s work a ‘no death run’ in VVVVVV! 😉
VVVVVV also has a variety of time trial challenges and a “Super Gravitron” challenge where you have to stay alive as long as possible in an incredibly difficult room where you character is constantly flipping gravity “bouncing”. But again, it’s the pure memorisation & execution that is required in these challenges that means they just don’t appeal as much to me as other games do.
If the default difficulty in VVVVVV is too high for the player, it fortunately does offer options to slow the whole game down, and also an invincibility option. I really like the slow-down option as a way to make a game like this easier. It was something I did not consider when I looked at the possible options to make Splosion Man easier – without completely changing the challenge. Although I’ve not personally tried VVVVVV like this to see how well it works yet, it is a great idea in theory.
The graphics in VVVVVV are of course are just attempting to emulate old games – it’s true ‘retro’ – the modern aping an older style. And I must admit they do have a nice style to them, and it’s visually extremely clean and, to my taste, aesthetically pleasing because of it, yet you can’t exactly call them “good” really by today’s 2d standards. However I’d much rather have this look than the crappy blocky polygons & glitchy texture mapping of so many 3D titles in the past. Clean 2d graphics like VVVVVV just don’t grow old to my eyes. The music is also an attempt to ape the “chip tune” styles of old – and here VVVVVV really shines with excellence. I really loved the music – in fact one particular track (‘Potential for anything’) I thought was so good I’d like to see a dancefloor EBM remix, as I was already wanting to dance around my room to it! 🙂 However they were really all excellent and worth listening to if you like this kind of music at all.
Competitive Gaming Design Review: N/A.
Competitive Game Review: N/A. There is none whatsoever, not even a leaderboard for Time Trials, and no extrinsic “provable” awards like Steam Achievements or the like. Very disappointing. There are of course, as always, ways you could attempt to turn VVVVVV into a competitive game, but they go outside the basic software so much I can’t really consider them.
Interactive Story: Neutral. There’s flavour text but it’s all pretty incidental. A little bit amusing in places, but nothing amazingly memorable really.
Toy/Experience: Neutral, other than the music, which was fantastic for my taste, and most likely the reason I’ll go through parts of VVVVVV again from time to time.
Other good reviews found: None