’s hook arises from the way that it plays with gravity and direction and, more crucially, in the way that it lets the player fiddle with these ideas too.
The idea isn’t ever properly explained and comes out of nowhere, as if the captain could is naturally capable of it, but players in the game can flip themselves at the push of a button. Press Space, Up or Down and you’ll flip the laws of gravity, sending yourself either plummeting down to the floor or up to the ceiling. Wheee!
Oh, don’t worry, he always lands on his feet.
The flip command completely replaces all other controls, ideas or mechanics in the game, making VVVVVV
a game that’s entirely about mastering that single ability and learning how to propel yourself past enemies and inexplicably spiked walls. It also makes it an almost perfect manifestation of that idea that a game can be learnt in a moment, but not mastered in a lifetime.
As you explore the open, free-roaming world of VVVVVV
, which is littered with teleporters to allow fast-travelling, you’re introduced to new twists that expand the idea too. There are lasers (well, we think that’s what they are – they’re actually just white lines on the screen) that enforce a gravity flip on you, which form the basis of simple puzzles. There are oddly abstract enemies that patrol in set patterns and naturally have to be avoided – never will you spend so long staring at the word ‘OBEY’ as it pulses green and yellow and darts across the screen. The bizarre and nonsensical array of baddies is directly inherited from the Dali-esque nightmares of Jet Set Willy
Oooh, a shiny trinket!
Not everything that flickers should be avoided though and VVVVVV
weaves some more modern systems in with the mish-mash of nostalgic references to bygone eras. There are shiny trinkets to collect and which can be used to unlock extra songs, time trials and game modes, though they can be more difficult to put your hands on than a greased ghost.
That doesn’t matter though – as we said, VVVVVV
is all about frustration and the incredibly high difficulty is as integral a part of the gameplay, as it was for classics like Super Mario Bros.
or Manic Miner
. The fact that the game handles so responsively and that your character moves a lot faster than you’re likely used to help enhance this fact, as does the fact that you can’t ever permanently die. You pass checkpoints once approximately once every other screen, so you never lose any progress when you thoughtlessly slam yourself into a Spiked Wall O’ Death again and again and again. Which you will.
Three more left? Flippin' 'eck!
Therein lies VVVVVV
’s principal charm though – the incredibly rapid successes and failures as you intuitively try to burn through the spiky levels as fast as possible. The levels are never actually all that hard, they just require a fair bit of dexterity and patience to get just right
, but it’s still impossible not to get stuck in a defeat loop – the perversely enjoyable state where you die-respawn-die-respawn over and over, with just a single second between each event. It’s moments like that (which are, we admit, fun in a slightly sick and annoying kind of way) which make the eventual success all the sweeter.
’s speed though creates one rather larger problem though; brevity. It’s the type of game you can easily breeze through in a few hours. Worse, the simplicity of the graphics and experience makes that time fly by and means you don’t really recognise the overall quality of the game. Yes, VVVVVV
is very simple, but it’s also very good..
All of this combines in the end to make VVVVVV
’s price tag a bit of a thorny issue as, at £9 GBP ($14 USD), there’s going to be an awful lot of people who um and err and eventually decide to save the money up for Mass Effect 2
instead. We can’t really blame those people, but we do think they’re missing out on what could quietly be one of the best indie games we’ve seen in a long while and we’d invite them to try the Flash-based demo
before they really make their minds up.