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Last week I told you that if you didn’t have money, you should skip Mighty Switch Force and wait for VVVVVV instead. Well, I’m never proud of saying such things (and WayForward more than deserve your money), but honestly, for VVVVVV it’s worth having that kind of attitude. VVVVVV is one of the best indie games you can find in the platforming and exploration genres, easily on par with other popular indie titles like Knytt Stories and even Pixel’s fantastic Cave Story.
VVVVVV is an exploration game first and foremost, giving you the ability to reach each of your nonlinear objectives in whichever order you please. There are no abilities to learn (such as double jump from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, for example), but the higher difficulty of some areas might keep you away when you haven’t yet mastered the platforming mechanics.
Speaking of the platforming mechanics, there really isn’t much “jumping” to do in this game; none, in fact. Instead, you move from platform to platform by “flipping” gravity, though it only affects your character and not any world objects. This particular limitation somehow forced VVVVVV’s creator Terry Cavanagh to create some extremely creative and memorable level design that also feels fresh. You will often find yourself developing new ways of thinking when confronting the different challenges the game throws at you, which is something I personally value very highly in platforming games.
Another thing I have learned to value highly on my platformers after 20 years of playing them is difficulty, and this game has more than enough for even the most seasoned players. While the game’s main adventure is not quite brutal (and is even manageable for most players), finding the 20 hidden “trinkets” can be quite a trial, the infamous “Veni, Vidi, Vici” challenge being a particularly memorable one. After that, you can find even more grueling challenges in the custom-created maps included in this game.
[Note: Of the 18 custom-created maps included in the 3DS version of VVVVVV, the following 8 aren’t included in the 2.0 update of the PC version: “333333”, “gordian knot”, “quantum tunnel”, “seasons”, “soul searching”, “the tower of power”, “vertex vortex” , and “victuals”. These maps, however, can still be imported into the PC version of the game.]In terms of content, the game is actually really big for a downloadable title, though that’s not so much because of the main game but rather because of the 18 extra maps created by friends and fans of developer Terry Cavanagh, including Notch (of Minecraft fame) and the game’s soundtrack composer Magnus Palsson himself. While the main game takes somewhere around 2 hours for first time players, the custom created levels take about 30 minutes on average (a couple are much shorter, another couple are much longer, even longer than the main game possibly). All in all, it took me 10 minutes short of 11 hours to beat 17 of the 19 maps available, and that’s without getting all of the trinkets or even touching the time trials, flip mode, and no-death mode.
Visually, the game looks fantastic in its ultra-minimalist simplicity, mimicking the days of the Commodore 64 with its extremely pixelated designs and highly contrasting colors. The music is one of the very best I’ve ever heard in any game recently, and one of the very best chiptunes around. It’s particularly impressive in how one can get glimpses of virtuosity even through the highly minimalist sounds, and it reminds me a little of Tim Follin, the awesome composer of soundtracks like this (it’s also very fitting for Magnus “SoulEye” Palsson to use Tim Follin as an inspiration considering all the Commodore 64 soundtracks he made). I really can’t praise the music as much as it deserves.
Now, speaking strictly about value, this game’s worth can be seen from two different perspectives. On one hand, it is a game that can be found for cheaper on PC, and that version includes many of this version’s custom levels while the rest (and more still) can be downloaded from various websites, including the game’s official site, while also incorporating a level editor for the creative types out there. On the other hand, this is the first time that VVVVVV is available for a portable platform and in stereoscopic 3D, and it already includes 18 of the best available custom levels, adding up to upward of 10 hours when beating each level once, with several modes such as Time Trial and Flip Mode as well as features such as the Super Gravitron minigame and some extremely hard trophies to collect as well as, of course, the ridiculous no-death mode, in which you must beat the entire main game without dying (as a comparison – and I consider myself pretty good at this game – though this was the second time I beat the main quest, I still died about 300 times).
Personally, I recommend it almost no matter what. It’s the kind of game that could have justified a retail release at $20 (the original barebones PC version cost $15 initially, as a matter of fact), but instead we are getting it at only $8. Honestly, this is the kind of treatment I wish Cave Story 3D had gotten instead of the simple polygonal rendering it got, but maybe that’s a topic for another article.