Reposted Review: VVVVVV

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(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog.)

Strangely titled, and awesome: VVVVVV

One of the quirkiest, independently made games in recent years, VVVVVV is a love letter to NES, and C-64 gaming. Why should you experience this dedication to the 8-bit era? Read on.

PROS:  Challenging puzzle/platform/adventure gameplay. Awesome soundtrack. Bonus content.

CONS: Some of the endgame stages may prove too difficult for a few players.

WTF?: There’s a giant psychedelic elephant that makes you cry. Really.

Originally part of Indie Humble Bundle #3 Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV was met with critical acclaim.

It’s well deserved. VVVVVV offers an awful lot of features, and options for a low price point. There are full priced packaged titles that give less entertainment than this title. The fact the requirements for the Windows, and Macintosh versions are fairly low also widens the number of people who can run it. VVVVVV tells the story of a crew of palette swapped beings who find themselves marooned after a mysterious explosion causes their ship to crash. When it does, Captain Viridian finds himself on a quest to find his missing compatriots, and then escape the strange dimension they’ve been stranded in.

VVVVVV’s campaign makes very good use of it’s gameplay mechanics. The game is built around a gravitational “flip” idea. Instead of jumping over enemies, and environmental hazards like spike pits, instead Captain Viridian flips upside down, and is pulled toward the ceiling. Other times you’ll need to do the opposite. As you get farther into the game, you’ll be introduced to new tweaks on the idea which in turn lead to some really crafty puzzles. The idea has been done before. Capcom experimented with this way, way back in Mega Man 5. One of that game’s Robot Masters was Gravity Man whose entire stage was built on this flip gravity mechanic.

Where as that game only had one stage in which this was successfully tried, VVVVVV takes the ball, and completely runs with it. Not only are there a greater variety of puzzle like traps to solve, but all of these rooms tie together creating a world similar to the way the original Metroid  did but with the sensibilities of Pitfall II: Lost Caverns. Everything ties together nicely. There is plenty of reference humor buried within it’s walls as well. From the visual style which is a clear reference to the Commodore 64′s 16 color graphics, to the music which hints at both the C-64′s SID sound chipset, as well as the memory of NES New Wave styled chiptunes.

Speaking of chiptunes among other things, VVVVVV features 20 gold records hidden throughout the game. If you find them all, you can unlock the songs to be played back on your ship through terminals.

Terminals can also be found throughout the game. Some of them advance the plot with dialogue. Others offer more reference gags (SYNTAX ERROR). As you rescue your friends they will help you out in various areas. Some will give you hints as to where the next crew member is. There are also some capsules in each puzzle room to spawn you to if you die. On the topic of deaths in this game, there are no permanent deaths. (At least until you unlock the no death mode which forces you to beat the entire game on one life)

This really works in the game’s favor as it makes it more accessible for novices who can keep retrying at their leisure. However the game also tracks the number of times you die, as well as the length of time you’ve spent trying to win. This gives the die-hard crowd something to shoot for, giving speed runners something they can sink their teeth into. If a really deep campaign isn’t enough to sate you, VVVVVV also gives players a full-fledged level editor. You’ll have access to all of the tiles, objects, and enemies from the main game to make for your own stages. You can also share them with other players who can import them, and play them.

If there are any gripes about this game they are few. Sometimes controls get a little touchy, leading to unintentionally sliding off of a ledge onto spikes or not registering a flip on time. Faster computer systems will actually speed up the game a bit too, making some of the game’s puzzles more difficult to complete. But after some time playing you’ll grow used to it. The level editor doesn’t have much of a tutorial either, so prepare to be shooting in the dark at first.

Outside of those nitpicks there really isn’t much to whine over.

In short, you need to buy VVVVVV. There are so many good things here it would be a misfire on one’s part to skip it. Plus with the low asking price of $4.99 (Win/Mac) one could buy it by skipping a couple of sodas. Portable gamers may wish to spend a little more on the Nintendo 3DS version which allows you to see the map on the lower screen.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10 BUY IT NOW!

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