1309 deaths in 2 hours and 43 minutes of gameplay. The total amount of times I died by the time I finished VVVVVV. I think that alone says something for how brutal this game is.
Don't let it's simple unsuspecting appearance fool you. Beneath the inviting Commodore 64-esque visuals lay a game of absolute terror. Not the usual sort of horror, mind you; it doesn't make you jump or mess with your mind. No, this game terrifies you with its sheer intense level design, demanding nothing less but total perfection to conquer its gantlet of doom. To best this game you need fortuity, to be able to hold steadfast in the face of adversity, and some crazy fast reflexes.
I'm being completely serious here. VVVVVV is not a game that goes even remotely easy on you. This is a game that would be justly classified as being nigh impossible. It takes pleasure in your failure, presenting insurmountable obstacle after insurmountable obstacle. To say this game is painful would be an understatement. Yet, in spite of the constant punishment it dishes out, you're always driven to conquer it, to not let it beat you down no matter how many times you fall short of success. And it's precisely that which makes VVVVVV a roaring good time.
You take on the role of Captain Viridian, who, after being separated from his crew while attempting to escape their ship via teleporter due to some odd disturbance that immobilizes their craft, sets off to find his lost comrades in the vast, treacherous, complex space that is Dimension VVVVVV. And maybe find out what that strange disturbance was while he's at it.
|One the few cases where words really can kill.|
In this dimension, you don't jump: you flip. Viridian can shift his gravity, you see, allowing him to stick onto any ceilings he comes across. Though its clearly a simple replacement for simple jumping, it also creates most of the challenge in VVVVVV. In you're typical run-of-the-mill platformer, you always have some level of control over how high your character can jump. VVVVVV, however, doesn't. Once you've flipped, you cannot flip again until Viridian has landed on solid ground again. All you can do while he plummets is move him left or right to avoid myriad obstacles.
The kinds of obstacles you face range from spikes and disappearing platforms, to lines that cause you to flip when touched and an odd assortment of moving blockades, such as words (like, actual words), shapes, and... fish? It's an eccentric game, no doubt. Just look at any one of the names for the rooms you traverse. In one room, labeled "What lies beneath?", you see a few breakable platforms carefully placed under a row of spikes. The answer to that question? "Spikes do!" You find that out the hard way, of course. Others take a less obvious route with their meaning, using vague statements like "Three's a Crowd" or "B-b-b-busted." They're a nice, fun little touch.
Any of the obstacles alone are treacherous enough, but VVVVVV often throws a few of them at you at a time. Imagine a hall lined with spikes on the floor and ceiling, those disintegrating platforms being all that separates you from a skewered end. Now, imagine those platforms having very little space between them, demanding that you quickly but with the utmost precision, for one step too far is all that separates you from success and failure. Under most circumstances, you could easily perform the needed actions, because most instances like this happen in large rooms rather than tight corridors. In the proposed setting, however, you're forced into a lot of trial and error to understand the exact timing of the required motions for success. It gets frustrating after a while, certainly. But it remains fun all the while.
There's an art to its level design. Trial and error may be a commonality here (the game is very generous with checkpoints, thankfully, so death is but a minor inconvenience), but it doesn't detract so much as it does enhance. For you see, with every death comes knowledge. With that knowledge comes skill, and with that comes victory. As infuriating as the game can be, what with its increasingly unfair challenges that demand the absolute best from your platforming prowess, it never feels like failure comes at the fault of the game; rather, it always feels like a simple mistake on your part. And when you do finally beat that last choke point, you feel justly rewarded. To weave through tight, spike-ridden corridors where there's zero margin for error with ease, feels incredible. Mastering the mechanics gratifies like nothing else can. It's like running a marathon, almost. You're exhausted by the time you're done, but the sweet taste of victory makes all that effort worthwhile.
|Don't be deceived: this game does not love you. Those hearts are out to kill you.|
VVVVVV is a very carefully crafted game. Each and every room is made to be maddeningly difficult, but never impossible. Even the most antagonizing rooms, while annoying as hell at times, feel doable. There's one instance where you're climbing up a auto-scrolling level to avoid the spikes that protrude out of the edges of the top and bottom of the screen, moving through winding corridors and performing very particular feats of traversal under the utmost urgency. And when barriers that automatically make you flip enter the equation (it's hard enough making it through those god-forsaken death-traps without them), it only gets that much crazier. The game constantly pushes you to your limits, demanding more and more out of you move deeper.
But it's that unrelenting madness that makes VVVVVV such an agonizing yet intensely enjoyable pleasure to play. Triumph over adversity is why this game entertains so much. If the levels were but pedestrian jumping puzzles, the only danger being the threat of a platform collapsing after standing on it for a couple of seconds, the game wouldn't be nearly so fun. It's a tough balance to strike, retaining enjoyment while delivering borderline impossible tasks, but VVVVVV does so splendidly.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”