It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game and felt any sort of emotional connection to what’s happening on screen. I don’t know if it’s a lack of time, waning interests, an inability to relax uninterrupted for just one freaking moment or something else entirely, but the majority of my gaming experiences these days tend to end in… meh.
Despite this I continue to buy. Certainly there’s been an economically necessary reduction in the number of AAA titles I’m lining up for (or whatever the digital download equivalent of lining up is), but one look at the number of games in my Steam library confirms that I’m still a sucker for shiny screenshots, juicy looking trailers and game reviews.
Maybe it’s in the hope of rekindling some of those precious gaming moments from when I was younger. When I was so caught up in the game, the story, the graphics, that I just forgot about everything else and became completely immersed in what was happening on the screen. I haven’t felt that for any length of time, for a long time. That was until I loaded up a game which I had picked up for next to nothing in a forgotten Humble Bundle, and it consumed my life for one joyous week.
VVVVVV (pronounced “the letter v six times” – check out the game sites domain name) is certainly not new to the market. It was first released all the way back in 2010 as an online only browser game and has since spread to Steam, both major app stores and even the 3DS and PsVita. Along the way it’s picked up a bunch of awards and positive press including a couple of perfect score reviews.
My Steam key was picked up in a Humble Bundle and had sat dormant for some time before I rediscovered it when searching for suitable gaming candidates to install on my wife’s Surface tablet. I knew the game existed and had been well received, but to be honest the screenshots I’d seen and the snippets of reviews I’d read didn’t really do a lot for me. Old school retro style graphics, simple game mechanics, punishing difficulty. Yeah, yeah, heard it all before. But install it I did, and boy was I glad I did.
If I had to pick a genre, I guess I’d call it a platformer, or a puzzle/platformer, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Gameplay revolves around a simple, single mechanic of being able to reverse the gravity for your character alone. There’s no jumping, only left and right movement, so if you encounter an obstacle you need to reverse gravity and walk on the ceiling to continue – a ceiling which is as likely to be three screen heights away and covered in spikes as it is flat and easily accessed. It’s these spikes as well as a handful of moving platforms and other hurty badness that forms the challenge of the game.
Don’t be fooled by the happy retro graphics and smiling faces, death will come quickly and often. Like hundreds of times often. This game is unforgiving and most mistakes will result in insta-death, but where other games would have you searching for one-ups or health packs, or backtracking through previously completed areas, VVVVVV bypasses all of this with a liberal spread of well placed checkpoints and an unlimited number of lives (or deaths). It becomes an almost zen like experience as you die over and over again trying to weave your way between a spiky letter V and a happy pink love heart. If insanity is doing the same thing more than once and expecting a different outcome, then this game proves I am most certainly insane.
Throughout the game you are accompanied by one of the best retro soundtracks I’ve heard in a while. Always happy, always upbeat, you can’t help but smile. And it’s all tied together by a charming little story that keeps you forging ahead.
If I had to pick a weakness, I guess I could point to the short playtime. Playing about half an hour or so each day I got through this in a week, so I’ll let you do the sums on total play time if that’s your thing. The game does offer an inverted mode where you can play through the entire game again with the level inverted, and there’s a level editor available so community made levels are out there if you must have more.
Without a doubt though, the combination of the simple game mechanic, low stress deaths and pumping soundtrack, add up to one of the best and most genuinely fun gaming experiences I’ve had in years. The short play time is probably a blessing as it leaves you wanting more rather than leaving you looking for more variety or depth. Let’s call it high density fun.
Do yourself a favour and if you haven’t played this game yet get out there and buy it now. If you must try a demo you can try the browser version on Kongregate, but honestly this is a no brainer. It’s fun with a capital V.