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VVVVVV - Indie Game Review

by: David Sanchez ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

If you enjoy 2D platformers, don't miss out on VVVVVV.

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    A Meaningfully Blissful Ride Through Space - VVVVVV Review

    VVVVVV Plenty of indie games out there deliver unique ideas or offer that much-needed throwback to a classic era in gaming. VVVVVV manages to do both, and it does so practically flawlessly. Developed by Terry Cavanagh, who’s responsible for plenty of other solid indie games, VVVVVV offers an incredibly stylish, retro-themed adventure across space that’s sure to challenge you, frustrate you, and have you begging for more by the end of your adventure.

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    VVVVVV Story

    The story is simple, but enjoyable. 

    An intergalactic team of six explorers is forced to evacuate their ship due to a strange interference in the system. They teleport their 8-bit selves out of the ship, but each of the crew members ends up on different parts of an alternate dimension. As Captain Viridian, it is your job to explore the dimension and seek out every missing member of the crew. The story is fairly simple, but there are bits of dialogue between characters every time you rescue them. The implementation of a meaningful plot to drive the game forward contrasts nicely with the old-school look and design of the game, making VVVVVV more than just a story-free retro-style side-scroller.

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    VVVVVV Basic Gameplay

    Obstacles are plentiful in VVVVVV. Rather than allowing your character to jump freely like in other side-scrolling platformers, VVVVVV only lets you flip up and down. If you’re walking across the ground, hitting the spacebar or up/down on the directional keys will launch you into the air, and you’ll begin walking across the ceiling. Flip while up there, and you’ll be sent back to the floor. Your character can’t jump over gaps or even minor obstructions, so your navigation of each of the game’s levels must be carried out by employing this mechanic, and it makes for some really challenging, extremely fun moments.

    All manner of obstructions are littered across every section of every level. One moment you’ll have to avoid hitting spikes. The next you’ll have to bounce on wires that flip your character all the while steering clear of moving hazards. Some levels even scroll automatically, forcing you to flip up and down rapidly while climbing toward the top of the level.

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    VVVVVV Gameplay - Linearity and Checkpoints

    Frequent checkpoints ensure that the game does not feel like a chore. After you’ve rescued your first crew member, you’re free to explore the entire in-game world any way you please as you search for the rest of your team. There’s no guide telling you where to go, and your in-game map serves mainly to inform you where to go should you choose to take on the next level. Cavanagh has crafted something truly special here; he’s managed to create a game that looks and plays much like old-school games do, yet he’s given players the freedom to explore an open world as they see fit. Granted the V Dimension is not a massive world with side quests and achievements, but if you want to get lost in the experience and just take your time clearing the game, you can do so. And if you ever feel the urge to jump to another level rapidly, there are several teleportation devices placed in each level for your convenience.

    VVVVVV doesn’t give you a set number of lives, you don’t upgrade your character, and there is certainly no level of stat development. One hit, and you’re dead. You’re bound to die a couple thousand times before you get through the entire game, but it never gets too frustrating because there are checkpoints scattered everywhere. If you die, the most you’ll have to do is enter the area where you died once again so you can retry. So even though VVVVVV is difficult and even a bit punishing, the constant re-spawn points make it so that you don’t feel like all hope is lost when you can’t get through that blasted spiked obstacle.

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    Controls

    Timing and proper use of the flip function are key to succeeding in VVVVVV. 

    You control Captain Viridian using the arrow keys and spacebar. You can choose between the spacebar and up/down to utilize the flip mechanic, but I personally preferred using spacebar. The game doesn’t have controller support, but in all honesty, it doesn’t need it. VVVVVV controls really well with the computer keyboard, and though some gamepad loyalists may be wary about relying solely on the keyboard, rest assured that the controls are solid and work exceptionally well as they are. Take it from me, because I’m a gamepad purist myself.

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    Graphics

    VVVVVV is a true work of art, both in its visual design and in its awesome soundtrack. 

    VVVVVV features a pure, 8-bit style that really lends itself to classic Commodore 64 and early NES titles. Though each room in the levels consists of only a couple of colors, every area uses different combinations, so everything always looks minimalistic and artsy. By the end of your adventure, you’ll have seen a great assortment of bold colors mixed and used in clever ways. This title is old-school bliss, and the color use is sure to bring back memories of classic play sessions with your favorite legacy consoles.

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    Sound

    Rounding out the presentation in VVVVVV is a wonderful collection of themes that will get stuck in your head almost immediately. The chiptune-heavy soundtrack ranges from quirky to thoughtful to intense, and it is easily some of the most enjoyable video game music ever created.

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    Lasting Value

    You will die. A lot. 

    You’re likely to get through VVVVVV after a few hours, and while there aren’t any major side missions to spend more time on, there are 20 collectible shiny trinkets strewn across the entire dimension. Very few of these are out in the open, and if you want to collect them all, you’ll have to check every room and engage in some of the game’s more difficult puzzles just to reach them. There are unlockable modes such as Time Trial and Flip Mode, which turns all the levels vertically and encourages a second playthrough of the game. Of course, the VVVVVV allows you to unlock the modes at will through the menu if you should choose to do so. All in all, you’re likely to spend about five hours playing through VVVVVV (10 if you decide to play all over again in Flip Mode), but you’ll feel compelled to start all over again shortly after you beat the game. It’s just that captivating.

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    Overall Score

    VVVVVV is a very special game because it offers challenges and thrills that are a bit brutal at times but always fair. The game’s original cost of $15 was a good asking price, but now that it’s been reduced to $5, you’d have to be insane to pass up one of the most compelling, enjoyable, and damn near perfect puzzle platformers in recent memory.