Spikes… so many Spikes…
HIGH Utterly elegant from top to bottom.
LOW The difficulty of certain rooms is hateful.
WTF As if anyone could beat this game without a single death…
Frequent readers of this site will know that it's an extremely rare occasion when I will play a PC game, let alone review one. However, I do make the odd exception once in a blue moon under the right circumstances, and one of those circumstances is when Terry Cavanagh releases a new title. Made available for purchase just a few days after this review was written, Terry's latest is titled VVVVVV, and it's a cracker.
Cruising through space, a ship containing an 8-bit crew runs into trouble with a rogue dimension. All hands except the captain are scattered throughout the game's world, and it's up to the player to reunite them. However cute it may be (and it is) this isn't a story-driven title by any means… no, it's all about the gameplay.
VVVVVV's world is broken up into discrete rooms, some coming together to form "levels" of a sort, while some are simply meant to be traveled through. Although the experience is built on a core of platforming, the twist is that rather than jumping, the main character can flip gravity itself.
With just a push of the space bar, the captain will find himself hurtling upwards to land on whatever ceiling waits above. Hit it once more, and gravity is restored to what we think of as normal. The concept is simple enough to grasp immediately, yet Terry has found ways to twist and spice the formula, keeping it fresh and challenging throughout. Moving platforms, warp zones, trampoline-like lines suspended in space, wraparound levels that nearly induce vertigo, and of course (as the title might suggest) lots and lots and lots and lots of extremely lethal spikes.
Although relatively short, it must be said that the difficulty of a handful of sections is hair-pulling/pant-soiling. Players with a low tolerance for frustration should be warned. Part of the challenge comes from a little slipperiness maneuvering the captain (especially laterally), but mostly it's due to narrow margins for error and… spikes. Oh, those spikes. I don't say this to scare anyone off, though—the ideas and energy on display are wonderful, though they are somewhat tempered by a bit of sadistic brutality.
Sporadic difficulty notwithstanding, it's certainly a credit to Mr. Cavanagh that a project with VVVVVV's basic graphics and simple controls can feel so completely energetic and entertaining. Much more than it initially appears, I was quite glad to have spent time with the title, and eagerly look forward to what Terry will be cooking up next.
Something without spikes, perhaps.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 2 hours and 43 minutes of play (along with 896 deaths) were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: There is no questionable language and no sexual situations. As far as violence goes, it's a fact that the player's character will die over and over and over again, impaled on spikes, but just look at these graphics… something so cheery and colorful is totally harmless any way you slice it. The game will likely be far too difficult for most children, but it's in no way harmful.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You won't have any issues. All dialogue (what little of it there is) is presented through text, and there are no auditory cues necessary for gameplay. Play it without fear.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway