It’s been a long time coming, but nearly months after it was released on the US eShop, Tim Cavanagh’s VVVVVV has finally made its way to the UK. A shining light of the indie brigade, this much vaunted puzzling platformer is an excellent addition to the growing roster of titles available to download on Nintendo’s 3D handheld.
VVVVVV offers up a unique blend of frustration and success, all wrapped up in a retro audio-visual package designed to bring to mind the heyday of the 8-bit micro computer. C64 and Spectrum fans will get a jolt of nostalgia as the game loads to a soundtrack of screeches and a flash of multicoloured stripes.
Behind the late eighties aesthetic lies the story of Captain Viridian and his crew. Thrown from their spaceship by some sort of dimensional fudgery, it’s your job to lead Viridian through the dangerous confines of the ship, collecting the various members of the team and trying to figure out what’s gone wrong in the process.
The game is a platformer with a twist. Rather than jumping, you tap a face button to invert the gravity, sending Viridian falling upwards to what was once the ceiling. Traversing through the trap filled ship is a matter of quick thinking, razor sharp reaction times and the ability to reassess your surroundings when you’re upside down.
Things start off reasonably sedately, with only a few spikes and the occasional bottomless pit blocking your path, but pretty soon the game starts throwing nightmarish concoctions of crumbling platforms, speeding projectiles, and bouncing ghosts at you.
Despite the toughness of its challenges, VVVVVV’s checkpoint system is a kindly one, and you rarely have to travel back too far after failing to navigate a tricky screen. It’s a good job too, because you’re going to die… a lot. It’s testament to the excellent level design that, as frustrated as you’ll get, you’ll still want top push on to see the next section the game has to offer.
The open nature of the game means you’ll spend a decent amount of time exploring the ship, which is represented in map form on the bottom screen. There’s something cathartic about watching the blank spaces fill with neon lines as you delve deeper into the game, and hidden terminals egg you on to investigate every corner and corridor.
VVVVVV is a difficult game, but it’s one that’s worth persevering with. Its levels are a master class in game design, its trials and tribulations finely poised and expertly balanced. Your failures are rarely down to cruelty, but poor planning or a too hasty twist of gravity as the excitement gets the better of you.
In spite of its simple graphical style, VVVVVV exudes a charm that few big budget games could hope to match, with each of its colour swapped characters offering up a rounded and interesting personality. This is indie gaming at its very best, tough as old boots, full of brilliant ideas and imaginative gameplay, and it feels perfectly at home on the 3DS.