Irish independent game developer Terry Cavanagh, formerly most famous for the innovative Flash game Don't Look Back has released his latest title, VVVVVV. Imagine if the notoriously difficult platformer I Wanna Be the Guy were a bit more retro and a bit more honest and you'll have this new title.
Depending on your skills, you could easily die over 400 times over the course of VVVVVV (and oh yes, it does keep track for you). The graphics are early 8-bit style, with a few effects thrown on top to keep it interesting. The music is all pitch-perfect chiptunes done by Magnus Palsson (SoulEye). For the old-school, sometimes masochistic gamer, this is a dream come true.
VVVVVV is a platformer built off of one major premise: you are trying to escape from a spaceship and save your friends. While you can't jump, you can reverse gravity. This single mechanic is explored thoroughly, with almost every room displaying a new, interesting way to present a challenge. For this reason, the rooms are more puzzle than platform. There are certainly plenty of rooms where your reflexes and control ability are being tested much more than your brain, but I can also remember entering rooms and just staring at the screen awestruck, spending upward of a minute just trying to process it before even moving my character. Thus, both your brain and your reflexes will be tested, but it's certainly the levels that require reflexes that are more frustrating.
There are often so many checkpoints that when you actually have to conquer more than one obstacle without dying, it can seem suddenly unfair. It drives the difficulty up exponentially, and there's even a time pressure level thrown in that seems a bit cruel. But you have infinite lives, and one's frustration will definitely vary. Some people may ragequit the game after spending ten minutes on it, and some will savor the gratification after passing a room you spent dozens of lives on. I was in the latter group.
SoulEye's soundtrack is great, it perfectly matches with the title. Getting a certain number of the twenty "thingies" (collectibles) scattered throughout the game world unlocks the ability to pick a specific track to play in the overworld. Collecting all those thingies is rather difficult, so you would be excused for just wanting to pay/donate four dollars for the soundtrack from SoulEye's website. It is undoubtedly worth that much money.
Speaking of the price point, VVVVVV is currently $15. That is higher than traditional for independent titles, a similar situation to the original cost of World of Goo, which still certainly gave gamers more than they paid for (but got pirated to death anyway).
The main portion of VVVVVV is about two hours long, and there are some minor extras you can try like Flip Mode and time trials. Don't be scared off by that "two hours" number though. It will feel like more than that, and it's worth the $15 if you enjoy the gameplay mechanics behind it. Having said that, you should certainly try the online demo first, to make sure that it's something you'll enjoy.
VVVVVV serves as an interesting treatise in game design, displaying the tenuous trade-off between frustration and gratification, taking one basic mechanic and showing just how many ways it can be toyed with to keep things fresh. The game is short, but does not feel repetitive as the challenge and introduction of new elements into the equation is perfectly timed. The year in indie gaming is off to an auspicious start.
This game has not been rated by the ESRB. The character's death is abstract and non-violent, and there seems little else present which could be construed as potentially objectionable.