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19th January 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Acquiring a look that carries common characteristics seen in many indie games, VVVVVV has achieved much popularity since its PC release. Just recently, the game's reach increased even further with its inclusion in the Humble Indie Bundle package. And now, Nicalis has decided to publish the game for the Nintendo eShop, making it available in portable form for the first time. Because the game draws upon a decidedly simple mechanic, the question arises: Is the experience solid enough to attract both new and returning crowds?
In this game, you take on the role of Captain Viridian who makes it his aim to find his missing crew members after an unexpected accident. Each of them wind up stranded in rooms hidden throughout the planet-like world. Narrow passages you come across usually have their own sets of hurdles in the form of spike traps or actual enemies. Once you locate a missing person, you can head to a portal generator nearby to teleport back to HQ without having to cross all those traps again.
Captain Viridian can be controlled using either the Circle Pad or the D-Pad. The more comfortable option will ultimately be a matter of preference, but just having that option to alternate gives players less of a reason to say their progress is being hindered by awkward game's controls. The main gimmick here is gravity control, and you can quickly go from walking on the floor to striding along the ceiling by pressing the A Button. Captain Viridian and his crew are unable to jump over gaps and must use walls of the environment to get around. You may have to remind yourself of this a couple times since it's actually easy to forget that point. But it doesn't take much for this to become second nature.
The controls in this game are definitely loose, which can lead to some frustratingly narrow misses after repeatedly trying to clear the same puzzle. On many occasions, you'll get the timing right, but the looseness of the controls will prevent you from braking in time to prevent Captain Viridian from running into another trap. Those who yearn for greater difficulty in games will surely be satisfied with the challenge factor here. Others may be quick to fault the game for this, but in reality, VVVVVV is a pretty motivating adventure.
Many areas you visit are dominated by a central theme and colour scheme to add some more personality. Each room features teaser text that often makes reference to the technique you need to escape, but at other times, the game will actually poke fun at you or draw references from slightly obscure pop culture. You'll also find computer terminals with logs you can consult with the X Button, but they're nothing big.
As you make your trek from the open areas into the more tight caverns and passageways, the music often reflects the change in atmosphere. The purple section, for example, features thin strings or slits that you can bounce off of, accompanied by some great music. The green rooms are very retro-inspired with Pac-Man references and chiptunes that carry an almost Asian sound. But other than that, the game maintains a basic look that's not all that memorable by my standards, but those who grew up playing classic systems may appreciate the simplicity of it all. In keeping with that theme, the incorporation of 3D doesn't serve much of a purpose at all, neither adding to or detracting from the simplicity.
This game really feels like it puts you through the paces and challenges you at many turns. Much of it is rooted in trial and error, albeit this doesn't manifest itself in elements or areas that have unfamiliar surroundings. Typically it's just a matter of finding out the trick to getting to the next room, whether that be by timing your jumps, using quick thinking as you reach the next screen, acting on reflexes to zip past a recurring obstacle, or making use of gravity changes to get around. And while the situations you find yourself in seem easy to get past, the game is a lot harder than it looks.
I can point to one segment in particular that I had literally spent 20 minutes on just trying to get to the next area. If you're an impatient kind of gamer, you may be wondering why I didn't give up sooner. But in a twisted kind of way, it was actually fun. What went a long way in me pressing onwards was the fact that the obstacle I was faced with didn't seem impossible. And so, this led to a mini-cheering session in my head that helped with the nuances that would often trip me up. Yes, VVVVVV is an undoubtedly hard game, but because none of the rooms feel excruciatingly difficult, players usually feel compelled to continue plowing through in spite of the initial rough jolt.
Besides searching for your lost comrades, players can also explore other pathways that may or may not lead to dead ends where you'll find collectible trinkets. Because the trinkets don't appear very often in the adventure with only 20 to be found, they feel like special goals that you should aim for. And when you do get a glimpse of where they are, it's hard to say no to them and come back later. Having said that, aside from a few unlockables here and there like a Jukebox, these don't really amount to anything major. You might argue that these well-placed items actually give players a distraction when the search isn't proving successful, but because they're usually preceded by a challenging set of obstacles, sometimes they're more trouble than they're worth.
When you really look at it, VVVVVV is quite simple, yet the way the open world is set up and the different puzzle rooms are organized show a degree of clever thought. These ultimately drive the simple gravity-altering mechanic further into something that becomes a source of challenge whilst also offering a fair share of frustration as well. But it's all presented with such personality and charm that the game is able to take off more than the core concept would otherwise allow room for. Admittedly, sometimes the hardest part isn't getting somewhere, but also heading back the same way you came, and there were a few instances where I really wanted a quick getaway instead. But because of the sheer difficulty and how the different rooms occasionally mix things up, you can't really describe the game as boring.
Contributing to this is the occasional feeling of surprise. There were two points in the game where you rescued your teammate and travelled through a portal, only it didn't take you back to HQ. Instead, you are sent to this alternate location cut off from the main map and can only make it back to your original destination by getting to the end in one piece. With the first of these no-signal areas, the crew member who followed you through the portal will regularly stay on your tail until you start walking along the ceiling. Puzzles presented here force you to take advantage of this and consider the proximity with which your crew member moves. In a homage to shooters, the second area (The Gravitron) has you dodging bullets from multiple angles for 60 seconds. Every five seconds that you chip off the countdown timer will serve as a checkpoint for when Captain Viridian makes contact with these obstacles.
Those instances aside, the brief puzzles seen in the different rooms are usually straight-forward. A few of them, though will involve using the edges of the screen to get to an area on the opposite end, while others will challenge your perception a tad. Again, the way these obstacles are setup usually doesn't amount to anything noteworthy, but that doesn't stop the game from being mostly enjoyable to experience.
After rescuing all your teammates and seeing the ending, players can focus on opening up the entire map on the Touch Screen. Completionists may feel inclined to go after the 20 trinkets scattered about the world, but I personally wasn’t fussed about collecting them all, especially in light of the somewhat arduous process of visiting merely decent areas a second or third time. Adding a bit more incentive to continue playing are a couple gameplay settings that act like codes to tailor your experience into something different. But I didn't find these necessarily enhance what the game presents in its purest form.
Added to the package is a Flip Mode that supposedly changes the orientation of things, but unfortunately, this mode doesn't actually work. I thought it was just me at first, but with multiple people reporting similar issues, it became apparent that this was a technical oversight. Surely a simple update could fix this, but for now, we're left with an unplayable extra component to the game.
A handful of custom user-created levels have also been thrown in. Quite a few of them are likeable, giving you new areas to explore within a slightly different space that other gamers have materialized. Soul Searching and The Pyramid of Doom were fun ones I found, though I wasn't big on some of the others I tried. Many of these do play on the game's charm by having those same teaser texts at the bottom of the screen, but it's not likely that you'll play through all of these for the simple reason that some of them aren't as good as the base game.
While I wouldn't refer to VVVVVV as an example of indie gaming at its finest, it's still a pretty good experience. The game rarely ever lets up on the difficulty, but despite the fluctuating balance, the overall charm and simplicity both work well in the game's favor. Not an amazing game, but still worth playing nevertheless.
23/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 8/10 - Themed puzzle rooms with usually varied challenges, one simple mechanic, loose controls, surprises along the way, motivating plot
Presentation 7/10 - Purposely simple aesthetic, charming, good music throughout, text-based and visual references add personality
Enjoyment 4/5 - Challenge factor produces in players a drive to continue, a fair share of frustration along the way, not overly difficult, fun to play
Extra Content 4/5 - Good amount of length to the adventure, trinkets to collect, secret areas to explore, additional modes, custom levels
Equivalent to a score of 77% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System