One thousand two hundred and ninety one. If I had that many pounds, apparently, I could buy myself 283 litres of Red Bull; I’d have more wings than even Icarus could get through and a side of liver failure to boot. I could also, if so inclined, get myself 11 grams of Heroin or even 7 whole days worth of films on DVD. Whilst I don’t actually want any of these things the £1291 would be lovely. Instead, what I have is 1291 deaths in Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV (Yes, six V’s). This quirky platformer was given to me by Edd as an idea as something to review. So, here it is: these are my thoughts on VVVVVV.
The idea is that you switch gravity and it causes you to fall in the other direction (obviously). You use this fantastic ability to navigate the various zones in the world as you (the Captain) embark on a quest to find members of your crew that are lost after being unceremoniously teleported across the dimension at the start of the game. Seems straightforward enough. You just can’t switch gravity mid air. You have to be on a flat surface and it’s this little rule that makes this game so damn hard. You see, the game is incredibly fast paced in certain sections and the inability to switch whenever you want makes it impossible to panic fix any mistakes that you make. In fact it makes panicking very bad indeed. Switch gravity at the wrong time and it’ll be death à la spike.
It’s all very in your face; one of those very stylised games – unapologetically retro in it’s feel, right down to the analogue monitor option. The music is retro. The graphics: retro. The simplicity of gameplay, again: retro. This is by no means a bad thing. It shows you what it is and sticks to it’s guns all the way through. There are no forced changes of gameplay mechanics, no new powers halfway through. No nothing. The game is what it is. I love it…
I also bloody hate it. I think half the problem is that I played the game through in one instance and that one instance was my first real try. It was a scarring ordeal that lasted 2 hours 35 minutes and 1 second as the earlier screenshot shows you. I definitely know I enjoyed some of it but the last section – “The Final Challenge”, as it so tantalisingly calls itself, I know that I did not enjoy one little bit. Death after death I struggled my way through, overcoming obstacles and challenges until one point where I got hopelessly stuck. Like really, really stuck. Then the game lost it’s fun somewhat. When you get stuck in a cycle of key presses and deaths it becomes hard to actually figure out what’s going wrong. It get harder and harder with each try to actually succeed. Enjoyment turns to frustration and fun into despair. The upbeat nature of the music keeps you ever pressing forwards however. Your deaths, and the little wailing sound they’re punctuated by, merely serve as accompaniment to the Orchestra of death. It’s part of the game, it’s why it let’s you restart so quickly. It’s why there are so many checkpoints. It’s why there’s an achievement to get less than 500 deaths in the game and it’s why so few people have got it.
Essentially, I don’t think VVVVVV, for most people, is a game to be played super seriously. It’s best approached as a casual time waster that can be jumped back into with ease. The simple concept and cutesy feel of the whole thing makes it very approachable for all and easy to get into to, however it’s best too much time isn’t spent fussing over progressing as it can lose it’s appeal if you get stuck. For those that do seek a challenge though, it awaits in VVVVVV. The achievements give you tough goals to work towards and with some work they do seem to be possible. Who wouldn’t strive for a no death run? Well… Me. After 1291 deaths, I think I’ll give trying for that achievement a miss. Although maybe the “get less than 500 deaths” one is within my grasp. I think I’ll go back to it and give it a go someday, but not for a while at least. After all, I think the poor little Captain has suffered enough for now, wouldn’t you agree?