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VVVVVV

The Best Game Never Played

VVVVVV (Action Puzzle / PC)

Introducing the Genre

Genre is always the most difficult to define on the best games because they blend and bend the rules. This game reminds me of a very early “kids’ game” that you can beat with some difficulty, without getting frustrated, but with many difficult challenges for advanced players. It’s a puzzle game that uses gravity, but you have to be quick to solve the puzzles.

Introducing the Game

I saw clips of this game a long time ago and completely forgot about it until the Steam Summer Sale 2012 when I picked it up. It’s a wonderful experience for the price that I can recommend to anyone who wants a mindbending puzzle game that only stresses you out as much as you want it to. The game is named after the action key you’ll be pressing over and over, VVVVVV(that’s 6 Vs).

Gameplay

If you ever played Gravity Man’s stage from Mega Man V, imagine an entire game based around that concept. You have the power to control gravity, for yourself. Up becomes down at your whim. It’s an incredibly innovative, minimalistic gameplay mechanic, but the uses for it and puzzles based around it are incredibly varied in difficulty and nearly endless. It’s “simple” enough that I don’t ever want to admit defeat.

Up and down, it doesn’t seem too hard, does it? You will still die, many, many, times. There are checkpoints, thankfully, littered around the game very very liberally. Sometimes there’s more than one per screen, the puzzles are that deadly. Besides checkpoints, there are teleporters all around the map allowing you to save time when loading up the game.

Story

Your character and a handful of others are exploring outer space when there’s an accident and the laws holding physics and reality are broken. As the captain, it’s up to you to find and rescue your crew. It’s simple, it’s charming, and it’s somewhat engaging. The pace of the story, depending on your skill, moves along at a good and rewarding pace. Scattered around near teleporters, there are small recording devices that tell you bits and pieces as to what happened and why.

The simple graphics and constant smiles on everyone’s faces are endearing and make me care about the crew as if I were a kid again. Your crew return to your ship and you can talk to them. After each member is rescued, there is more to say. This basic interaction is as endearing as their smiling faces and helps you relate to them, and attach yourself emotionally to them. They’re just a dozen or so pixels, but if say, one of them met their end by the hands of Sephiroth, I’d be strongly affected. They all have a child-like innocence which makes this game appropriate for all ages.

Graphics

This could probably run on a x386. Simplicity! For a game to run on x386 graphics, you have to have great gameplay to back it up. Too often games rely too much on graphics, this game seems to excel in it’s retro asthetic. You could probably play it on an Atari, if it had the memory.

Music

I’ve repeatedly said that music can bring a game from good to great. The composer, Magnus Pulsen is a chiptune genius. I haven’t heard melodies like this since the NES era, and I watch the Penny Arcade show with chiptune themes in every episode. Ever since I first played it, it’s been stuck in my head. Thank goodness the soundtrack is available for purchase!

I was whistling it while walking down the street one day and thought this would be great material for OCRemix or TheSauce. This game’s soundtrack needs more exposure. Not to belittle chiptunes, but I’d love to hear these tracks remade with instruments. Behold, after looking for the soundtrack online, I see Pulsen has an arranged album already available. Awesome!

The music is as much a triumph as the rest of the game.

Sound

The sound is a small part of the game. There’s no spoken words, just simple sounds for death, flipping, and teleporting. It’s cute and reminds me of the games of the era this game is representing. It’s charming as the graphics. Even though I died over 416 times(yes, the game keeps track and shows you at the end), the sounds never became annoying.

Controls

VVVVVVV, so easy to learn. If you die, it’s never because of the controls.

Multiplayer

None. I can barely keep track of myself let alone another person. I might just throw up. Blergh.

Depth/Replayability

In your quest to rescue the crew, you’re likely to run into a “Shiny thing, 1 out of 25.” Many are hidden in out of the way places or behind insidious death traps. BUT – there are just as many non-difficult ones to find. So you can still make progress in your collection without frustrating yourself. There was just as much “easy” bait to drive me to go find the harder ones! Thank goodness for an in-game map. After you finish the game, the locations are all mapped for you. Getting there is half the puzzle!

The music has also kept me coming back. I just wanted to float and fly while trancing out to the chiptunes.

If you’re truly into self-punishment, you can play the alternate unlockable modes that only allow you one life. That will be an ultimate endurance challenge to watch live. You can stumble your way through most of the game, but to lower the death count and refine your skills is an enjoyable “grind.” Sections of this game would be interesting to see in the Penny Arcade competitions at PAX.

Overall, the game is actually pretty short. A younger gamer might take some more time, but I finished it in two sittings of a couple hours each. That’s not a bad thing. It will encourage me to make the trip all over again much sooner than the 60+ hour RPGs.

It’s fun, it’s short, it’s uncomplicated, there’s stuff to do after the main game. They get what replay is about.

Personal

I love the aesthetic choice, the music, and the concept! It’s hard not to watch this game or play it and not get excited.

There is the occasional “escort” mission, but it’s not a rehash or repeat of a typical escort. Each one changes things up just a little bit. Things flying at you, multiple things flying at you at once, the occasional auto-scrolling screen, paradoxes, you’ll lose a little bit of your mind and love it! There are parts where you have to think outside the box and plan ahead several seconds in advance.

Boiling it Down

WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Go download the demo and I dare you not to fall in love with it!