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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!

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Trine

 3/30/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

Just about anything can be a “platformer” either 2D or 3D. God of War could be a platformer, to a lame extend. What’s the difference in gameplay between Kratos and Mario 64 with some Blades of Chaos seared to his wrists? Platforming can be tacked on to almost any other genre, Mirror’s Edge was a 1st person platformer, Mario classic was a side scrolling platformer, Math Blaster has some educational platforming segments, there’s probably even a few racing platformer games out there. Does Sonic Riders count? This is a puzzle platformer, a rarity like The Misadventures of P. B. Winterbottom and The Lost Vikings.

Introducing the Game

I don’t normally review games with sequels. After all, a sequel means that the game wasn’t overlooked and discarded in a bargain bin. We’re at a point in time where there is a lot of talent out there getting recognized. Thanks to the internet community, making a game is more accessable than it’s ever been before. It’s easier to network and scout for people to help, or tutorials to teach. With the advent of digital distribution, self-publishing your game isn’t as prohibitive as it was before, shelf space is no longer needed. If your game is good, it will be easier to get noticed. At least, that’s the way it ought to be. Some games, even with sequels, don’t get the recognition and acclaim they deserve, like this game, Trine.

Gameplay

The gameplay doesn’t take as many new ideas as it does old ones. It takes an old idea with a slightly modern spin to it. You have 3 characters, each with special abilities, and navigate a trap filled level, like The Lost Vikings. There’s a wizard that conjures objects, a thief with a bow & arrow and grappling hook, and a strong knight with sword and shield. Due to the magical mix-up, the three are souls are bound together in a magical object called a Trine. So you can swap characters in the blink of an eye.

Each character has their own health bar, so if one dies, you lose the use of them for a short time. Even if you lose one character, and come to a difficult puzzle, there are usually multiple solutions around it. The thief could probably grapple around it, or the wizard can conjure a box or ramp to walk over or past it. If the knight is dead, the thief can use her bow & arrow to fight, or the wizard can levitate or conjure a box to drop on a creature’s head.

This type of multiple solutions must have required a lot of thought on the developers part. They could have been lazy and had only one solution per problem. By making many solutions to one problem, and considering the many problems throughout the game, I’m impressed. It’s up to the player’s own personality to solve the problem. One player may favor the knight, another may favor the wizard.

Story

A thief sneaks into a treasure trove in the middle of the night, touches a magical artifact and gets her hand stuck. A wizard, stargazing at night, hears the commotion, and tries to free her. A knight, who’s not really a knight, just pretending, bumbles in and gets trapped, too. They are all bound in one soul by the magical artifact. The wizard proposes a quest to search for another artifact in a far off place that can help to free them. Along the way they must face undead which have recently begun to spread across the land.

As the story progresses, these three people talk back and forth to each other. A good story, good drama, comes from relationships, relationships that grow, that change, that evolve, that are challenged, that mature. A character who is alone, will most likely never have as good a story as a character with relationships. Take some time, think of some examples you consider good stories and bad stories.

Trine has the three verbally interact when they can’t all physically interact, which creates the growth points I mentioned. They reveal more about themselves as the game goes on, and they grew on me.

Graphics

The graphics were wonderful for the time. They still are. Since the game wasn’t designed primarily with competitive online multiplayer in mind, the graphics showcase a higher polycount than a game that needs to shave a few off for the sake of processing power and speed. Castles, caves, enchanted forests, ruins, it’s all quite lovely for a generic fantasy setting.

Music

If you like classic Celtic soundtracks, the like of The Bard’s Tale, Greensleeves, or something you might hear on Highlander or starring Michael Flatley, this will be right up your alley. There’s not enough games with Celtic soundtracks. And for the generic fantasy setting, what would it be without it?

Sound

The voices are all very sharp, clear, and easy to hear over the music and environmental sounds. Those environmental sounds are just as sharp and strong. It’s satisfying to hear the rattle of bones from a collapsing skeleton, the *thwip* of the thief’s grappling hook, or the sharp crack of the warrior’s hammer against an animated skull. It’s an auditory reward, along with the rest of the game. I honestly don’t think I can describe it well enough to do it justice.

Controls

The controls are all very simple to learn, but infinite in their complexity and use. The box that the wizard can conjure can be used as a platform to jump on, submerge a pressure plate, a block to delay monsters, act as a shield from projectiles, a weapon to crush monsters, or be thrown by the warrior. Everything else in the game, each power has just as much complexity and can be used at any time. The game never tells you more than once, “use this power to do this.” It doesn’t hold your hand, because there’s more than one solution, and sometimes that crazy idea that the developers never intended will be one of them.

Multiplayer

There is no multiplayer aspect. That’d be weird for most puzzle games. It wouldn’t be impossible to have some kind of “Ghost” race, but you could always just record yourself and post it as a speed run. I’d imagine Trine would be perfect for that because of the incredible variety of puzzle solutions. Maybe the sequel will have something? Not that I’d miss it.

Depth/Replayability

Each character levels up and you can increase their various powers to get different effects. The wizard can summon more boxes or more ramps, the knight’s sword flames and can light torches, the thief can fire arrows faster, more of them, or set them on fire to also light torches. What you upgrade and when can drastically change how you solve certain puzzles as the game progresses. Beating the game the first time was a learning experience. I “knew” the “feel” of the game, without memorizing it. I just knew what the game was like, where it liked to hide treasures, power ups, hidden experience points. The second time through was a challenge to find everything it hid from me the first time around. And the second attempt at the puzzles, finding different solutions was an exercise in creativity not normally allowed in any game genre.

Personal

I had a blast, every step of the way.

I favored the thief more than anything. I think it’s because the *thwip* from the grappling hook that made me feel just like Spider-Man.

The banter back and forth between the characters is always funny to listen to. Not quite as fun as the trio of Lost Vikings this game reminds me of, but fun still.

Returning to the last check point after death isn’t as frustrating as it could be. I like occasionally trying to progress through some of the puzzles and obstacles in a different way than I did the previous time. Some methods work, some kill off one of the trio in spectacular fashion. Lava will do that. Exploring is fun, regardless. And it’s rare to have so much fun while losing. That’s pretty special.

Boiling it Down

Trine – Keeping the puzzle platformer alive and kicking!

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