VVVVVV Review

By Shawn Collier on January 9, 2012

Back in 2010, Terry Cavanagh's indie title VVVVVV hit Windows and Mac as a Flash-based title and wowed players and critics alike with numerous perfect 10/10 scores across the board. The game later came in a more native C++ version in 2011 with the release of the third Humble Indie Bundle which added a level editor and the ability to load player-created levels along with it. With the game's release on the Nintendo eShop, handheld players will finally get to experience the game for themselves.

VVVVVV has pllayers join Captain Viridian as he escapes from a spaceship with the rest of the crew after it becomes affected by the dimensional interference in the area they are traveling in. After returning to the ship he learns that they've been trapped in an alternate dimension (known as "Dimension VVVVVV") and that his crew has been scattered all over it. The player's goal is to rescue the missing crew members and figure out what's causing the disturbance so they can return to their own dimension.

This is easier said than done, however, as VVVVVV's gameplay mechanics are far from the platforming basics you expect out of a Mario or Sonic title. Captain Viridian isn't able to jump but instead can reverse the flow of gravity when standing on a surface by pressing one of the face buttons, causing the captain to either fall upwards or downwards depending on the captain's orientation. Sounds simple, right? However, the difficulty ramps up considerably later in the game as new mechanics are introduced which add various hazards such as stationary spikes and moving enemies alongside moving floors as well as rooms which wrap around once the player reaches the other side.

While this may sound challenging, part of what makes VVVVVV so engaging is in how it requires the player to analyze everything in the game's rooms by engaging with them. Human nature makes us want to think of the world in terms of set directions, but many of the levels in VVVVVV throws this idea out the window as you'll need to go right to go left, down to go up, etc. Expect many deaths, thankfully the game provides numerous checkpoints (sometimes even multiple ones within the same room) and doesn't rely on pure reflexes and timing like say BIT.TRIP RUNNER or Super Meat Boy as you usually have at least one place in a room that you can pause and think before your next move. This isn't to say quick thinking isn't required for some parts of the game, but it isn't purely based on that through and through. And of course the controls work just as well as they did in the original, possibly even a little better due to the addition of the circle pad and the easy to reach buttons compared to a keyboard layout.

The main story lasts about 3-5 hours at most, which is why the port's developer, NICALIS (the group also responsible for the recent Cave Story ports and the Nintendo 3DS title Cave Story 3D), has added some of the more popular custom levels from the original and some new levels such as one from fellow indie developer Notch. Most of these range from relatively challenging to mindboggling, including Notch's level which will test even the most veteran players' wits. Sadly there's no level editor included unlike the original version, which is a disappointment "“ although NICALIS has stated they are open to the idea based on fan feedback.

For those who haven't experienced the game yet, the music is extremely catchy. Done by composer Magnus Palsson (also known online as SoulEye), the score is upbeat and will keep you engaged while at the same time not detracting from the numerous pitfalls that befall the player. Each song is uniquely tied to the its respective areas "“ the scrolling tower stage has a hectic tone to it as it warps the player around sounds decidedly techno and strange.

As the game was designed from the get-go to be a throwback to the Commodore 64 titles, the graphics are understandably retro and brightly colorful in their appearance. However, the 3D effect that was applied to the game feels more like the 3D movies that add the effect later in their development as an afterthought, it only gives a slight visual enhancement to the levels. Worse yet is some weird ghosting issues in parts of the game, which is surprising considering the simplicity of the 2D graphics, causing cross-eye fatigue for players. All in all, players are better off playing the game with the 3D effect turned off.

There's also the concern with the game's price as it retails on the Nintendo eShop for $8, much higher than other releases seen in the shop, and without a level editor it's a little questionable to part with that amount when the game can be purchased for less on Steam.

Final Thoughts

VVVVVV on the Nintendo 3DS, even with these issues, is still a spectacular indie title as it's music and gameplay are carried over here flawlessly. It's just a disappointment that the game feels like a PC port instead of something specifically tailored for the 3DS, especially with the $8 price tag and the lack of extras such as a level editor. If you can't get enough of VVVVVV this warrants a buy but others who can get used to the keyboard controls of the original might be better served with that version.

Fun and challenging gameplay.
Great soundtrack composed by Magnus PÃ¥lsson.
Elegant level design that'll make you think before you act.
3D visuals clearly an afterthought.
Ghosting occurs more often than desired.
$8 price tag.
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