Some games have stellar mechanics, but are slack on ambiance. Others master ambiance, but produce lackluster mechanics. And then there’s VVVVVV! Created by Terry Cavanagh, VVVVVV shines brilliantly in both areas. Its slightly awkward (but manageable) controls, coupled with the ebb and flow of each unique area are one of the best combinations played by GAMeTILLDAWN.
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What stands out the most for VVVVVV is the inability to jump. Players must navigate the space by controlling “gravity”, switching between the top and bottom of spaces with all exhilaration. The satisfaction of successfully navigating the game comes from the precise level of difficulty—yes, replays are very normal and managed by a multitude of checkpoints.
The checkpoints allow players to focus on learning the mechanics. Though certain areas increase in complexity as progress is made, it’s the reliance on those checkpoints that lessen that stark increase.
What also aids the game’s performance is the music. No, not just the tunes themselves, but how they are used. Each area has specific music applied in a way that exudes effort, exploration, danger, triumph and depth. The audio is presented in such a way as to envelope players within the experience, causing me to grin and bounce with excitement throughout the gameplay.
The controls for VVVVVV do just enough to present a sense of “loftiness” and avoid annoyance. It’s that slight mechanic which makes some precision movements feasible, but hard to master. Nevertheless, Cavanagh has created an innate way of navigating the gamespace by utilizing the “roof” and “floor” of an area. Every significant movement (avoiding crucial obstacles) hinges on embracing this concept—I had to restart areas many times, simply because I forgot that I couldn’t jump.
But what VVVVVV does have going against it are its subliminal messages.
Some of the areas players encounter have obstacles that are just words, but if players focus on where those words appear and how they behave, it’s clear that the game isn’t just about avoiding spikes. One such area is a small, albeit brief section that focuses on the word TRUTH. It contains two instances of the word, but the area is so small and enveloped in danger that one has to avoid the truth.
Another instance spans a couple of areas with a devices emitting the word LIES. The stream is so persistent that even when navigating a different section of the area, the LIES keep coming. Consider the pattern between the two—the object TRUTH, an area called “Backsliders”, then the object LIES .Interesting.
I did find quite a few of these messages throughout, but haven’t looked further into them. When playing games, it’s important to always be mindful about all of the aspects of a game.
VVVVVV shines aesthetically and carves an experience that is both challenging and exhilarating. And while I do mind the subject matter of the game like all others, it focuses on the gameplay in a way that allowed me to complete the game. I enjoy the succinct experience it provides and look forward to more alternate experiences like it.