Pixels have had something of a revival in recent years, but then again they never really left. They migrated from the home consoles that began to favor polygons and found a new home in the family of handheld machines. That being said, this generation of video games has seen in a renaissance for pixels (hand in hand with retro style games), partly due to services like the App Store, Steam, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, but mainly thanks to an ever increasing independent presence within the gaming industry. From new titles like Cave Story to retro rollbacks like Mega Man 9, it seems that pixels are here to stay. So here is VVVVVV, a retro style pixel platformer from independent developer Terry Cavanagh. Earlier this month, the game was released on Steam and made available for the cheap price of $5. So began a short but satisfying adventure of colours, gravity and puzzles.
The game begins with the D.S.S Souleye being thrust into Dimension VVVVVV and its crew evacuating into a teleporter. However, there’s a malfunction and the crew are separated from each other. One of the crew members is Viridian, the ship’s captain, and becomes our protagonist.
The goal of VVVVVV is simple, to explore the dimension and rescue the rest of the crew. Dimension VVVVVV is made up of a square grid which contains the ship, outer space and the different areas of each dimension. You only need to look at the game’s map to see the sheer scale. While you will traverse most of it during your first playthrough, there are many areas that I left untouched. You’ll want to explore all of the areas if you want to find the trinkets hidden throughout the world. The dimension really is the biggest character in the game. It’s just full of colour and imagination, and the way it looks has an appeal that just couldn’t be replicated without pixels. It reminded me a lot of the strange but great worlds of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, especially with each puzzle normally being set in one room and populated with very unconventional enemies.
Many different rooms make up the world and most of them will contain some kind of puzzle that needs solving. These start off simple as you get used to manipulating Viridian’s gravity shift ability but they soon get a lot harder and with it increasingly frustrating. Luckily, this isn’t to the point where frustration overtakes enjoyment and like any good puzzle game, there is a large amount of satisfaction from solving how to progress through a room or to using Viridian’s gravity shift at just the right times. It’s also nice to see that most of the puzzles don’t repeat themselves (unless you’re going back through them).
This is what really makes the game. Since Viridian can only move left or right and can’t jump, you have to rely on shifting gravity just to get over a slightly higher platform. All of the puzzles are centred around the ability and Cavanagh has gotten some very clever uses out of it. One example I can recall is a puzzle where you need to rapidly keep switching to get another crew member across some platforms placed above spikes.
Another reason to play the game is for its soundtrack alone. Every single chiptune has an energetic spark to it, and you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with the catchy bleeps and bloops. This comes from someone who doesn’t care much for videogame soundtracks, bar a few exceptions.
VVVVVV, however, is not without its flaws. It took me only 2 and a half hours to complete, making it a little on the short side. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the game can be very frustrating at times. Usually, it’s less that the rooms are puzzling but more that the puzzles require split second reaction time, as slightly too much pressure on your left or right key will kill Viridian and send you back to the last checkpoint. Sometimes the checkpoints can be two rooms apart if each room is part of one large puzzle so the game can definitely test your patience at times. It’s certainly not for someone expecting a simple 2D platformer.
All in all, I really enjoyed VVVVVV. As someone who only grew up with the latter half of the Sega Megadrive and onwards, I don’t have as much nostalgic tendencies for pixel games as our older editors have, but that didn’t matter because the game was simply fun from start to finish. The $15 asking price may be a bit steep for some of you, but if you enjoy puzzles, kickass chiptunes and good 2D platformers then you will enjoy VVVVVV.
If you’re still not convinced, then try the demo.