Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: VVVVVV


There’s something to be said for the simplicity of classic games from past generations. Without the splendor of sophisticated graphics, complex physics engines, and modern production values the developers had to find ways to construct challenges that would stand out in people’s minds, making for memorable experiences. VVVVVV harkens back to those earlier days, with a look that absolutely brings me back to playing games on the Commodore 64. Fortunately, the challenges I remember from that era have come along for the ride, or may have even been improved upon.


The essence of gameplay in VVVVVV is being clever about how and when you invert gravity to make your way through a ton of spike-lined rooms of death. While the theming and specific nature of the challenges you’ll face will vary a bit by zone nothing ever strays very far from this core concept. This, of course, makes the controls very simple, you’ll essentially move left and right and then press a button to invert gravity and you’ve got the general idea already. The problem is in the execution, but on that score you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself.

That’s because the simplicity in control doesn’t mean that the challenges you’ll face are easily conquered. Quite to the contrary, in many places completing the levels will tend to put some sweat on your brow, especially if you’re determined to collect all of the game’s trinkets along the way as well. What will ultimately determine whether or not you’ll find the game addicting or off-putting will be the game’s, at times, diabolical degree of difficulty. Sharing much in common with other brutally-challenging games like Super Meat Boy you’ll hit your checkpoints often and you’ll need them because you’ll simply die a ton as you try to perfect your timing and technique to make your way through the game’s gauntlet of spiked death.


Of course since the challenge to accomplish everything in the game can border on sadistic in places a fair portion of the total Switch audience will likely not be ready for taking this on. Another portion of the audience will likely be put off by the more-retro-than-usual visuals in the game that make NES-era games look detailed. The thing is, VVVVVV is a relatively pure title with a clear objective in mind and truthfully the visuals are just a small piece of the puzzle, it is the level design that has gotten the lion’s share of the focus and when trying to complete some of the zones in the game that care and attention to detail will be felt deeply as you curse your umpteenth attempt at a specific room.

All said VVVVVV is a very good game experience for the most part targeted at a very specific segment of the market. While it is visually simple its focus is purely on the maddening challenge of a classic game mechanic worked in a variety of ways to create a compelling experience. If you’re not down on the looks or take your games on the less than hardcore side you’ll obviously want to steer clear. If, however, you’re the kind who picks up the gauntlet when it is thrown down before you it’s very engaging from start to finish.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Brutally challenging for the right reason, impeccable level design
  • A number of zones that throw a variation into the gravity-inversion mix to keep things fresh
  • Well-spaced and plentiful checkpoints at least ensure you only have to get through difficult areas once
Cons:
  • The game’s art is deliberately minimal
  • The level of challenge ramps up quickly and never lets up so mostly for hardcore gamers


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