During their Nintendo Direct events, each of Nintendo’s regional branches announced discounts for eShop titles. While Japan and Europe saw a list of titles, America’s only discounted title was Super Mario Land, and only for a short period (the sale has been over for a few days now). However, in today’s list of eShop releases, they revealed the reason why: it’s called “Game of the Weekend”. Each week, Nintendo of America will highlight an eShop title and sell it at a discounted price. Last weekend Super Mario Land was $1 off at $2.99, and this weekend, VVVVVV is the Game of the Weekend. Normally $7.99, the game will be available for $4.99 between Friday June 29 at 9AM PST and Sunday July 1 at 9PM PST (which is a heck of a deal, considering it was one of my favorite games last year). With this alongside the 8-Bit Summer promotion, it seems like Nintendo is finally giving the eShop the spotlight it deserves. And if these promotions happen to bring you to the eShop, you also might want to check out Renegade Kid’s Bomb Monkey, Marvel Pinball 3D, and the demo of Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure, all available today.
In an industry dominated by rapidly advancing technology, increasingly complex control schemes, and 40-hour epics, it’s refreshing to see the downloadable space populated with games that defy the norm. With its Commodore 64-esque graphics, simple but engaging gameplay, and a length of roughly two or three hours, VVVVVV is different from many games out there — and perhaps that’s part of what makes it such an excellent experience.
VVVVVV is a difficult game to describe. Its focus on exploration reminds me of Metroid — but there are no enemies to blast, and absolutely no upgrades to speak of. The immense challenges remind me of Super Meat Boy — but while it’s called a platformer, it doesn’t even have a jump button. It uses a retro style like Bit.Trip or Mega Man 9 — and yet it sports a look all its own. It’s a strange mishmash of elements, and the result is an experience that is at once both familiar and also completely unique.
As I mentioned earlier, though it’s billed as a platformer, the game has no jump button. Instead, Captain Viridian has the ability to invert gravity with the push of a button. At any time, you can flip gravity, causing him to fall to fall off of whatever he’s standing on. If he’s on the floor, he’ll fall until he lands on a ceiling (or hits a wall of spikes), and vice versa. It’s intriguing to play a game in which the protagonist can fall hundreds of feet upward until landing on a surface, but can’t jump up a measly step. These controls never change throughout the course of the game, as there are no ability upgrades of any kind. Don’t let that fool you into thinking the game is boring in any way, because nothing could be further from the truth.
What makes VVVVVV such a joy to play is the brilliant and ever-changing level design. The game starts off simple — you’ll use the gravity mechanic to navigate through tunnels of spikes (I said simple, not easy). Later on, the level designs add all kinds of challenging obstacles, including (but not limited to) moving projectiles, beams that automatically reverse gravity, and Pac Man-esque mazes. For the most part the game doesn’t scroll, rather taking place on single screens, allowing players to focus on the challenge at hand. While VVVVVV is short (it can be completed in around two hours), there is absolutely no padding. It’s a blast from start to finish, which is something that is far too uncommon in gaming.
Although its mechanics are relatively simple, VVVVVV is not an easy game. Quite the opposite: the core game is quite challenging, and optional collectibles add even more difficulty. Despite this, however, it’s never frustrating and it never feels too unforgiving. Checkpoints are scattered around like candy, and like Super Meat Boy, there is almost no time between death and respawning. When I died (and I died a lot), I felt it was my own fault and I was immediately ready to try again, which the game obliged.
VVVVVV also has some excellent presentation elements; particularly including the music. Made up of atmospheric and infectious chiptunes, it will get in your head and stay there. It truly adds to the tension in some areas, and the unique feel of others. The graphics are simple and reminiscent of the Commodore 64, which might turn some people off, but they work in the context of the game. It’s also got a sense of humor. Funny dialogue appears on computer terminals scattered throughout the world, as well as with the protagonist’s crew members when you meet up with them. Additionally every screen has a caption relating to the gameplay. At times they border on trolling (“Easy Mode Unlocked!” appears in one particularly challenging area), but they are an interesting idea that often made me laugh.
I often shy away from PC gaming, but I played through VVVVVV on my MacBook Pro and it worked flawlessly. The game’s controls are simple enough that you shouldn’t worry about how it plays with a keyboard (in fact, I imagine it might’ve been designed with it in mind). However, I’ve also played a bit of the 3DS version, and despite my fears that the circle pad might not be ideal for the game, its controls are excellent as well. Both versions also include time trials, no-death mode (for sadists), and a vertical flip mode which reverses the world map. (It’s worth noting that flip mode currently doesn’t work in the 3DS version, something which will hopefully be fixed with a patch later on.) The 3DS version also includes 3D visuals (though with a bit of ghosting when the 3D is turned up) and several hours of extra content. Based on my experience with the two versions, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either one.
While many games take two or three hours just to get started, VVVVVV is over in that span of time, but it’s a blast from start to finish. It’s challenging but not frustrating; it manages to be funny without intruding on the gameplay; and it’s got a phenomenal soundtrack, which I can’t get out of my head (nor do I want to). Though it’s a brief experience, VVVVVV does almost everything right, and for that, I can’t recommend it enough. If you own a computer (and if you don’t, how are you reading this?) or a 3DS, you should own VVVVVV.
VVVVVV was reviewed using the Mac version.
Nicalis has announced plans to publish Terry Cavanagh’s indie hit VVVVVV on the 3DS eShop. Originally released for PC in 2011, VVVVVV is a retro-styled 2D action-platformer filled with challenge and secrets. The 3DS version will feature a real-time map on the bottom screen, new levels, future content updates, and of course, 3D visuals while keeping the game’s distinctly 8-bit style.
The game is currently playable in near-complete form at IndieCade, an independent gaming festival in Culver City, California, and is expected to release on the 3DS eShop sometime in late 2011.