As you enter a new room, a giant, red enemy creature comes straight towards you. You briefly consider turning around and running away, but instead, realize that the key is to run straight towards him. For a moment, death seems inevitable. Then, at just the last moment, a paradigm shift, of sorts. The ground you were running on is no longer the ground, it is… the ceiling. You look up at the red beast as you fall to a small platform that was once above you. With spikes on either side, though, the only option is to drop back down.
This gravity-shifting ability, which can only be triggered when the player is touching a surface, is the key gameplay mechanic in VVVVVV, an independent 2D puzzle-platformer made by game designer Terry Cavanagh, of Don’t Look Back fame. Since its January 2010 release, September 2010 on Mac, it is now available for five dollars on any PC or Mac using Steam, a digital distribution platform for games.
A devastating spaceship crash causes a dimension-exploring team of scientists to become separated within an enormous mystery world, where things are not always what they seem. The ship’s captain must navigate this world by any means possible to rescue his crew before the world becomes too unstable and crashes in all around them. The story is quite basic, told through skippable text boxes. Though it is entertaining and even quite humorous at times, the story is mostly just a way to tie all of the fun gameplay together into one cohesive product.
The graphics are incredibly simple, reminiscent of a pre-original-Nintendo era. Similarly, the game is designed to be extremely challenging in areas, which is also likely inspired by games of that era. Also like a classic arcade game, there are only three controls: left, right, and gravity-shift. Nevertheless, the game does employ some very modern mechanics, like hyper-frequent checkpoints, that mean players will rarely have to repeat themselves. There is also no loading between deaths, so players can try and fail the same area of the game nearly a hundred times in a couple minutes before they’ll really start to become frustrated. The most difficult areas of the game are only necessary for those who insist on collecting all 20 hidden trinkets.
The hardest trinket to get in the game requires falling vertically through five spike filled rooms, navigating across hazards, landing on a small disappearing platform, then falling back down through the five rooms and landing on the other side of a small bump. In a game that had a jump button, it would be an easy task, but in this game, that bump meant around 1000 deaths. This might sound like torture to some players, but even besides the bragging rights, these challenges are rewarding because they show you that you can do something that initially seemed beyond impossible.
There really are a lot of different locations in the game, but the three most entertaining parts would have to be the springy trampolines section, the MC Escher section and the ever-rising ground section. While the game might be frustrating for those who never play games, it is more than doable for an average gamer. For five dollars, the game is diverse enough, and just long enough to really feel like an excellent investment. A demo and a download link are also available at thelettervsixtimes.