As the window for independent game makers widens, so the variety of expected material should also grow. VVVVVV (or the The Letter V Six Times if you want to use your mouth) is the new title from Irish game artist Terry Cavanagh, who last year found himself praised for the artistically inspired Don’t Look Back. However, VVVVVV, as off the beaten path as it may be, is Cavanagh’s most conventional title yet, by which I mean it plays like a conventional game and much the same asks that you pay for it. So, is VVVVVV going to be the gravity defying indie breakthrough, or has Cavanagh floated back down to earth only to sell out, maaaaaan.
The cute tiny blue space captain Viridian and his crew of also cute, singularly coloured crewmates have found their ship under the assault of another dimension. With the crew scattered and ambushed by a dangerous new world, you as Viridian must use the absence of gravity to scavenge the dangerous terrain and return your fleet to safety.
No weapons, no powerups, no tools or gizmos, just your legs and solid ground to help Viridian dodge, weave and avoid the titular spikes that lace the landscape. There is no gravity, which means you can hop from the floor to the sky, but only when grounded. You cannot change directions while airborne, you also cannot make smaller traditional jumps. When you hop you aim for the stars, or in most cases, a wall of deadly spikes. While Viridian’s abilities never change, the areas you use them in do quite constantly. On top of teleporters and enemies more inspired by loose metaphors than danger, different sections or levels also come packaged with different twists. One has trampoline like lines that quickly change the direction of your momentum, others have exits and entrances that loop instead of advancing to the next room, à la Scooby Doo chases.
Some of the manoeuvres you need to pull off will look devilishly simple to the eye, but when you finally dust your knees off you’ll be a little disappointed by just how much blood you lost in order to execute a move. On the other end, some will appear vile and impossible, of course managing to achieve those will end with the expected sense of reward. The difficulty is exactly as it appears, very present. As much as the difficulty spikes rapidly from room to room, it’s never say die impossible. Like a celebrity name on the tip of your tongue, you’ll constantly feel soooo close to beating the room, becoming a slave to dozens and dozens of tireless attempts. As mean as the game can be, the plethora of checkpoints and zero load times won’t make you give up forever like other sinister titles.
You can beat VVVVVV, you just need to learn to embrace your death count digits. The Atari 2600 graphics are expectedly charming, though some of the fizzling background effects can be distracting from the painstaking action you need to otherwise focus on. The level of artistic pretentiousness doesn’t really ever overflow, there are some truly odd visages scattered about but nothing that seems outwardly expressive for an indie endeavour. I’m not sure if that last statement disappointed or relieved me. I can’t tell you to go download VVVVVV, it is definitely the complete package with content and challenge rooms, but how much you enjoy it entirely depends on what pushes your buttons. If your buttons are labelled chip tunes, retro, challenging, indie or quirky, it’s time to hop into this new dimension.
If you’re a masochist you can try the demo on the official website: thelettervsixtim.es