Sometimes nostalgia can get the better of you - harking back to days gone by reminiscing about how great some Atari, Spectrum and Amiga games were. When you actually return to them suddenly you realise how misty eyed you've been. VVVVVV taps into this nostalgia and runs with it in what is a beautifully simplistic yet utterly compelling game for the PC.
Created by Terry Cavanagh, the game places you in glossy 8-bit heaven. From the grizzly processed music to the blocky jagged graphical blocks, VVVVVV sets out itself as a traditional 2D side scrolling platformer that makes no apologies for being as retro as possible. Younger gamers may find this heavily stylised approach a bit off-putting but for those of us whom have collected dust over the years, there's something comforting about it - homely.
VVVVVV can be played almost exclusively from the arrow keys and its world is governed by one specific rule - you can flip from wall to ceiling and back again. Instead of jumping over gaps, simply press up and you'll flip up to the ceiling to run across. Tapping down returns you to the floor. This single gravity rule is the crux of the gameplay as you traverse increasingly more complex screens. Open pits are replaced by spiked walls from which the game derives its title from, platforms move, spin, roll and fall away from you. There are some impressive set pieces too including a section where you are chased through a maze of corridors while a spiked wall follows you closely behind.
The aim of the game is to find all your crew members from your fallen spacecraft and escape the planet you've crashed onto. Each crew members rescue brings something new to the table. There's a particularly difficult section where your crew member follows your every move that you make on the floor. If you don't want them running off the platform edges, you must flip to the ceiling to stop them moving forward. This brings in a strategic element to a game that's primarily all about timing, dexterity and patience.
Patience is something you will need by the bucket load for VVVVV - it's not for the faint hearted. Each screen is individually named to house a clue about your challenge ahead and sometimes that challenge will require several goes before you can pass it. Some screens require precision perfect timing to avoid spikes while others require you to almost memorise your movement pattern in order to survive it. Think Super Meat Boy but without a timer. This can lead to a frustrated player if you expect to be handed an easy ride from start to finish. Thankfully a handy save feature is never more than a few screens away so if you do die, you won't be set back too far. More importantly, each death feels validated. You always know what you did wrong and it doesn't feel like the game is unfair or out to get you at anytime and that's a testament to the games predictable physics.
Where VVVVVV excels best however is its awareness of the retro genre itself. From its stylised graphics, one screen puzzles, catchy musical riffs buzzing in true 8-bit fashion and its silly dialogue, VVVVVV pays homage to 80's gaming at every turn. It works perfectly as a cohesive unit and not one element of the game feels out of place. What this also means is that it doesn't tax your PC either. Its able to run in a very small window or full screen and I suffered no issues at all with a modest laptop setup. Where the game also succeeds is in its learning curve. From gently introducing the game changing flip mechanic, it ups the ante constantly but you'll never feel as if you're well out of your depth. It also gives the impression from the map that you can almost choose which character you'll save next thus disguising its linear format.
This isn't a game for everyone though. If you are easily frustrated or are intent on shooting and fighting your way through everything then you'll fail to see the beauty of VVVVVV. It's platforming all the way here and you're only as good as your last wall flip. Expect to see the game over death screen often. Also expect to see the game finished screen quickly too. The game can be finished in about two hours although there's bonus collectables to return for to unlock a music player and other gadgets. While that does sound quick, it means that VVVVVV's simpleton ways never tire before the final curtain falls. The game stays fresh and entertaining and you'll be back on it repeating your rescues again and again.
VVVVVV is a magnificent achievement for a one man band. The game is purely about combining style and substance around a quirky but perfectly implemented twist on the side scrolling platformer genre. Recommended for any old skool retro fans and any gamer who gets satisfaction out of completing awkward platform challenges. Now, where's my C64 gone!