There are hard games, and then there are hard games. The unusually titled VVVVVV fits into both those categories, because it’s double hard. If it were a person, it would be Ray Winstone in Scum. However, instead of being completely unforgiving, and a game which ensures the phone on which it’s installed takes at least one flying trip across the room, it’s not without compromise.
VVVVVV has been around for several years, and has been released on a wide variety of platforms, from Mac OS X to the PlayStation Vita. Its journey to mobile was completed recently, following a launch on both Android and iOS. We’ve been playing the iOS version on an iPhone 5, and it ran perfectly, but it’s most certainly not a game for everyone.
For a start, this is about as retro as it’s possible to get. The graphics are pure 8-bit joy, meaning there’s plenty of pixels to go around. We hesitate to call the game a platformer, but it does owe a debt to games such as Jet Set Willy and other, similar ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 titles. Special mention should go to the game’s music, which is an 8-bit-style chip tune that’s astonishingly good, and highly memorable. It suits the game perfectly, recalling other classic 8-bit tunes – Cybernoid kept coming to mind – and almost worth purchasing the game for alone.
The game follows the captain of a starship, played by you, who gets transported off his stricken vessel with the rest of his crew. However, he gets zapped into an unknown craft and must explore and find a way to rejoin his friends. The action takes place in a series of rooms, each with its own set of challenges.
Most platform games involve running and jumping, and sure enough VVVVVV’s lead character zips backwards and forwards. Instead of leaping around, he defies gravity and flips on to the ceiling, or back down on to the ground. This is where VVVVVV’s difficulty lies. You can’t jump over hazards or onto moving platforms, and must instead strategically fall on to them, or out of harms way. The control system is simple, with the default setting making the left side of the screen for movement, and the right for inverting gravity. There are several alternatives if this doesn’t suit your style.
Almost every room is fiendishly designed. There’s everything from serrated floors to evil aliens to deal with, and sometimes it’s a mission on its own just to work out how to make it onto the next room. The game has various special objects to collect, and these are all hidden at the end of some extremely hard rooms, and your patience will have worn thin by the time you collect them.
We’ve talked about VVVVVV’s difficulty, but what about the compromises we mentioned? There are two, and without them, the game would be insufferable. There are continue points in each room, so if you fail, you’re not sent back to the start of the game. Additionally, you have unlimited lives, and the two together ensure you can repeatedly try to beat a room without risking your sanity.
Well, almost. Despite these very modern twists, VVVVVV is still a very old game at heart. This means you need pinpoint accuracy, perfect timing, and lots of practice before you beat some rooms, let alone the game itself. It’s very difficult, but it never feels unfair, and the endless lives make it suitable for everyone, no matter their gaming skills.
VVVVVV costs £1.99 and is compatible with the iPhone and the iPad. There’s an army of fans out there who’ve already snapped the game up, but if you’re a newcomer with a liking for retro games, then this is a must buy.