A Really Fantastic Game
I've never played a Commodore 64, but VVVVVV is an interesting enough game to have sparked my interest. Although the pixel-precise gameplay would have been roughly impossible to create on the 64, the aesthetic and music have enamored me so that I'd be interested in playing a few of them, and have actually sought out Jet Set Willy as a result.
VVVVVV is a 2D side-scrolling platformer with elements of the Metroidvania world design and exploration added to the mix. You play as Captain Viridian, who must evacuate his spaceship with his crew. They become separated from each other after going through a teleporter, and after Viridian reunites with Doctor Violet, he sets out to rescue the other four members of his crew, whose names also start with V. It's an amusing joke, and the game is peppered with humor in a few places, most notably in the room names found at the bottom of each screen written by Ben Foddy.
The game is mostly played by flipping Viridian from floor to ceiling by hitting the space bar, the up/down arrows, or the V key because of course you can hit the V key to play most of the game. The challenge is mostly tied to properly timing these flips and movement during those flips, as Viridian cannot flip back the other way until he reaches a surface. Spikes and checkpoints are both placed liberally to ensure that you will die often and not get supremely frustrated by that fact. While those not accustomed to pixel-perfect platformers might have extreme difficulty with certain stages, those who excel at games like Super Meat Boy will find VVVVVV to be reasonably easy, finding themselves encountering a rather short gameplay experience. However, most players will probably have a perfectly satisfactory experience with the game's length, largely extended by honing their skills in order to clear many areas. The game never reaches anything close to the difficulty heights of even Super Meat Boy's light world, ensuring that most player will probably be able to complete this game sooner rather than later.
Even for hardcore players, however, there's plenty to enjoy in the level design. The different areas make strong use of introducing new mechanics; for example, one area is largely focused on gravity strings that flip Viridian back the way he came, allowing the player a loose vertical jump that allows him to come back down when he tries to flip to the ceiling (or back up if he's coming back to the ground.) These new mechanics are each in the individual areas devoted to whichever crew member Viridian is trying to save, though there are occasionally intermission levels that mix these mechanics together. As a result, unlike Metroid or post-SOTN Castlevania, these different areas and mechanics can be tackled in any order, though there's certainly one or two that are far more difficult than the others.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the best thing in the game still might be its aesthetic. Terry Cavanagh did a great job putting together an old-school color palette and visual design that is cohesive with his gameplay, and Magnus Pålsson has put together one of the best chiptune scores in ages. It's largely a very energetic adventure thanks to proper use of colors and music, and the theme that plays when Viridian has entered a zone in which he might save his allies (a somewhat revitalized and dramaticized take on Guile's Theme) is downright rousing, taking on a life of its own.
VVVVVV is another great example of borrowing from the past and making something that feels fresh to play. While it pulls an aesthetic and sense of difficult platforming from Jet Set Willy, the flipping mechanics, music, and humor all feel like they're completely owned by VVVVVV, and it's one of the few legitimately pixel-perfect platformers in a year that served up another excellent example in Super Meat Boy. I had a blast playing this game, and I can't wait to play Terry Cavanagh's next major project.