The Worst-Named game of 2010. And the Best.
So every year, I like to give out a very unprestigious award for the Worst Named Game of 2010. This non-honour goes out to the game whose title is either too pretentious, annoying or mis-marketed for its own good. Something so repulsive, I feel ashamed to tell my friends about it by name. Kingdom Hearts came very close to winning twice in a row for the very self-serving subtitle of “Birth By Sleep”, but I think this year’s winner clearly belongs to distractionware’s “VVVVVV”. How do you pronounce such a title? Do you mention each V individually? Do you mesh all of the consonant sounds together like you’re teaching English to a pre-schooler? Is “6Vs” an appropriate acronym? Spreading word of mouth about VVVVVV has become a mighty chore due to my mouth’s inability to spread the fucking title itself.
And probably also the spitting image of a Commodore 64 game. Now, I don’t have a whole lot of Commodore experience, short of some Olympic-style games, a Mario Bros clone and a printing program that prints large Mario Bros sprites. But I can safely say that this game does a sound job simulating the tingy noises, the blocky fonts, the near-lack of animating sprites and the limited colour palette of that fossil of a machine. Even the introductory load screen is period-perfect. Since Commodore 64 games are a special kind of dirty-retro that are rarely thrown back to in other games, VVVVVV has a certain charm and flavour that makes it stand out amidst the million other NES homages on the internet.
VVVVVV is a platformer without the jumping, one that you can’t play with a controller. (And well, keyboard play is more authentic to its Commodorian roots.) You move to the left and right of the screen with the arrow keys and any number of action keys will make your character alter the very direction of gravity. Captain Viridian, our fearless leader, navigates the world by way of flipping vertically as to walk on the ceiling. And the game gets all of the mileage it can out of this mechanic, presenting the player with a series of spiked pits to avoid and single-sprite enemies to evade. Enemies like cars and coins and the word YES. In true 80s video game fashion, there is no rhyme or reason to the enemies. At one point, I found a room with a 2x2 screens-sized elephant. Why? I don’t know. Why the fuck not?
The bulk of the game takes place in a Metroid-style overworld, too. You are free to, well, flip the hell out and explore the weird environment around your spaceship. Since you never need to gain any new abilities beyond altering the flow of fucking gravity itself, you can go to any region of the ship at your leisure and look for your scattered missing crew. Finding a new crew member will periodically open you to a new linear level with its own series of challenges.
I don’t think I’ve beaten VVVVVV properly. There are 20 collectable orbs across the land, and there are some orbs that require some Bruce Lee-like twitch reflexes and my hands have never been the same after S-ranking Super Meat Boy. I think that the game has a proper ending if you find them all, followed by unlocking some more time trial levels…I guess. I don’t know.
Still, I got a very comfortable 3-4 hours of entertainment out of VVVVVV (and after writing this review, I’ve found myself just saying each V individiually like the name is an abbreviation.) And in those few hours, I got challenged with some unique side-scrolling levels, and charmed with its retro quirk. The game costs $5 on Steam, and I think its well worth it.