VVVVVV is really not as abstract as its name might have you believe. That’s six letter Vs: one for each of the story’s six colourful and whimsically-named characters, strung together in a clever representation of the spikes that you’ll find yourself impaled upon literally hundreds – if not thousands – of times.
This veritable science-fiction opus begins with a bang. A spaceship crash leads to an evacuation attempt gone awry, littering you and your crew across an uncharted dimension peppered with the aforementioned spikes. As the perpetually happy Captain Viridian, armed with nothing but your ability to reverse gravity, it falls upon you to rescue your stranded companions and return them to safety.
The gravity flip is what distinguishes VVVVVV from other current indie platformers. Admittedly cool to begin with, it only reaches increasing levels of mind-blowing as you delve deeper into this marvel of puzzle design. With new dynamics constantly being introduced – scrolling towers of death, for example, or pixel-thin trampolines – this mechanic manages to wring out of itself three hours’ gameplay that somehow never gets tired. Your constant deaths, inexplicably, don’t grate either; death results in an instant respawn at one of the checkpoints sprinkled generously throughout the world.
That’s not to say this game isn’t hard. It is one of the most difficult games you will ever play, but therein lies its genius. Death is arguably another mechanic, not a punishment. There’s something exquisitely Zen in knowing how often you will die trying to figure out a puzzle, and finally nailing it is a bliss that epitomises the game’s unchoreographed harmony.
Despite its difficulty, VVVVVV is a deceivingly elaborate construction in pure joy. Behind the retro stylings and cute characters is one of the most memorable games you’ll ever play. It’s got a surprisingly affecting story, and its eloquently-crafted MIDI-era soundtrack gives off a quaint danceclub vibe that somehow tells its own story in electronica-inspired bleeps, one of passion and hyper-futuristic space travel. Smart use of the gravity inversion mechanic makes for some unforgettable puzzles to rival the likes of Portal. But most importantly, VVVVVV is a superb demonstration of how so much can be accomplished with so little. That this unassuming throwback to the days of 8-bit has managed to muscle its way amongst the high-budget, high-definition 3D crowd as a genuine must-play is a triumph as every bit as exhilarating as its gameplay.