You may know Terry Cavanagh from a little game that frustrated you to insanity called Super Hexagon. Before that, Cavanagh made a platformer called VVVVVV. It wasn’t quite as streamlined as its successor, but featured the same hallmarks of a great soundtrack and maddening, rewarding challenge. Now, it’s finally on Android, and while I still favor playing it on a device with keys or buttons, it’s been translated for touch screen play amazingly well.
VVVVVV is about a crew of little pixel people who get accidentally warped to another dimension and separated. You, as ship captain Viridian, must explore the hostile planet, rescuing your five crewmembers and collecting shiny trinkets. There’s some cute dialogue from the crew and computer terminals offering backstory, but it’s all just an excuse to get down to some old-school, hard-as-nails platforming.
Atypically, there’s no actual jumping; you avoid spikes, enemies, and other obstacles by switching Viridian’s gravity, sending him flying up to the ceiling or back down to the earth (and there’s no flipping mid-air). VVVVVV keeps the concept fresh with a variety of hazards and environmental junk. There are conveyor belts, platforms that disappear once landed on, lines that involuntarily flip your gravity when touched, and spikes. Spikes everywhere.
There’s no health bar; one slip-up and you’re dead. Lives are endless and checkpoints plentiful, but every screen is a maniacal challenge; the satisfaction comes from seeing how many you can pass without dying. You’ll have to flip deftly up and down across conveyor belts alternating both horizontally and vertically. Making it over a spike-coated chasm means falling down into it, navigating your way to a disappearing platform at the bottom, then flipping off it and floating back up to the other side. Each time you find a crewmate there’s a small escort mission—each one with a slightly different spin on it.
Further challenge comes from collecting the optional twenty trinkets found throughout the world. These often require you to invert your thinking, figuring out how to get to the underside of where you’ve just been walking on. Checkpoints are often cleverly used against you. Nabbing a trinket will require you to hit a checkpoint in the process, so you can’t die and respawn back where you started, but instead have to again navigate the insanely hard area you just bypassed.
None of this would be remotely fair if the controls weren’t as solid as they are. There are three control schemes, each intuitive in their own way, but I can’t deny a subtle loss in accuracy from not having actual buttons to press. The biggest issue is trying to move only a few steps when on a small ledge (which happens semi-frequently). None of the control schemes are quite precise enough to pull this off well. Still, it’s generally incredible how near-perfectly the controls have been adapted to touchscreen.
VVVVVV’s graphical presentation isn’t too special. It’s unabashedly inspired by Commodore 64 computer graphics of the eighties, so it’s all simple pixels and bright colors. Enemies look like bizarre, random placeholders like floating stop signs or what appear to be dancing beer mugs with the word “YES” above them. Viridian and his crewmates are pretty adorable though with their faces frowning whenever they’re in a tight spot.
The audio, on the other hand, is fantastic. The sound effects are few; almost all you’ll hear are the digitized “bloop” of Viridian flipping or the tragic “beeoooo” of his death. But the music is a collection of jaunty tracks by chiptune musician SoulEye. These songs are fun and catchy enough that you may end up, as I did, downloading them, and even learning their titles (“Pushing Onwards” is my personal favorite).
With the entire world open to you from the start, just searching through the environment and filling out the worldmap is a joy on its own. The world is awfully finite, but the sheer difficulty of getting through it should take at least a couple of hours. Collecting all of the trinkets adds a sizeable chunk more. Further, there’s tons of additional content in the form of user-created levels, some of which are as big as the core game. They’re not as elegantly designed as Cavanagh’s, but they’re an enjoyable addition. There are also time trials, a no-death mode (if you’re crazy), and the unreasonably difficult Super Gravitron minigame, in which you see how long you can survive getting bounced around in a small space with constant hazards chucked at you.
VVVVVV is a brilliant showing of game design, wringing tons of challenge out of one little mechanic. It’s got an average retro look, but it sounds great, which is important for when you’re stuck dying repeatedly at the same spot. It’s not the laser-focused tour de force that Terry Cavanagh’s other game, Super Hexagon is, but that I’m assessing this game’s quality in comparison to another title by the same guy demonstrates just how good he is. For more precise control, I’d still recommend the PC or 3DS versions of VVVVVV before this one, but this Android release is definitely not a bad way to go.
Hard as hell, but if you’re into that sort of thing, super-fun and packed with content, all backed by a wonderful soundtrack. Control isn’t quite as precise as it is on other versions, but it’s damn near.