Daily Independent: Explore a Weirdo Dimension in VVVVVV

The Daily Independent is a recurring feature in which we shine a light into the darkened wilderness of indie gaming, illuminating both the good and the bad of what we find there.

In honor of its addition to the Humble Indie Bundle No. 3, the pay-what-you-want five-game bundle that kicks some of its proceeds out to charity, I went galavanting around the gravity bending Metroid-vania dimension of VVVVVV for today’s Daily Independent.

And while my character, the captain of a dimensional exploration ship, got stabbed by spikes many a time, he always seemed to have a smile on his face — as did I.

VVVVVV isn’t a new indie title, but it is a great one. Created by Terry Cavanagh, it was released on Steam in September 2010 and goes for $4.99 currently on the downloadable service. Snag it through humblebundle.com during the next two weeks, though, and you can get this award-winning title for considerably less.

And it’s definitely worth it. VVVVVV is very much a minimalist effort of the platforming old-school, but its fun is in its sense of exploration and in its deep challenge. The only mechanic players have at their control is the ability to switch the captain’s gravity, sending him either to the top of the screen or to the bottom. You don’t even jump in a true sense, you can only flip up to the ceiling or down to the floor, wherever that may take you.

It’s a mechanic that requires a lot of precision and practice to use well, even though it’s very intuitive. You can’t flip in mid-air, so you’ll need actually be touching a surface in order to send yourself up or down — so instead of jumping from platform to platform on one plane, you’re actually interacting with two, one with traditional gravity and one with reversed gravity. Needless to say, running across a series of platforms, then flipping over and running across their undersides in the opposite direction, is trippy.

Exploration, too, is at the forefront of VVVVVV’s experience, and it’s great. The story has you and your crew of dimensional explorers crashing somewhere crazy, with all your crewmates being thrown to distant parts of the area. Everywhere are strange things, like words that fly through the air to kill you and obstacles to avoid. Getting around is never easy, but VVVVVV chucks about a million checkpoints your way, just about every time you’re about to encounter something difficult to traverse, so you can activate them and restart in the same place over and over again until practice allows you to beat an obstacle. All the while, you’re finding and rescuing teammates and mapping the world where you’re trapped in hopes of finding a means of escape.

VVVVVV is certainly a tough experience, but it’s also an extremely well-designed 2-D platform that will remind you why you used to like NES games. Yes, you might beat your head against the wall, but when you finally do get across that ridiculous gap or through that insane room, you feel all the more powerful for it.

Check out the Humble Indie Bundle No. 3 and download it here.

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