Today's window on out advent calendar likes to be turned upside-down. It takes all sorts, eh? Adopt a brave face and give it a try. No, not like that. Try again. No, no. Again. No, you've got it all wrong. Try it one more time. You did it! Excellent. Today's game will be very pleased...
Quinns: Of the two indie platformers of the year, Super Meat Boy was the all-American creation. Big, brash, bold and beautiful. VVVVVV, by Cambridge-based indie dev Terry Cavanagh, was the English offering- compact, pleasant, sincere and funny. Both games circled the edges of perfection and both were as brutal as they pleased, but while I love Super Meat Boy for how it plays, I love VVVVVV for how it does so much with so little.
It's as simple as the binary expressions on everyone's faces. The cast of VVVVVV can wear either a beaming smile or a comedy frown, but both are such evocative expressions that the change from one to the other is both amusing and affecting. Similarly, the dialogue is sparse, but when you do talk to one of your crew the different personalities of Violet, Victoria, Vitellary, Vermilion and Verdigris all reveal themselves to be distinct, believable and likeable. Through a meagre quantity of text VVVVVV flushes its world with enough humanity to make your weaving between giant spikes or dodging a floating car serious business. Hero business, even! This is probably the one area where VVVVVV leaves Super Meat Boy behind. SMB's comedy skits aren't a patch on VVVVVV's hinted romantic involvements, or the implied pluck of your character. This game is all charm.
Come to think of it, VVVVVV's music is another great example of "more with less". The game's bare-bones chiptunes are as simple as they are stirring, and (outside of Space Funeral) they're probably my favourite game soundtrack in 2010. It's astonishing work, and if you played VVVVVV, I'll prove it. Listen to this, and see just how hard your heart skips a beat at 0:17. Brilliant. And, oh my goodness, this.
That's it. I need to play this again. Like, right now. That's the kind of a game it is. If you were thinking of picking up VVVVVV but were concerned about its length (perhaps 3-4 hours for the non-OCD ending), know that six months from now you'll be thinking about games with great music, you'll remember VVVVVV, you'll smile a big, letterbox-looking smile, one like this:
...and you'll fire up VVVVVV and play it again. Two runthroughs make it 6-8 hours long, and a bargain.
What I'm remembering now is how plenty of the rooms liked to tease you. either with unexpected traps, alluring secrets or funny names. I'm remembering the feeling of walking into a room and groaning like an angry ghost at the nonsense acrobatics I'd be expected to pull off to get to the other side. Or even better than that- the rooms where you enter, raise one of your eyebrows as high as it'll go at the impassable obstacles in your way, and then you let out the angry ghost groan as you realise what you have to do.
The very best videogames in existence leave you with a whole mess of memories that are so varied and entertaining that you can leaf through them like a photo album. VVVVVV is one of those games, and if you haven't played the demo yet, you should download it right now. Captain Viridian's crew is in deadly trouble, and they need your help.
Kieron: As Quinns notes, this was a year bookended by two relatively traditional cut-to-the-bone indie platformer classics. The everyone-crammed in house-party of Super Meat Boy is still tearing apart everyone's hearts (and fingertips). Meanwhile, VVVVVV is smaller, more intimate, delicate, funny and very charming. And brutal. If we're doing early 00s garage-indie-retro revival stuff, while Super Meat Boy is something like (say) The White Stripes (including all the various guest stars from across the years, and maybe the Raconteurs, oh I'm going on, you get the idea) then VVVVVV is the Moldy Peaches. Except not as cloying. And in tune.
The surprise of VVVVVV is the thing. Cavanagh came to RPS' attention with things like the Orpheous-Platformer Don't Look Back and Wolfenstein-as-human-horror-story Judith. That the first "big" game was something which was something which only the most reactionary prick could describe as pretentious was another little wonder.
Speaking generally, VVVVVV is a little wonder.
We shouldn't have been surprised. The thing is, he always did lots of micro-games. I had the pleasure of actually creeping into the World of Love Jam - which I meant to write about, if only for the CONTRACT ON THE WORLD OF LOVE JAM Public-Enemy referencing title - where I took part in a session where everyone made a game with some theme of Vegetables. I, of course, couldn't program. So I was quickly introduced to Ren.py, and made a visual-novel. Without many visuals. So a sort of micro-choose-your-own-adventure.
It's basically a recreation of Veni, Vidi, Vici in the form of a choose your own adventure. Hard left? Hard Right? A little left? A little right? Go straight on? With you basically having to guess, then get sent back to the start, and memorise the route. I ran out of time so didn't have the return trip, but I did include the "Oh - and the platform at the end disintegrates" death.
Cavanagh played it and played it all the way through. It was no small satisfaction that I wasted some of his time in the way that the hundred-life-killers of VVVVVV did to me.
It's the only game of the year I made a game about. I'm not sure I have a higher compliment.