Whenever I travel, I like to bring along my Vita to pass time during bouts of insomnia. I’m a terrible sleeper, so it’s not uncommon to be wide awake at odd hours while every normal human is sound asleep. I recently found myself in this exact situation while out of town for the holidays, but thankfully found solace in one of this month’s Playstation Plus freebies, VVVVVV.
This fun little 2D puzzle platformer by Terry Cavanagh (Super Hexagon) initially released more than 6 years ago, but more recently found a home on PS4 and Vita during the summer of 2015. Unfortunately it doesn’t support Playstation’s cross-buy feature, but its bite-sized adventure certainly feels right at home on Vita.
When six crew members (whose names all start with the letter ‘V’, hence the name of the game) are tossed in to a dimensional rift, you take control of Captain Viridian in hopes of locating your now-missing friends. It’s mostly a traditional platformer, navigating a labyrinthine map in search of checkpoints and teleporters, while avoiding death at the hands of various hazards.
Each of the missing crewmen are tucked away in specific locations that remain hidden to the player, but the map is far more expansive than it leads on. And since there’s no additional power-ups or abilities to unlock, every inch of the grounds is open to explore at your own pace.
It’s a short and sweet adventure with a really catchy soundtrack by Magnus Palsson, but the core of the game lies in its clever platforming. Rather than utilizing traditional jumping mechanics, pressing the X button instead sends Viridian soaring from the floor to the ceiling, or vice versa. One simple puzzle tasks you with traversing the ceiling to avoid the spikes below, while a more intricate one may have you rapidly shifting positions between disappearing platforms or patrolling enemies.
Without the ability to simply jump over gaps or onto platforms, Cavanagh has taken a genre we’ve seen beaten to death over the last 34 years and makes it feel new again. There’s a gradual increase in difficulty that’s well paced, so I never once felt overwhelmed; just challenged. VVVVVV can definitely be a bit of a demanding game where death is a constant, but its design is entirely accessible thanks to a generous checkpoint and fast travel system.
Even as someone whose skill in platformers has steadily declined over the years, I managed to make my way through VVVVVV in just under two hours. There were a few sections that had me clinching my Vita tighter than I should have, but I was never frustrated or on the verge of rage quitting. Trial by dying has never been my favorite learning exercise, yet I felt compelled to push on while humming along with Palsson’s magnificent bleeps and bloops pulsing in the background.
While the Vita has a comprehensive library of meaty role-playing games and visual novels, many of which I enjoy immensely, my ideal to-go experiences are these bite-sized adventures that I can pick up and play in short bursts. Whether it’s just an impeccable case of “right place, right time” I’m glad I gave VVVVVV the shot it deserved. I don’t have much of a reason to revisit it any time soon, but it definitely ranks high on my list of ideal travel games, alongside the likes of Spelunky, Super Meat Boy, Rogue Legacy, and Risk of Rain.