A Rose in the Twilight is a dejected and atmospheric fairy tale surrounding the unlikely pairing of a cursed girl and her stone giant companion, as they attempt to flee the castle in which she’s held captive. Its unique aesthetic and gameplay hook pair nicely with the game’s portrayal of blood as a life force, ultimately presenting a memorably gloomy tale that fans of the Brothers Grimm should no doubt enjoy.
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.
It’s been over a year since Tom Happ’s metroidvania Axiom Verge released on PS4, but it finally lands on the Playstation Vita tomorrow, April 19th (and 20th for EU). If you haven’t yet picked it up (seriously, shame on you) there’s a 10% launch week discount over on PSN, but if you already own the PS4 version, you’ll be happy to know that it’s cross-buy on PS Vita.
So what took so long? Over at the official Playstation Blog, Tom Happ explains:
I’d like to give a little bit of context on what took so long. When I started development of Axiom Verge, I was using a development framework called XNA. Support for XNA was abandoned, so the community created an open source version of XNA called MonoGame. Sony told me they were working to get MonoGame supported on both PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. I knew that Axiom Verge would be great on a handheld, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Tom Spilman from Sickhead Games was in charge of the porting process. Porting an engine to a new platform is an incredibly complicated task, yet he was able to pull it off easily for PlayStation 4. After the PlayStation 4 version was done, however, porting it to Vita turned out to be a lot more challenging. Optimizing an engine is slow and painstaking work. As the months ticked by, Tom was feeling a great deal of pressure to get MonoGame working.
It’s easy for us, the consumers, to sit back and ask “why did it take a year to port over a game that looks like it belongs on the SNES?”, but the truth is that most of us aren’t game developers. We don’t know the intricacies, the pitfalls, or the real-life goings on behind the scenes.
Axiom Verge made it to #2 in my Top 10 Games of 2015 post, and I stand by that decision today. It’s one of the single greatest gaming experiences of my life, and was only narrowly edged out by the fabulous Undertale. But I’ve always felt it belonged on the Vita.
Although I’ve finished the game already, you can bet that I’ll be downloading it to my handheld the moment it goes live. Maybe now’s the time to aim for the platinum?