Now that I'm a working adult, I rarely have the energy or time to play games. Even the most engaging epics (Xenoblade Chronicles, Skyrim, etc) can only hold my attention for a few hours, MAX, before I need to do something else. Maybe it's because they don't feel as rewarding any more, or the stories just aren't as engaging as they used to be, but I know that I peeled off the "hardcore" label from my gamer card long ago.
I tell you this anecdote because I just spent nearly 10 straight hours playing Volgarr, and didn't even realize it.
This game is a pungent distillation of everything that I loved and hated about video games in the 80's and 90's. Back then, memory was at a premium, so in order to make a game feel like it was worth the $50 price tag, developers make them hard as nails in order to extend the play time you would need to devote in order to complete the game. This meant hours upon hours of committing each level, every enemy and all the boss patterns to muscle memory, and knowing how to react in each situation. It was an arduous process, but when you finally mastered a level and beat the boss, you felt like you had accomplished something. I realized, upon completing Volgarr, that this is what I had been missing from most modern games, where victory is all but ensured.
Volgarr is hard. Words like brutal and unforgiving don't really do it justice. Its smartly hard. I had quite a bit of trouble with the game, and actually gave it up for almost a year after I got stuck on stage 2. When I finally picked it back up this weekend, I approached it as a puzzle game; each encounter, every enemy's placement and movement, was done with care - all I had to do was find the pattern and "solve" the puzzle with Volgarr's moveset. This made every advancement feel like a real victory, and this game is one of the first in a long time to elicit actual cheers of joy when I completed a stage for the first time.
Volgarr never felt cheap, exploitative, or unfair. I died hundreds of times, repeating stages over and over, but it never made me angry or frustrated, only determined. Determined because every playthrough got me a little bit further: into the next room, understanding a new monster's attack pattern, or solving a new section of platforming. Every death had an "aha!" moment attached to it. If I died at a section I had played through before, it was 100% my fault. Overall randomness is low, so it is extremely rare that a strategy you succeeded with once will fail the next time.
I could wax poetic telling you about how good the controls feel, or the quality of graphics and music, but there are lots of other reviews for that. I simply wish to convey how satisfying this game is to play, and how accomplished I felt (and hopefully, you will too) when I beat each and every stage. I experienced a range of emotions, from trepidation, anger, fear and elation, something that few modern games can achieve, even with their grandiose storytelling and advanced visual presentation.
I'm not going to assign a number value to my review, because I think that trying to quantify any gaming experience is fairly pointless. Games aren't commodities with certain valuable characteristics, like a vacuum cleaner or toaster oven. Ultimately, what each person gets out of a game really depends on what they expect, what they like from an interactive experience, and how the game meets those needs. Games, in this regard, are like art, and you can't rate art, you can only relate how it makes you feel.
Volgarr challenged me, it made me feel young again, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment.
I dig it.