If you had told me before VVVVVV that a difficult platformer with a simple concept that is based around precision-timing jumps would not only not
give me a burning desire to throw the controller at the screen in frustration, but that I would actually have a hard time letting go of said controller for almost the whole duration of the game, you probably would've gotten a face full of sarcastic laughter (which sounds eerily like the Super Meat Boy tune). Or, more likely, I would've ignored your suggestion until I got the game half-free as part of a Humble Bundle (sorry, brother, your suggestions are the best!) and had no excuse not to play this highly-praised game.
I enjoy quality platforming as much as most gamers and don't mind the difficulty that typically comes with such games, especially when they are indie-made. But I need to be in a very specific mindset if I am to endure countless re-attempts at the slightest mistake and I run out of that energy eventually regardless of how far I got in the game. VVVVVV rectifies the image of indie platformers you have in your head with a surprising breath of clarity - even the confusing name makes perfect sense after staring at those same spikes room after room. Instead of jumping, you switch gravity back and forth so that you're either standing on ground or on the ceiling - and that's all there is to it. No upgrades, no weapons, everything you come across is doable from the get-go. The world is open, reminiscent of Metroidvania games, but even with a minimal plot and the ability to choose your own path, playng is straight-forward and you never feel lost.
What could've been only a gimmick or proof-of-concept
-gameplay comes together as a tight, addictive package, thanks to the gratituous use of checkpoints. There is typically at least one in each room and as you die you reappear next to it without further hassle, so once you figure out how to gravity-change yourself out of the next pickle or ace the pixel-tight patterns of moving obstacles, you're safe again. Dying constantly is not only allowed, it's celebrated
, with the total number of deaths in your current playthrough proudly displayed in the menu. There are Steam achievements for finishing the game with a small number of deaths, but you don't have to care about that unless you really want to. You can collect trinkets in the game, which unlocks some extras, and there are a few which can test your patience, but thanks to the checkpoints, you don't have to memorize minutes of tough manouvers; it's all finely chopped down.
Of course, the platforming in this game is still challenging - if you didn't enjoy the joys of precision jumping in a game like the original Super Mario Brothers, you probably won't enjoy this. But the game isn't needlessly or falsely difficult. VVVVVV presents itself as exactly as it is, trial-and-error gameplay in the word's most positive sense. You can focus on the platforming puzzles without being punished for dying while trying to get a "feel" of each room's pattern. Each new checkpoint reached feels like a little win and you get through even the more difficult parts with the knowledge that the gameplay is logical and rewards your patient learning, not luck.
Of course, the game also has a great soundtrack and little details like the amusing dialogue and room names. My biggest grief is with the Steam Achievements; they should be more varied. Finishing with less and less deaths makes sense as a challenge, as do the flip mode and no-death mode achievements, but the many Super Gravitron and perfect Time Trial achievements seem pointless and don't motivate to play more.