An Open Letter to Terry Cavanagh – A VVVVVV Review

By Daniel Lipscombe

Dear Mr Cavanagh,

Can I call you Terry? I hope this is ok to do, because Terry, I’d like to talk to you about your videogame VVVVVV. Do you hate me? Do you hate all of the videogame community? I don’t believe we’ve ever met, if we have, I’d like to know what I did to you. Did I tread on your foot? Spill your pint? Why did you make this game that hates me so much?

I’m going to admit, I love it. The visual style is second to none, reminds me of bygone days and sitting at my Atari 2600 watching the pixelated colours dance by. What you have created here is a portal to my childhood and for that I thank you. Even the music reminds me of jaunts to the local arcade, with its chip-tune sounds, it’s hypnotic, vibrant and it taps into the gamer in my heart. The character design, whilst basic due to its style, is wonderful; the optimistic smile on the captain’s face despite the peril is charming. It also helps to see a smiling face whilst being tormented by your satanic creation.

VVVVVV is easily one of the hardest games I’ve played and as much as I hated you for every minute while I was playing, I sat down watching the credits and smiled. That was one the most intense and amazingly organic experiences I’ve had. From the simple mechanic you created, pressing the action button to flip to the ceiling and run around like a fly chasing the light, you’ve made a game that is so basic in its premise but stunning in its uses.

It’s an easy thing to learn, hit the action button and bypass traps on the floor by running on the ceiling, oh but then you pull the rug out from under me, now the area I’m in is moving upwards constantly. I’m scurrying around to hit the checkpoints as I dizzily jump from floor to ceiling manically and avoid the never ending spikes on the floor. Then you introduce those trampoline moments, bouncing from floor to trampoline, over some spikes, avoid the enemy and hit the ground onto a moving platform. Wow, you really tried to cripple my hand.

I have to admit, you kept me on my toes, or should that be fingertips? I had to stop every few minutes to shake the feeling back into my ever worsening clawlike grip on the WASD keys. You make it worse by designing each section, with the myriad of checkpoints causing me to break down and say for the hundredth time “just one more go.” But let’s get this straight, I played your game, collected my missing crew and I enjoyed each and every moment in the story, but it’s a shame it was so short. It took me a shade under three hours to finish the game; I could’ve played much more had my fingers allowed it.

But VVVVVV hated me from bizarre beginning to the haywire ending; I died 872 times all in all. I don’t think I died that many times in every 16-big game I’ve ever played added together. However with each death I kept on chugging away, I wanted to save that crew, I wanted to beat those puzzling platforming sections and I wanted to see what broke first, the game or my keyboard.

Thank you for such a wonderful game, thank you for hating me and the general gaming public. What you have created is a game that gives you a sense of achievement with every step, with every press of that action button. After dying 80 times on one particular section, I punched the air with satisfaction and felt a rush of adrenaline that pushed me through the next infuriating section. I thank you Terry, when I reached the ending screens of VVVVVV I left my chair in celebration, but when I came back down, I felt a little sad. It was over. Thank you for hating me.

Yours,

A frustrated gamer in Awe

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