Tuesday, 11 January 2011

… And a Happy New Year!

Something awesome is about to happen...
Yes, well I intended to make a post about a week ago as some interesting things had happened which I thought might be worth writing about. But at that point I was still having post-crimbo fun with my brothers before two of them went off to university again. This mainly consisted of watching old episodes of Power Rangers and Dragon Ball Z, messing around on GTA IV, and setting our youngest brother on fire.

Good times.

It seems as though Christmas day wasn't the end of my reception of gifts and surprises. I've been given quite a few more Mega Drive games as well as a wonderful new Nintendo Wii game, both of which I'll talk about at a later date. I went to town just before new years day in order to find some retro bargains, but came back extremely disappointed with only Red Faction 3 and Mass Effect for the Xbox 360 for a fiver each. My girlfriend did better, getting Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light on the Nintendo DS for a mere £12.98 brand new.

However, taking a step back, one of the most unexpected surprises is the increase in the amount of Steam games I own. During the most excellent holiday sale they had this year, my Steam list has increased from 10 to 44. Of these new 34 games, I only bought 6 of them directly from Steam; these being 4 from the Serious Sam Gold pack for ~£3, Toki Tori for ~80p and VVVVVV for ~£1.70 for a total of about £5.60. Nice. The rest of the games came in the form of the Complete Doom Pack, which was bought by my girlfriend as a gift, both Humble Indie Bundles having almost complete Steam support, and myself realising that I could input the CD key of my ancient copy of Half Life: Generations in order to get Half Life: Platinum Pack. The rest are games that are freely available on Steam, such as Alien Swarm and Sam & Max 104. Of these games, I've played just one, VVVVVV.

VVVVVV is the commercial debut of indie game developer Terry Cavanagh, who's previous works have all been released as free internet browser games. Released January 2010, the game was frequently described as a “hyper-death” 2D puzzle platformer with obvious inspiration from C64 games.

“Hyper-death” is pretty much right. The game involves you weaving around spiked walls and other obstacles by moving the main character horizontally and by changing the direction of gravity vertically. Each obstacle in the game will end up killing you at least a couple of times, with the more difficult ones taking deaths way into the twenties and more. Fortunately, check points occur right before most obstacles, allowing you to try, and die, over and over again before finally sussing out what you have to do. This was, by far,  the most enjoyable aspect of the game from my point of view. It took me back to a time when platformers were almost always championed on a trial-and-error basis. However, all puzzles in VVVVVV have obvious solutions once you take a step back and look at them properly. It's the pixel perfect manoeuvre that'll drive you to the edge of insanity. Even in these cold January evenings I've found myself concentrating so hard that I'd have to take off my sweat soaked socks and sticky T-shirt. But don't worry, as with platformers of old, the satisfaction felt when you finally beat that seemingly impossible puzzle is oh so worth it.

Visually, VVVVVV has gone back to the basics. C64 style graphics suit the gameplay well and are bright and colourful, giving the game a very innocent feeling, especially when coupled with the main character's happy-smiley face. The game offers different scaling sizes, windowed and fullscreen modes as well as edge smoothing; these being inclusions I feel should be present in all games of this type (I'm looking at you, Dark Void Zero).

The chiptune soundtrack, composed by Magnus Pålsson, a.k.a. SoulEye, is fantastically catchy as well as suitably atmospheric, and goes with the game like rice n' peas. I've often ended up humming songs while in the shower and am surprised at how well they've stuck in my mind considering that my total play time isn't much. If a physical release of the soundtrack, named PPPPPP, is released at a decent price, I would definitely consider buying it. It's currently available as a digital download, requiring you to donate towards it. Not my cup of tea, however it, along with song samples, are available on Pålsson's website.

My stats following my first completion of VVVVVV. Hyper-death indeed...
The game is short but sweet, with most people claiming to finish it in 2-3 hours; I myself finishing it in just over 2 hours. Replayability exists in the form of hidden “shiny trinkets”; items that are scattered around the map and protected by some extra nasty puzzles. As well as this, time trails modes are unlockable and a flipped mode allow you to play the entire game up-side-down. It also has a “no death” mode, where the game must be completed with a single life; this isn't something I would contemplate playing due to my deaths in my first play through totalling ~800. Unfortunately, since completing the game I've not felt compelled to try out any of those games modes although I can see myself doing so once the memories of playing it the first time have faded a bit.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed VVVVVV and believe it well worth the £1.70 I spent on it, however that was it's sale price and do not think there is enough content to warrant it's current price. Yes, yes, I know, I'm dead tight.

This short post had turned out to be quite lengthy, and I've not made as much of an effort to maintain it's structure as usual. As for myself, I'm quite busy at the moment, tying up some loose ends such as unfinished books and games, some all-too-frequent trouble I'm having at the job centre and a short business course I'm currently on. I hope to keep posting as much as I can and I have loads of things I'd like to say, but quality over quantity, right?


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