Screenshot of "I'm Sorry" level in VVVVVV
The game even apologises for its devilish levels

Quick Info
Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
Developer: Terry Cavanagh
Publisher: Terry Cavanagh
Release Date: 8 Sep 2010
Time played: 3 hours (INCOMPLETE)

Critically Acclaimed

So, it's taken me a while to not only acquire this game but to play it and then review it. I originally purchased it back on the 1st January 2015 because it was super cheap (under two bucks) and it's considered a classic platformer, one of the games that spearheaded the indie game revolution on Steam. I also heard it had an awesome soundtrack to boot so this is yet another reason it's in my library.

So, over 4 years after the game was released, I finally purchased it. But for over 8 years since then, I've hardly touched the game. I originally gave it a go at some point during that time but I only seriously attempted to finish it a few months ago and I have since given up.

But before I get into the review proper, firstly some background info about the game:

VVVVVV was created by Irish developer Terry Cavanagh. He started working on the game around the middle of 2009 and it was eventually released in January 2010 (although it would be released a few months later on Steam). The game was a critical success and currently holds an 81 Metacritic rating on PC as well as an "Overwhelmingly Positive" rating on Steam based on 96% of 5,576 Steam user reviews being positive. VVVVVV was even awarded the Indiecade award for "Most Fun and Compelling" game back in 2010.

So, a lot of people like this game, critics and the public at large. But is it as good as people make it out to be?

Screenshot of rescued crewmembers in VVVVVV
You'll eventually be tasked with rescuing all your crewmates

Retro Platformer with a Twist

The first thing you'll notice about the graphics when you start up VVVVVV is that they are primitive, very primitive. In fact, if you compared the game's graphics side-by-side with a PC game from the early 1980s, it'd be hard to tell the difference. The basic colour palette and minimalist graphics are an acquired taste, but those who grew up playing games in the 1980s will no doubt feel pangs of nostalgia. The nostalgia doesn't end there as the chiptune soundtrack by Magnus Pålsson (aka Souleye) is as good as everyone says it is. "Pushing Onwards" and "Potential for Anything" especially are earworms that won't be leaving your head anytime soon; it's no wonder the game's soundtrack is a popular choice for remixers.

Another way VVVVVV is similar to retro games is the simple controls: you can move left and right but you can't jump. "But wait!" you're probably saying to yourself. "Didn't you mention earlier that this game is a platformer? How can it be a platformer if you can't jump?" Well, dear reader, that's because you have to employ another way of overcoming obstacles and that's through reversing gravity.

While most platformers have you jumping in order to traverse the level, in VVVVVV you'll be reversing gravity. This means you'll often find traps and enemies not only on the bottom of the screen but on the top too. Also, when reversing gravity, you won't stop falling upwards until you hit another obstacle. This creates some interesting ways of navigating across the level since sometimes, it's not just a matter of dealing with the obstacles on one screen, but dealing with obstacles from multiple screens before you can make any progress. You also spend a lot of time floating, downwards and upwards, through multiple screens, which can be exhilarating yet disorienting at the same time.

Screenshot of Victoria being rescued in VVVVVV
One of your crewmembers Victoria being rescued

Only for Fans of the Genre

VVVVVV definitely feels different to your standard puzzle platformer but as is the case with many of them, the game can get very frustrating at times, even when playing it on the Steam Link with a Logitech F710 controller (which incidentally works a treat). I admit I'm not the best choice of reviewer when it comes to platformers since I find jumping puzzles frustrating and yes, while you don't technically "jump" in VVVVVV it requires the same skillset: good timing and a whole lot of patience when things go wrong. While I think I'm reasonably patient when it comes to games (I wouldn't be slowly working through my Pile of Shame if I wasn't), I even have limits and attempting the same jumping puzzle over and over again for nearly an hour is where I have to draw the line. This is the reason I stopped playing the game. This is the reason I haven't finished the game: it stopped being fun.

The particular level I got stuck on involves guiding yourself and a crewmate to safety. It's bad enough when you have to solve puzzles for your character alone, but trying to ensure both you and your companion get to the other side is borderline insane. This is because your crewmate will only follow you if you're standing on the ground (and not the ceiling). This will often require you to make your way to a certain spot where you can safely switch gravity in order for your crewmate to traverse obstacles. But because you can't continue from this spot once your crewmate is safely across, you have to return to where you started and then cross the obstacles again, meaning you have to flawlessly cross the obstacles four times: three times for your own character and once for your crewmate. The frustrating part about this whole matter is that I understand the puzzle. I get what needs to be done. But my dexterity is apparently so terrible that I cannot consistently make the crossing four times (which I think makes the whole situation even worse).

Screenshot of the map page in VVVVVV
The map outlines the various parts of the ship where crewmates need to be rescued


VVVVVV is a retro puzzle platformer with a twist, where jumping is replaced by the ability to reverse gravity. The game has a phenomenal chiptune soundtrack by Magnus Pålsson to boot but it's not enough to be a retro aficionado when playing this game: you've got to actually be good at puzzle platformers to fully appreciate it. If you're (like me) a bit uncoordinated when it comes to these sorts of games, it might become a bit too frustrating at times to enjoy.

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