The next game on the “required playing” list for this Notebook is simply titled VVVVVV and is an interesting contrast to Spelunky. Like Spelunky, VVVVVV is an unforgiving platformer; unlike Spelunky, VVVVVV’s uniqueness comes not from randomness, but from a single mechanic. Aside from moving left and right, there is a single action the player can take: reversing gravity. This is perhaps the most basic action set available to a character in a videogame since Mario’s days as Donkey Kong’s “Jumpman”. In fact, the sparse (but not unpleasant) graphics actually look like they might have come from the Donkey Kong era (with the exception of some interesting, but still minimalist, background animations).
In a way, though, it’s fascinating that you can’t jump; not in the traditional sense. The game takes this “up or down” mechanic and explores it in incredible depth. Most areas and obstacles in the game introduce new and ever more fiendish puzzles where precision timing of the gravity flip and direction changes are the only way to get through and avoid a horrible death. And you will die. A LOT. The game’s obstacles often span multiple screens; I often found myself simply changing the direction of gravity and taking a “leap of faith”. More often than not, my faith proved unjustified and I ended up impaled on one of the ubiquitous spikes that are found throughout the game. I felt the game required me to die; these leaps were more a “scouting mission” than a serious attempt to get through an area. I did this knowing I would immediately re-spawn at one of the game’s many, many save capsules, which seem to be placed just before and immediately after each challenge of any difficulty. In many ways, VVVVVV is the reverse of Spelunky; where Spelunky forced you to do things right the first time and play as conservatively as possible, VVVVVV makes you hurl yourself into the void and explore and react fast, with few, if any, consequences for failure.
Amazingly, despite the demonic and at times frustrating challenges of VVVVVV, I found myself enjoying it more than Spelunky. The sense of persistent accomplishment and thin but present narrative of trying to find lost crew members aboard the hellish station are more appealing to me, and I went ahead and bought VVVVVV on Steam; I hope to keep playing and rescue the whole crew. I wonder what that says about me as a gamer.