I wrote this a while ago and it went up on HUNTDARRRB, but that site got wiped. So I thought I’d put it up here. It’s alright-ish (the post, not the game), I suppose. Ta.
So, here I am. I’ve beaten what I thought was the hardest challenge in the game, could only be the hardest challenge in the game, and man. I died literally thousands of times over the course of about an hour. It was terrible, it was the worst. Picture my face then, when I realise after about five or ten minutes trying over and over again, what it is I’m being asked to do this time. I feel like I should laugh at the absurdity of the situation, at the magnitude of the punishment I’ve taken, and will take, but I don’t. I don’t, it’s too awful. I run into a wall of spikes a few times deliberately, watching my tiny avatar’s look of despair. It’s not particularly comforting, but I do it anyway. Mostly out of spite.
It’s not even necessary, that’s the worst thing. I could just walk straight past these sections, with no ill effect. The hard sections are optional, with “Shiny Trinkets” as your reward. Fucking collectibles. They don’t even give you anything good, just unlock songs you’ll hear throughout the game for the jukebox in your ship. Why do it then? I do it because there is no real reward. That would only cheapen the feeling of success, of finally breaking through.
There’s not much you can do in VVVVVV. You can run from left to right, from right to left, and you can flip gravity. Therein lies VVVVVV’s genius. It takes utter simplicity, walking and an idea that has been done before, and squeezes every last drop from it. Nothing is wasted. What doesn’t kill you, and a fair amount of what does is there to be used for a puzzle, or just some feat of absurd finger-athletics. No more abilities are earned, no weapons are collected. Walking and flipping really is all you can do, and the game is still filled with more ideas and imagination than all but a very few other works.
Many people, after playing VVVVVV, have decided Terry Cavanagh is a bastard, that he must hate them to put such a challenge before them. He’s not, though. He’s clearly not. You can tell in myriad different ways, like the fact that the lowest score you can get in a time-trial is a B. There’s a freely available invincibility mode, so the disabled can explore the world he’s made. If you find the game too hard you can unlock all the game modes from the main menu. So no, Terry Cavanagh is not a bastard. He’s just not afraid to take a very limited set of parts, and make something that’s simply about being hard . And the game is hard, but it’s fair, it’s well thought out, it is truly designed. All is forgiven for those thousands of deaths.