The Nintendo Resolution: VVVVVV / Don’t Look Back

VVVVV title
Console: Nintendo 3DS
Start Date: January 12, 2012
End Date: January 22, 2016

VVVVVV was one of the first eShop games I ever bought after getting my 3DS back in 2012.  I’m not sure what compelled me, back then, to buy this weird little game, which I played only briefly and then ignored.  But now that I’ve finally revisited it after almost exactly four years, I’m sure glad I did!

The game puts the player in control of a little spaceman, who must explore a vast Metroidy world to track down the five members of his crew who have gone missing.  The spin here is that your character cannot jump, and must bypass obstacles by reversing gravity, switching from walking on the floor to walking on the ceiling.

VVVVV Up and Down

Each “room” of the gameworld features a challenge that utilizes this mechanic.  And when I say “challenge,” I fucking mean it.  Some of the shit this game makes you do is so friggin’ hard that you’ll want to throw your 3DS against a wall.

Luckily, the game is clever enough to reduce frustration in a few key ways: (1) the individual challenges, while difficult, are very short, (2) there are copious amounts of checkpoints, usually immediately before and after each challenge, and (3) when you die, you immediately respawn without any animations or anything.  So the process for each challenge goes pretty much like this:  GOGOGOGO DEAD!  GOGOGOGOGO DEAD!  GOGOGOGOGOGOGO DEAD!  GOGOGOGOGOGO SUCCESS!!!!  Except multiply the amount of deaths by about 20 – you pretty much just have to keep tackling the challenges over and over again in succession until the movements you need to make become muscle memory.  This can be frustrating during the process (especially since taking a break basically means resetting your muscle memory), but also tremendously satisfying once you finally pull it off.

My description might make the game seem repetitive.  After all, you are basically only using one mechanic to tackle about a zillion challenges in a fairly large game world…

Awesome Map Alert!

Awesome Map Alert!

…but the game offers enough clever little spins that it never feels like you’re just doing the same shit over and over again.  I was especially impressed by the section where you have to lead around a crew member who blindly follows your movements:

VVVVV Don't Get Ahead

Some of the challenges proved to be too much for me to handle, but luckily those were the ones which led to the games optional “trinket” collectibles.  There was one called “Doing Things the Hard Way” which I tried about a thousand times before eventually giving up.  Here’s a youtube video I found of someone actually doing it:

Gah, even watching that video is enough to give me a panic attack, and I wasn’t even half as skilled as that guy.  No thanks, game!

As you can see, the game’s visuals are super retro, bypassing the SNES and NES eras entirely to emulate the look of Atari 2600 or Commodore 64 games.  This might turn some people off, but I thought this barebones look was the perfect complement to the tight and quick challenges.  Distracting visuals are the last thing you need when you’re going through the same obstacle course over and over and over.  VVVVVV basically distills the experience down to just your character and the lines and triangles that stand between him and his goal, and it works really well.


Above are my final stats after completing the game.  Just take a look at my death count!  It’s also worth noting that “Veni” is the very first spike-filled room in the “Doing Things the Hard Way” challenge I mentioned earlier.  It took me 87 goddamn tries to finally throw my hands up and admit defeat!  I still consider it time well spent.

VVVVVV is $8 on the 3DS eShop, which is a little steep.  It’s only $5 on Steam and $3 on ios (although I can’t imagine pulling off this game’s precise platforming on an ipad touch screen), so you’ve got plenty of options.  Give it a try!  And keep reading, because here comes a bonus write-up…

Don't Look Back title
Console: Flash
Start Date: January 22, 2016
End Date: January 22, 2016

While doing research on VVVVVV, I discovered that the same guy who created it also made a browser game called Don’t Look Back that I remembered playing on my work computer back when I had an office job.  I never finished Don’t Look Back back then, probably because I had to go do stupid work or something, and hadn’t thought about it in years.  And so I decided to finally get through it, which I proceeded to do in about 15 minutes at 3am on January 22nd.

Don’t Look Back is sort of an adaptation of the story of Orpheus from Greek mythology, presented as a stylized platformer.  Your character must venture into the underworld, rescue his wife, and then return to his starting point without looking back.

Don't Look Back wife 2

Now, it’s been a while since I studied Greek mythology, but I don’t remembering Orpheus encountering quite so many spiders, snakes and bats!

Don't Look Back gameplay

Like VVVVVV, the crux of the game is a series of rapidfire challenges, with the pressure alleviated by generous checkpoints.  Unlike VVVVVV, however, the challenges here primarily consist of enemy encounters rather than precise platforming.  Orpheus has a gun in this version, and he shoots the shit out of lots of little monsters, and runs into a couple of pretty fun boss encounters.

Don't Look Back boss

As a platformer, Don’t Look Back is decent (although I wish it had controller support, because 15 minutes of playing it with a keyboard practically gave me carpal tunnel syndrome), but it is primarily an art game, meant to evoke emotions in the player.  And your results may vary, but for me it was very effective on this front.  The sparse graphical style, memorable environments and haunting soundtrack set the tone right off the bat, and then every time I accidentally turned around and watched my beloved wife crumble into salt, I felt appropriately shitty about it.  And the ending – oh man, the ending!

But judge for yourself.  Don’t Look Back is a free browser game that you can finish in just a few minutes, so there’s no reason not to click the image below and give it a try:

Don't Look Back beginning

Axiom Verge

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