Game-related ramblings.


Celebrating Super-Hard Platformers

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s latest game, Poacher. After taking a break to revisit The Desolate Room, I went back to Poacher and found the secret ending. As expected, it involved an incredibly difficult multi-stage boss fight, followed by a hilarious special ending. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for these kinds of challenges. I think the reason is that they reward my inherent stubbornness. Encountering a seemingly impossible hurdle, I keep trying, getting a tiny bit closer each time, until my persistence is vindicated. It’s the same satisfaction of solving a tough problem in real life, but miniaturized and accelerated, something that can be solved in hours or days rather than months or years.

Of course, my love of roguelikes has similar roots, but in that case it often actually is a matter of years before victory is achieved. And the challenge of roguelikes is fully cerebral, a matter of strategies and the weighing of options in harsh situations. The extra-tough platformer is a different kind of challenge, one of pattern recognition, timing, and motor skills. It’s faster and more active, requiring one to learn and adapt quickly, and it provides a different kind of satisfaction.

The problem, of course, is that once such a platformer is mastered, there’s little reason to revisit it. This means I’m always looking for new games that fit the bill. Fortunately, there’s a lot of them out there, and I’ve got quite a few favorites to recommend.

Indie Time: VVVVVV

The next indie game on my list is VVVVVV, even though I’ve played it already. But it has since been updated to v2.0, including a bunch of bonus levels made by various other indie game developers, so I decided it was time to play through it again. Besides, it’s excellent, and only takes a few hours to play through, so why not?

If you have not yet played VVVVVV, you’re probably looking at that screenshot and thinking it looks like a game from 1980, rather than 2010. The retro look is intentional, and in motion it looks a lot better than you might expect. The animations are smooth and lend a modern sheen to the visuals that suggests games of old rather than outright emulating them. The visuals also set a certain tone that fits the gameplay perfectly.

And the gameplay itself is the best part of VVVVVV. There are only three buttons — move left, move right, and flip gravity — but designer Terry Cavanagh uses these simple mechanics to absolutely brilliant effect over the course of the game.

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