Game Music Saturdays – PPPPPP: The VVVVVV Soundtrack

What an incredibly unintuitive title! Mostly predicated by the fact that every song on the whole work starts with a P for some reason!

I think you know, from earlier in the week, that I’m not much a fan of VVVVVV for myriad reasons. The soundtrack remains the notable exception. Honestly, I don’t know why exactly it works, but I don’t think it’s merely “chiptune”. If it was…well, it would sound a lot like everything else. Rather, PPPPPP has a unique sound that accords with its style almost perfectly. There’s not a bevy of songs, either; the entire work, including its incidental music, clocks in at a half hour. At points, only the soundtrack motivated me to finish the game. Still, it’s exemplary for NOT being incidental to the action. Magnus Palsson, or Souleye, did a fantastic job making the game a little more enjoyable.

Name how many platformers have excellent music, other than the notable exceptions. You’ll find one theme here and there, but even Mario and Sonic’s game don’t have a diverse cast of songs like this soundtrack – no offense to Koji Kondo and Masato Nakamura, but all of PPPPPP’s tracks stuck themselves in my head. “Pushing Onwards”, for examples, plays during the first level of the game. It’s both simple and complex – simple for its backbeat which nails that traditional chiptune scene sound, while also playing around with a lot of different musical ideas. It contains what I would call the “main theme” of VVVVVV’s soundtrack. That same theme comes in bits and pieces throughout with a final culmination in the last level.

The exploration theme, “Passion for Exploring”, takes a subtle approach that reminds me of an advanced version of Pokemon Red/Blue’s travel themes with layers. Unlike some of the other music, it doesn’t beat the player over the head with catchy tunes – instead, it’s a nice backdrop to the exploration of SPACE.

Palsson doesn’t limit his work solely to the tools of chiptune, however; that would be entirely too boring! “Pressure Cooker” doesn’t use all chiptune, although I can’t identify what the other elements are in this pressure cooker(har). Whatever they are, they give a spacey and grinding feel that never gets too dominating. “Positive Force” returns to the main theme with an epic adventuring feel. Since it plays during the last sequence, it’s fitting that it sounds like an act of triumph. “Predestined Fate” goes for a downbeat electronic trip-hop vibe and an absolutely huge bass beat that hooks itself into your brain – still, it never tries to remove itself from a relaxing tone overall.

“Potential for Anything” sounds like the “sci-fi electronics factory” level of just about any video game on the planet (you know what I mean…I think). It’s quite groovy, even if it sounds a lot more like a Mega Man song than anything else on the soundtrack. “Potential for Anything” struck me in the same way – a far out space odyssey that ambles along in its own musical devices. Self-indulgent, maybe, but enjoyable all the same! “Pipe Dream” takes its hand at the “credit theme” style music of early NES games and comes out successful. Nobody wants to hear blaring chiptune instruments in that setting, so kudos to Palsson for making it nostalgic and credible. Lastly (in terms of big songs), we have “Popular Poutpourri”, which almost captures the fun and frivolity of a Kirby soundtrack. However, it also weaves in all the music heard previous in stops and starts, giving the song an unprecedented amount of variety…and also making for a weird, trippy, and unfocused musical experience. “Positive Force Reversed” plays the songs backwards, lending even more to the weirdness.

As for the incidental music…well, it’s incidental music that’s 5-30 seconds long, so I can’t really make an evaluative judgement on tiny ideas like that with no time to gestate into anything cool or amazing. That’s one of the weird characteristics of game music in this vein, but not a damning criticism. Some games have to have this music; it is what it is.

Would I call this the best game soundtrack ever? No, not really. That’s no knock on Palsson, though. For me personally, he managed to make a game which I don’t like into something that I’ll actually remember. That’s a weird enough, but the songs from the game have wormed their way into my ears and I can’t get them out. Melody drives all these songs, not just some random beat that somebody thought was cool – that’s a huge difference from much electronic music. Now, when I remember VVVVVV, I don’t remember all the horrible frustrations I had, but the elegance, simplicity, and catchiness of the music (I know catchiness isn’t a word, oh well!).

I suppose the same is true of many game experiences of the past – games had their myriad frustrations, sure, but our memories retain the good rather than the bad. The legions of Sonic the Hedgehog’s fans, for examples, attest to that fact through their loyalty to the franchise. Why don’t I remember the bad things about bad games as vividly as you’d imagine? Well, a possible answer might be in John 14:

25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

Yes, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit here; I’m not that oblivious as to notice. But what, exactly, does the Holy Spirit make Christians remember? Good things. Righteous things. Obedience to God, morality – these things that transcend the fallen nature. Perhaps it’s a secular version of the same – we do remember the good in all things, and it’s a constant struggle to reject the bad in human nature. Or maybe that’s just me – I find myself liking VVVVVV even though I recognize how horrible it all was – can I do this with everything else, too?

Get it here.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • I wish I could enjoy chiptunes more. I could deal with it while playing the game. But while working and listening to game music, it’s got to be a little more dynamic for me. Like Bastion or #Sworcery’s soundtrack.

    • @Mjoshua It’s an acquired taste. It also doesn’t help that much chiptune sounds like electronic with different instruments. The truly unique stuff, though, sounds like something all its own, as VVVVVV’s soundtrack shows. Still, it’s no match for Mega Man 🙂