It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of a “throwback”-style game was limited to that of referencing 8-bit and 16-bit generations alike. But just as we saw games that could fit right at home on a NES or SNES cartridge, it wouldn’t be long before intentions swiftly moved towards their next logical step: the early polygonal period that best surmises the N64 and original PlayStation. For better or for worse. The idea of a game aiming to replicate the jaggedness of early 3D attempts may have its nostalgic merits, but it’s hard to argue in favor of said polygons and accompanying low-resolution textures of former, have aged just as well as their 16-bit counterparts. Gaming’s post-2D (post-Mode 7 if you were lucky enough to own a SNES and experience the joys of pseudo-3D graphics) era — outside of a few well-aged creations — more a case of humble recollection in retrospect than necessarily dedicated imitation. But as far as games with a clear-cut referring to the past, it’s hard to find a game that screams early 3D generations.
And then something like Vividlope pops up and the first thought that comes to mind is: “PS2!!” In that very exclaimed tone too; not a subtle thought or otherwise tempered feeling that gradually builds until such a figurative penny drops, but one whose menu screens, music and general presentation immediately makes you go: “wow this just screams PS2 era!” A feeling that’s meant in the nicest way possible of course; I can’t recall a game that has so instinctively conjured such a thought. More so, a thought peppered with such fond nostalgia. Where nostalgia is often reserved for the SNES/Genesis-era of games, it is instead the days of the PS2 that receive that luxury. A time when some of the weirdest, odd-ball but fascinatingly-creative games came to the forefront. A system as specific as the PS2 — playing host to games like Rez, Katamari Damacy, Ico and many more. To reiterate: this is a compliment and then some. Fond of a new puzzle game or two I may be, Vividlope’s unashamed minimalism, level-by-level score-based progression and casting itself within some infinite void that is its “setting” evokes the best kind of unconventional, abstract Japanese title one’s own PS2 library is equal parts remembered by.
The premise of Vividlope is itself straightforward and to the point, if a tad more complex to properly master in the pursuit of a P-rank score. Yep, where S-tier was once the newfangled pedestal above A-tier, we now have P-tier towering over even that. In Vividlope, players are tasked with covering all tiles of a level in a desired color. Three lives, limited time, power-ups to optionally hunt down, hostiles to avoid and/or take down. Approach a level, learn its structure, get better at it until one is satisfied enough to tackle the next level, rinse and repeat. Naturally, levels get more complex. Utilizing narrower spaces, paths and strips that bend and curve as if they were miniature planetoids with their own gravitation pull. Even requiring you to commit to “dropping down” a floor or particular one-way route. It’s only after reaching the desired percentage signalling levels completion does the desire to chase a high score (and accompanying rank) commence. Making sure to plot a path across the remaining tiles so as to avoid making contact with any square or grouping of such, already colored in. Doing so drains a nearby meter governing how long you can keep going. Step on too many tiles and that’s that run over.
Scarce in danger and all-round complexity to its mechanics there may initially be in Vividlope, this revolving around high scores and thinking several steps ahead with one’s movement is more than enough to keep things entertaining. Regardless of whether or not you’re a completionist type or not. Knowing that a pre-planned route can go so horribly wrong due to an ill-timed foe spawning in. Or by contrast: a conveniently-placed item can help you recover from a faulty start. Speed undertaken is just as vital a component to get right, as total area covered is and were it not for Vividlope’s unashamed attitude — in not trying to dress up its gameplay premise in some unnecessarily pretentious narrative — perhaps the core loop would be pleasant alone. Who knows: maybe the end chapters do reveal this has all been some allegory about battling depression or whatnot. The point still stands though: Vividlope isn’t here to make itself out to be more than what it is. Or that its handcrafted levels to tackle are anything other than deductive little puzzles to navigate and hopefully score highly on.
Perhaps then what’s granted Vividlope the title of interesting find is that very honesty. That desire — albeit through some hearkening to the aesthetic and stylings of puzzle-esque releases decades prior — to be gameplay first…and that’s it. Here’s the pitch, here are the mechanics, there’s your target, have at it. “Also, remember the PS2 days, boy they were good weren’t they?” I may well be stretching this analogy a little — and it may well be developer Jaklub’s intention lies far from so personal an assumption — but it’s hard not to latch onto the font use, menu music, user interface and not think you’ve been transported back to the early 2000s. Back when electronic/dance music had fully gone mainstream and just like in so many industries, video games seized on that opportunity to feel energizing. Vividlope may not be the most energetic or lively of games — moving at a brisk pace, minimal with its potential danger — and regardless of whether such nostalgia is the main ingredient, it’s nice to find a game so unapologetic in its prospect and as a result, so easily addictive to coast through. One tile-based level at a time.