Wings of Vi Review
Hardcore platforming from the creator of I Wanna Be The-- no, not that one
Explaining the appeal of playing I Wanna Be The Boshy is always a teensy bit tricky. Sure, as a spectator to the offensively unfair fan-game you might at least get the chance to see a man's sanity and well-being slowly pecked away by the ultra-precise platforming – it being a morbidly fascinating Twitch.tv staple and everything – but why anybody would actually sit down and play it for the purposes of entertainment is a question to be asked in a much more incredulous tone. It is, I think, a game of pure achievement: enjoyment isn't derived from the gameplay itself so much as the sheer sobbing relief – after several sleepless nights and developing a minor substance abuse problem – of just barely reaching the next checkpoint. It's an icy jagged cliff to throw yourself against; every ledge merely an excuse to pat yourself on the back.
When all's said and done, though, it's still about as accessible as a quarter-pipe disabled access ramp, and for many people the sense of accomplishment in no way justifies the hours upon hours of having even the slightest mistake punished with instant, mocking failure. Suppose for a moment that the creator of I Wanna Be The Boshy, the impossibly smooth-voiced Solgryn, took that overwhelming sense of accomplishment, surgically extracted all the stolen intellectual property, filed down the difficulty to the point where actual human beings could enjoy it, and sewed it all back together? You'd get a gross metaphor about surgical irresponsibility, that's what. Also Wings of Vi, I suppose.
If it sounds like this article is starting off with a pretty bland, meandering sort of tone, it's because the issue of deciding whether Wings of Vi is any good is rather more complex than weighing up how many times it stumbles. What metric of 'good' am I going to use, anyway? How many fingers it makes me anxiously gnaw into bloody stumps? Chances are you already know if you want to play it. If not, here's a simple test: does the prospect of restlessly practising the same manoeuvre over and over until you finally slip through a gauntlet of spikes, enemies and lasers with perfect timing sound like your personal hell? Or are you already cracking your knuckles in anticipation? Because that's totally where this is going.
Still, out of respect, let's train a relatively grown-up eye on Wings of Vi for a bit. You play the titular Vi – why yes, she does like the colour purple – a sparkly angel who lives in a golden sky city where nothing bad happens ever. Also, for reasons that are curiously skirted around, she cannot fly. Come on, Vi, even that hedgehog thing from Fenix Rage could pull that off. I also have a sneaking suspicion that she's one of those semi-reclusive sorts who never bother exploring the neighbourhood they move into, since she was apparently totally unaware of the demon overlord imprisoned at the bottom of her street until her best friend in the whole wide world – Rubi, I think – drags her off to pelt rocks at it. Somehow it escapes and raises hell – literally as much as figuratively – filling the world with gaping maws and bony monstrosities that really brighten up the dry classical architecture. Nevertheless, they have to go, and you're the only one who can do it because... look, I'm sure we've covered this before. Not exactly a tour de force of writing, but since the game is evoking an age when platformer storytelling was divided into the camps of 'save the princess' or 'save the world', I think we can let it slide.
So off you go to double-jump, slide, shoot, float and dash your way through screenfuls of deviously placed, utterly improbable obstacles. It's around this point that the masocore enthusiasts order another palette of energy drinks and everybody else turns off the game in disgust, but stay your hand for a moment, friend: the spiritual successor to I Wanna Be The Boshy has gained some measure of restraint. Sure, it's still challenging enough to merit the inclusion of the death counter in the corner – you know, so you can gauge how much of your precious time a particularly difficult part has wasted – but the level design no longer feels like it was deliberately designed to spit hydrochloric acid in the player's eye. Gone are the ludicrous pixel-perfect jumps, the surprise instant-death traps, the ear-splitting pop-scares and the reprehensible RNG-based attacks, leaving a game that keeps the sense of overcoming overwhelming odds while actually giving you a fair shake. You even have a health bar, so it's possible to brush up against minor hazards without exploding into a fountain of blood.
When all this works cohesively, it's not a half-bad experience. Every set of obstacles is a seemingly impenetrable gauntlet; a set of subtly interconnected elements that spin and slide and occasionally shoot, artfully obfuscating the safe path through them in such a way that not even a platforming savant with electrodes in their head could possibly pass on their first try. I suppose we're supposed to denounce trial-and-error gameplay like that and hit it with kayak paddles or something, but if you're looking for fair game design here you probably took a wrong turn or two a few hyperlinks back. So you plan. You watch the hazards, monitor their patterns, carefully choreograph your steps and ration out your jumps. You can see it in your head – perfect, elegant, just as the creator intended – and you'll carry on seeing it right up until the point where your poor, mortal fingers fail you and send Vi off into another row of spikes. It's hard to see the fun in trying the same thing over and over and having it repeatedly thrown back in your face like a spoilt brat's rejected meal, but to complain about a lack of progress is – as already explained – to entirely miss the point.
Up to a point, that's all just fine and dandy, but Wings of Vi doesn't seem to have the firmest grip on its difficulty curve at times. It might seem a little misguided to complain about such a thing in a game made exclusively to crush the player under massive adversity, but even the people who break out the whips and jiggly leather outfits behind closed doors know that you need limits. Bits of the game are reasonable enough to almost pass for a bona fide old-school platformer – albeit one with a glaringly high screen resolution – but other bits demand such frame-perfect timing that after completing them I could only stop, look back, and think “that can't possibly have been how I was supposed to do that.” It's doubly annoying here, because unlike, say, a triangular yellow hazard sign, Vi's hitbox is a little bit hazily defined, and doesn't really mesh well with the platforming when the game asks you to jump through hoops made of flaming rusty razor blades.