Review: Wings of Vi
Difficulty always seems like the easiest way to mess up a platformer. I know the debate has gone around a bunch but I can see no reasonable argument against making games accessible to both casual and hardcore gamers through wise use of difficulty modes. Wings of Vi has difficulty modes, it’s true, but not ones that address the absolutely punishing, almost sadistic platforming needed to make any headway in the game. The game’s own creators describe it as inspired by “masochistic retro platformers” so if that actually sounds like a plus and not a minus for you, stop reading here and strap the hell in. For everyone else, we can talk about where this one goes off the rails that better precision platformers stay on.
Vi is an angel, part of a ludicrously busty host that keep the demon lord Jeh’oul sealed up after he declared war on the mortal world ages ago. Vi is also dim enough to go with her friend Rubi to taunt their prisoner, who uses the two angels to escape and wreak immediate ruin on their heavenly homes. With Rubi angel-napped, Vi sets off with her divine staff to take down Jeh’oul and his ravenous minions. The demon lord’s trail is long, though, winding through heaven and earth and far darker places and packed to the gills with fleshy, infernal foes. Careful maneuvering and quick wits will be necessary to guide Vi safely through her journey, especially if she’s to turn up the loads of secrets hidden along the way.
The game eases you into things with a little tour of Vi’s village, courtesy of Rubi, where you’ll need to master the basic movement mechanics just to progress to the actual game. This is more daunting than you might expect, because Vi has a funny way of handling her jumps. Her jumps from the ground are normal but if you step off a platform without jumping, you can jump in midair, a sort of conditional double-jump. Right from the tutorial this move will be used constantly, and will be used in conjunction with other abilities like fluttering to execute all kinds of maneuvers over deadly pits, deadly maws, deadly claws, and sundry other threats.
Going back to the store page, the game claims to cut out “arbitrary difficulty” and “pixel-perfect jumps” in favor of skill-based gameplay. The distinction between these terms is plenty vague but even the general notion they’re trying to communicate is false. Wings of Vi is absolutely loaded with jumps and sequences with zero margin for error. You’ll have situations where you drop off a ledge, change directions in midair, flutter over deadly teeth, and jump not at the top of the flutter but a split-second after it ends to land on a one-block collapsing platform that you then have to immediately roll on from. Timing and positioning are crucial here despite hazard hitboxes being fiddly and jumps being easily fouled up by walls not visible at the edges of the screen and enemies that swoop at you from nowhere. I can’t help but think of games like The End Is Nigh which are both harder and more fair than what’s presented here, thanks to challenges that are clearer, less complex, less punitive, and in many cases even optional.
If that doesn’t sound like fun, the combat is even less so. Enemies are almost universally faster and more mobile than you, take tons of hits to dispatch, and do huge chunks of damage to you. Even basic foes that hop or fly around must be expertly dodged and hit lest you lose 40% of your life or more battling each one. With incoming damage like this, bosses are even more of a nightmare, requiring memorization of long, messy patterns that only have brief cues for hard-to-dodge attacks. Vi’s only recourse is to simply dodge, sometimes requiring complex midair maneuvers to get under or above attacks that cover the entire single platform the battle takes place on.
The end result is just intensely frustrating, even on “easy” which adjusts damage and adds extra platforms. That’s because the core principle of design here is punishing difficulty, which can’t be alleviated with a few simple additions. Wings of Vi is meant to be punishing, it’s meant to push players to their limits, and unless you like trying the same jumps dozens of times over that’s just not going to be fun. I would have loved this game if it was meant to be fun instead of a test, because aspects like the writing and the secrets and the wealth of customization options for Vi are really fun. But getting to them is a chore that only the most masochistic players will succeed in, and that’s simply not a title I ever aspire to hold.