Dash through a deadly maze for as long as possible.
PC Release: September 11, 2017
By Ian Coppock
In this day and age, Googling “running through a hedge maze on acid” really isn’t all that unusual. If Rule 34 is a given, why not also have a rule stating that if it exists, someone has at least Googled it? Well, anyone who happens to be curious about what it’s like to run through a hedge maze on acid can stop drilling: they’ve hit oil. Welcome to a review of TTV2, a game that’s all about dashing through a maze-like fever dream that wouldn’t look out of place in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s time to start running.
TTV2 is an abbreviation for Trip to Vinelands 2, for this is the sequel to Walter Machado’s trippy maze-running title. Just like its criminally underrated predecessor, TTV2 inserts players into a terrifying world of shifting walls and challenges them to find an exit. Even if players can dodge the thorny walls and spinning machinery, escape is only temporary; the way out leads to yet another maze. The goal of the game is simply to survive for as long as possible; one brush with an obstacle and it’s game over.
Players who hope to be good maze runners (no, not like Maze Runner) have to have quick reflexes and an even quicker eye for detail. Most mazes in TTV2 only have an exit for a few seconds; linger too long and the chance for escape is forever lost. TTV2‘s mazes spawn in a random order, precluding a difficulty curve and making success as much a matter of luck as skill. The game’s controls are pretty simple: just use WASD or the arrow keys to move around.
TTV2‘s most alluring (and novel) design facet is its shifting obstacles. There’s no set exit point in each maze; walls and buzz saws move around, and characters simply have to touch an obstacle-free edge of the screen to continue. Players don’t spawn on the corresponding edge of the next map; usually, the game plonks the maze runner down right in the center of the next challenge. This prevents TTV2 from being too linear and lets the game immediately throw all the punches it can at the player.
The respawn mechanic is where players have to be especially careful with their reflexes. Most platformers train gamers to just keep moving in the same direction when they leave one panel of the scene and enter the next; after all, they’re usually strung together into a single level. TTV2 upends this design convention by making each scene completely disconnected. Continuing to move in one direction after escaping a maze can lead players right into the path of a buzz saw. TTV2 only gives players a few seconds to stop and pick a new direction before getting murdered, and that’s what makes it challenging.
The addicting allure of TTV2‘s endless challenge is enhanced with immediate respawns. Players who meet their fate at the thorns of a shifting wall can immediately jump back into the game at Hotline Miami speeds. Instant respawns are crucial for a game that’s all about infinite challenge; games that punish players for failure with long load screens risk making themselves frustrating. TTV2 (and other games like it) utilize this mechanic to keep themselves accessible.
TTV2‘s precise controls also help give players a chance against the ever-shifting stream of obstacles. The character (a well-dressed gent who appears to have the Eye of Sauron for a head) moves at a fast enough pace and immediately stops or turns when prompted. Thank God the controls aren’t floaty (although that could make for an interesting challenge as well).
Half the reason that these thorn walls and buzz saws are so frightening is because they’re difficult to avoid; the other reason is their spooky appearance. TTV2 is a study in visual contrast, giving its obstacles and character dark colors while giving its backgrounds vivid, surreal colors. The backgrounds’ sickly peach color and crunchy textures help give TTV2 the same trippy vibe as Trip to Vinelands or Machado’s other games: the UBERMOSH series. These comprise a gorgeous, albeit unsettling, aesthetic.
The other artwork informing TTV2‘s rave-like vibe is its music. Machado has never shied away from making good use of head-banging electronica. TTV2 might have the best tunes of any of his titles, with pounding tracks that reinforce the game’s sense of urgency. Anyone who likes dark, grimy electronica will probably end up sticking around in TTV2 as much for the music as the gameplay.
If TTV2 has a flaw, it’s that the game is pretty difficult to tell apart from Trip to Vinelands. Sure, the player character has a larger head and the backgrounds look different, but the core gameplay remains little changed from that of its predecessor. Indeed, perhaps the only true change that TTV2 makes to the Vinelands formula is including more obstacles to dodge. The end result is that players have a few new traps to avoid… but only that select few.
Having said that, Machado’s design philosophy of representing incremental changes with a whole new sequel is not the sinister scheme that it sounds like. Owners of Machado’s previous games get the next title in the sequence for free if not at a very generous discount, and it’s a unique way to see how a designer’s motifs and conventions change over time. As of writing, TTV2 is only about sixty cents (not sixty dollars), so players who are reluctant to drop money on sequels can rest easy. TTV2 is an easy grab.
TTV2 is quick arcade action done right. It could’ve made a few more changes from Trip to Vinelands, but its cheap price and endless replayability mitigate that concern pretty soundly. Players who like arcade games should grab this title, as should reflex gamers and anyone who wants to run through a maze on acid without actually dropping acid or risking getting arrested for having dropped acid. TTV2 is one of the most fun fever dream sleeper hits to launch on Steam in a while; get it while the tripping’s good.
You can buy TTV2 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.