A black screen and one white line – gaming doesn't get much simpler than that. Minimalist and surreal by design, vib-ribbon is a masterpiece of simplicity. Here is a game that takes the best elements of gaming and distils them to make Essence of Gaming. No, not a new fragrance by Chanel, but an embodiment of everything that's good about games. If you didn't think gaming could be more pared down than Rez, think again.
Vib-ribbon is one of those games I always fancied, but never got round to buying. Of course by the time I did get round to it, it was about as common as hen's teeth. And as with all these things, the less likely I was to find it, the more I searched the bargain bins of games stores.
This week fortune smiled on me. Konami Boy went to Ireland. That's not the good bit; the good bit was when he returned. Not only did he return, but he returned bearing gifts. Apparently, the Irish are completely unaware of the demand for vib-ribbon. KB walked into a shop in some Irish backwater only to find a treasure trove of not one, but many copies of vib-ribbon. Much to his chagrin, he only bought one copy, later discovering it sells for as much as Â£70 on eBay. And his entrepreneurial spirit takes another blow.
Nevertheless, I was overjoyed with the purchase and stepped into the world of vib-ribbon not really knowing what to expect. From the moment the title starts, vib-ribbon presents an altogether different experience. First of all, there is no colour, well not enough to write home about. And the graphics, although it almost does them a disservice to refer to them that way, resemble those doodles you do round the edge of a page whilst talking to someone on the phone. Then the doodles swirl and flicker to create what can only be described as a stick-figure rabbit. This is vibri.
Apparently, vibri is a girl. There's not much in the way of indications of gender, but hey, who am I to quibble. The player's role is to guide her along the vib-ribbon without hitting any ‘pieces'. The pieces in question are shapes in the vib-ribbon. The vib-ribbon is a solitary white line that stretches across the screen from one edge to the other. It has no beginning and no end and vibri seems compelled, or doomed, to walk along it for all eternity.
The vib-ribbon is never broken, but simply bends to form peaks, troughs, loops and wiggles – all of which must be leaped over to win the game. Each shape is assigned one of four buttons or a combination of two of the four. Hit the right button at the right time and vibri skips and hops her way along the ribbon to the end of the song. Make a mistake and she gets an electric shock and the line begins to tremble making it harder to hit your mark.
What amazed me when playing this is how much feeling of space and perspective can be gleaned with just one line. Vibri is trapped in this strange, colourless and essentially empty world, which adds a weird pathos. This is Kandinsky meets manga series, Chobits.
The music that comes with the game is quirky, Japanese pop – reminiscent of Japanese musician, Cornelius. But the real magic of vib-ribbon takes hold when you put in your own CD. Yes, that's right! Your music collection comes alive in vibri's world. But what to choose, what to choose?
My first choice was Green Day. Oh boy was that a mistake. I hardly made it through the first couple of lines. All manner of mind-warping hell broke loose. The shapes were overlapping and the line was spinning, yes I did say spinning. It was mission on to find something better, or easier, or possible. Next up was Music Feels Better by Stardust (old dance music anthem), but there were too many layers, so I had the same problem.
Then we struck gold – Get Off by the Dandy Warhols. It was perfect! A good stomping bass line meant it was simplicity itself. Next up was The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret courtesy of Queens of the Stone Age – another good track (even at the best of times). No layering or spinning, but enough of a challenge to keep me going back for more, each time getting that little bit further. I was starving and KB was starving, but I just needed one more go. In the end, I had to tell him to prise it from my twisted grip, as I no longer had the will power to do it myself. I was trapped in vibri's world.
I'm currently attempting Monkey Gone to Heaven by the Pixies. It's working pretty well, but proving fatally addictive. I'll never look at my music collection in quite the same way. Ooh, Bad Touch by the Bloodhound Gang – bet that would be good, must find someone who owns it (note to self).
Most played: vib-ribbon (duh)
Most wanted: mojib-ribbon