Vib Ribbon is without a shadow of a doubt a classic video game in every possible sense of the word; it’s unique, brilliant fun to play and it’s also a gaming experience that leaves you wanting more, even over twelve years after it was first released. It’s also one of those highly coveted moments in gaming history that cries out for a new generation of gamers to pay it a visit via the fully functioning Playstation Network time machine. In short, I want it in HD!
Way back in 1996/97, Japanese games designer Masaya Matsuura, and his NanaOn-Sha development team (who also recently designed Haunt for the Xbox Live Arcade), created what is generally recognised as being the first true rhythm action game, PaRappa the Rapper-a game that not only established the style of gameplay for which Matsuura became synonymous with, but it would go on to became a true cult classic. However, Masuura-san somehow managed to completely outdo himself with the release of the utterly brilliant Vib Ribbon on the Playstation in 1999.
Much like PaRappa the Rapper, Vib Ribbon has a distinctive visual style that is entirely its own-albeit a considerably more simplistic one. Players take control of a rabbit named Vibri as she traverses a path fraught with obstacles that must be overcome, the course and Vibri herself are depicted solely with simple, white vector lines (set against a plain black background) that pulse to the beat of the excellent soundtrack. This aesthetic simplicity is to its advantage though, as when the game loads it is stored entirely within the memory of the PS1 console, allowing the game disc to then be removed, and players to enjoy the game with a music CD of their own choosing. And this, as one may suspect, can actually have a rather dramatic effect on the proceedings.
The composition of Vib Ribbon’s levels (their difficulty and types of obstacles) are dictated by the music that is being played alongside it, more advanced difficulties usually run faster and have a higher quantity of obstacles in them-these may also be combined to further enhance their complexity. Now, given that the player is encouraged to use their own music from the outset, Vib Ribbon will actually generate unique levels to match the tempo and style of whatever music the player has chosen, thus allowing for near infinite replay value. It is more than worthwhile trying it out with a variety of musical styles simply to see the differing results; this is a feature that has been employed in several games since (notably E4) but I have yet to encounter a video game that has been able to use it so effectively, and to turn what would traditionally be a simple bonus feature into a defining characteristic of the game itself.
The gameplay is almost as simple as the visual style, as there are just four buttons used throughout the entire game, with each one corresponding to a different style of obstacle that must be navigated. For passing through these effectively, players are rewarded-not only with a high score-but with yet another feature that has been copied since. If the player can pass through eighteen obstacles unharmed, they will see Vibri transformed into a fairy princess (I believe), but taking damage nine times will see her regress into lower forms; these being those of a frog, and then a worm-taking further harm after this will see the game end. Very much like the evolutionary system present in the incredible, Rez, the higher the form that the player can achieve, the more lives they effectively have.
Despite how utterly brilliant the game was, it sadly only saw release into the Japanese and European markets and its two PS2 exclusive sequels, Mojib Ribbon and Vib Ripple, were only ever available in Japan-Sony, appear to believe that there isn’t a market for these titles in the West, and personally, I would very much like them to see that they are wrong. Its creator, Masaya Matsuura, has expressed a desire to return to the project to create a sequel to, or a remake of, the original game for Sony to distribute exclusively for the PS3. However, if Matsuura-san can purchase the IP from them, he hopes to produce a multi-format release to be made available over the respective networks that both Sony and Microsoft offer, and why not?
We are sadly seeing the legendary developer, Cave, experiencing financial difficulties, and there appears to be a reluctance from Japanese studios to embrace crowdsourcing websites such as Kickstarter, which has already proven itself to be a more than useful tool for indie developers to garner the funding necessary to produce high quality products without the need for publisher backing. Vib Ribbon will never manage to stray away from its status as a cult classic, so the odds of Sony (or anyone else for that matter) throwing money at either a remake or a sequel-regardless of how little it would cost-is extremely unlikely, and so, for Matsuura-san to recover the rights to this wonderful IP, would undoubtedly require the assistance of the creator’s existing fan base. It is therefore not entirely beyond the realm of possibility that this could actually happen, and I for one, would certainly support such a move to bring back one of gaming’s greatest moments out from the murky depths of the past and into the crystal clear, HD era. If NanaOn-Sha take the chance, I am more than positive that they will find that I am not alone in this.
Vib Ribbon is a wonderful gaming experience that hasn’t been able to enjoy the attention that it truly deserves, much like UGA’s Rez, it is a game that can, and should be seen as a work of art-it is a joyous, moving experience that will surely remain with those who play it for the remainder of their lives. It is, as so few games are, as close to perfection as any of us are ever likely to see, and if that doesn’t warrant it an HD re-release, I don’t know what does.
– James Paton @theblackpage81