Full Review: "It's a Viewtiful Day!" (Picture Bono singing on a runway for full effect of this smart-ass comment).
This is what action games are all about. In all honesty, this is what video games themselves are all about. Before there were incredible graphics; before there were complex and entangling storylines; before there were explicitly mature oriented games, there were games that were just plain to play. Games like the original Mario Bros. that used 2D sprites to showcase its enemies and characters. Games like Battletoads that had incredibly imaginative environments and scenarios. Games like Blaster Master that were so incredibly difficult that it made you want to throw your controller against the wall, but you kept playing anyway. These are some of the true examples that have gotten the video game industry where it is today. Enter Viewtiful Joe, a 2D action game that tries its hardest to return to the roots of video games while still maintaining the feel of a recent title.
Before Viewtiful Joe's release, we knew a few things about it right off the bat. Number one was that it's Capcom's second entry into the Capcom 5. With P.N.03 being a disappointment and Dead Phoenix being canceled, Viewtiful Joe (VJ) had some big expectations to meet. The second thing we knew about VJ was that it was trying to go for a 2D look in a 3D world, a graphical system that is all but extinct on today's main consoles (excluding the Game Boy Advance). Lastly, we knew that the GameCube really needed another solid title, and VJ could be exactly that. Fortunately, Viewtiful Joe succeeds in accomplishing these tasks for the most part, as well as keeping a close bond with video games of the past.
Viewtiful Joe is based around every day movie-lover Joe (duh). During a trip to the movies with a girl acquaintance to see one of his favorite super-heroes, Joe finds that the movie comes alive and his girl Silvia gets unexpectedly taken by the evil forces within the film. Joe doesn't like this. Taking matters into his own hands, it's up to Joe to find and rescue Silvia. Lucky for Joe, he stumbles upon how to transform into a super-hero himself, thanks to some help form Captain Blue. With his new found powers, Joe sets off to battle evil and to rescue his woman.
Besides getting a funky new outfit to wear, Joe also learns some impressive maneuvers. Using the "VFX" system, Joe can use the powers of Slow, Zoom, and Mach Speed (each must be obtained first) to help vanquish his enemies. Each ability has a different affect, and each can help defeat certain enemies. Slow allows Joe to slow down time, resulting in his enemies and himself moving at a slower pace. Doing so makes it easier for players to dodge attacks and attack enemies, but also has a few more useful tricks which I won't spoil. Likewise, Mach Speed is the opposite of Slow. Using Mach Speed speeds up time, making Joe move at an incredible rate. Zoom is the final upgrade that can be obtained, and allows Joe to zoom in on a certain enemy and pummel it. Again, both Mach Speed and Zoom have certain uses besides the obvious, but that's up to you to figure out. Each ability is also essential in moving on in the game. Whether it be for defeating specific enemies and bosses or overcoming obstacles, each VFX maneuver is used frequently throughout the game.
Using these VFX abilities comes at a price however, as Joe can only use each ability for a limited amount of time. Using the ability for longer than allowed results in Joe returning to his normal, non-super-hero self. The amount of time the VFX abilities can be used is indicated by the VFX bar at the top of the screen. Luckily, this bar can be extended by collecting power-ups throughout each level. Obviously, the more power-ups you collect, the longer you can use your VFX abilities. In order to really get the full use of the VFX traits, you really do need the option to use it for an extended period of time, so be sure to collect as many power-ups as you can.
Joe's abilities don't end there. By defeating levels, Joe can use what points he has earned during gameplay to buy extra abilities at the end of each level. Abilities that can be added include extra life points, more lives, and extra viewtiful abilities, such as the "voomerang". Gaining these extras is not essential to finishing the game, but extra lives and hearts definitely come in handle later on in the game. Why is that? Read on.
Unlike a lot of games being released today, Viewtiful Joe has a very good level of difficulty. Playing on "adult" mode (the harder of the two available modes of play) offers a real challenge, especially to those unfamiliar with a "beat-em up" kind of gameplay. Although the game does feature many puzzles and problems, that's not the main factor to what makes VJ difficult. Defeating mini-bosses and level bosses is the real challenge. Fighting helicopters with machine guns and rocket launchers that drop regular enemies at the same time is quite the challenge, until you get to the next level where you have to fight 2 helicopters. Each of the aforementioned VFX abilities come into play when fighting bosses. Obviously the further you progress, the harder the bosses become. This may be a downside for some players however, as after the 3rd or 4th levels, it may become a chore to progress.
As was mentioned previously, one of the main attractions to Viewtiful Joe was the trip to the forgotten world of 2D gaming. However, VJ also rejuvenates another lost art of gaming, the side-scroller. Easily one of the best options to control a game, the side-scroller is all but dead in today;s gaming. Viewtiful Joe executes the system perfectly, with both a great framerate and very smooth transactions between scenes.
Keeping in touch with more recent technology, Viewtiful Joe also encompasses the wildly popular cel-shading system. This was definitely the best choice for VJ, as the cel-shading makes it seems just like you're playing a comic book, which is of course where most super-heroes originate with in the first place. Vibrant and bright colors are very evident throughout the game, which is very important considering the game is named off of it's looks. With that said, the game's name does not lie, as the entire look to Viewtiful Joe is exactly that, Viewtiful.
The sound within Viewtiful Joe also keeps the comic book feel alive. Landing punches and kicks on enemies results in a crisp "crack" sound, something any real beat-em up needs. Background music doesn't play much of a role throughout the game, but when it can be heard it's nothing that will want to make you hit the mute button. Viewtiful Joe also has the occasional wisecrack from Joe or a little speech from Captain Blue or a boss. Again, nothing spectacular, but it does a good enough job to keep turned on.
Viewtiful Joes replay value really depends on your tastes. If you enjoy a moderately difficult action-adventure kind of game, then Viewtiful Joe can offer you a solid amount of gameplay time. However, if you're one to get easily frustrated or one to become bored with repeating tasks, Viewtiful Joe will get dull in a hurry.
From the very start of this review you can tell that Viewtiful Joe tries to mix old-school gaming with the standards and technology of today. From it's difficulty and 2D side-scrolling nature to the cel-shading and crisp visuals, Viewtiful Joe succeeds in combining the past with the present, and gives a small taste of what the future of video games holds. Depending on your video game tastes you may find Viewtiful Joe to be one of the best GameCube games to date, or you might possibly find it on the boring side. Regardless, the only way to know for sure is to try it, and GameCube owner out there should do just that, even if it only means a rental.