Full Review: Let's rock, baby!
Once a member of the much-ballyhooed batch of GameCube exclusives titled ?The Capcom 5', Viewtiful Joe has actually skipped over to the PlayStation 2 a year later. In 2003, the Cube rendition of VJ was critically lauded for its return to 2D roots, mixing challenging gameplay with a cool artistic style and a campy attitude that gamers ate alive, though it didn't garner the massive success originally hoped. The PlayStation 2 version, for all intensive purposes, is a near-perfect conversion from the Cube version, with a new difficulty level, and one huge new addition ? a special, PS2 only unlockable character. However, port or not, VJ is still captured in its essence; old-school beat ?em up action with a new-school style and attitude. And for a budget price of $29.99, the PS2 version of Viewtiful Joe is not only a great action game, but also a great action game for the cost-conscious gamer.
Joe is just a regular guy, who has a hot girlfriend. However, he loves cheesy superhero movies, and drags his girl, Sylvia, to a classic Captain Blue movie. While Sylvia attempts to make out with Joe, suddenly things go weird, and Captain Blue is defeated. Suddenly, a huge monster actually goes through the movie screen and kidnaps Sylvia and drags her into the movie. Naturally, Joe finds his way into the movie as well, and under the guidance of Captain Blue, Joe becomes?Viewtiful Joe, a Superhero-in-Training (or S.H.I.T. if your name is Rosey), out to topple evil and rescue his girl before she's forced to do mean naughty things to her kidnappers. Oh yes, Viewtiful Joe's story is campy, unbelievable, and cheesy, but perhaps it's the closest thing to a typical old-school video game story in a long while.
As a 2D game, Viewtiful Joe is very much old-school in design. In essence, the game is split into 7 ?Episodes' where you have a few stages in each, followed by a boss battle. Like many older ?beat ?em ups' like Streets of Rage, you're dropped into a level, and suddenly there's a ton of enemies to beat the crap out of; some in simpler ways, others requiring some mad skillz in order to topple. At its heart, it's not terribly original or anything in terms of gameplay, as it's your prototypical side-scrolling fighter with some occasionally head-scratching puzzles taking up the bulk of the action, broken off by occasional mid-level boss battles that don't compare to the main bosses. However, adding in the VFX stuff totally changes VJ. Once you earn the VFX Watch, Joe can bend time and use it to his advantage. At first, Joe learns to slow down time, which lets him counter attacks easier or deflect projectiles. Later, he gets to learn how to speed up time in order to get a ton of hits in before anybody else blinks, as well as learn to zoom in the camera to ?pose' and do even more damage. This isn't free though ? VFX power is needed, and if you accidentally run out, VJ goes away, and just plain Joe returns for a small period of time ? enough time to get a whoopin' from enemies. Thankfully, you can collect V-Film Reels, and collecting a certain amount in a stage will extend your VFX meter. However, at the beginning of each stage, you start with the default and must start over again.
Much of these powers can be upgraded between stages. The better you do, you earn more ?Viewtifuls', which can be used to purchase items at ?break' points. You can upgrade your health, buy hamburgers to recover lost health, grab extra lives, buy new moves (which can come in handy, obviously), and upgrade your existing skills, or enhance them. For instance, you can speed up your VFX recharge, speed up Mach Speed, etc. Much of it may not be ?needed' but it really makes the game a bit easier if you have all the tricks at your disposal. These breaks occur between sections of a stage and before a boss battle, letting you prep for the next sections and be in top shape to tackle them.
And you will need all the help you can get in this game. While over time it can become fairly easy, Viewtiful Joe is an extremely challenging game with some of the most insanely tough boss battles ever seen. While they break you in slowly, by the 2nd chapter you'll be begging for mercy at the hordes of enemies and tough mid-boss battles. The lack of save points with the lone exception of one typically mid-level (and no saving before a boss fight) only makes it worse, as you really have to be good. The bosses themselves are really the tough parts, as they require incredible strategy and trickery to beat ? following patterns, getting just enough hits in to avoid getting hit yourself, etc. While technically the game is fairly short, it's old-school short ? it will take a long while to actually beat some of the tougher bosses. However, Capcom saw fit to reduce the difficulty slightly in this PS2 version, by adding the ?Sweet' mode, easing the game up a bit. It's still not mindlessly simple, but it will ease the suffering of Adults, or even Kids for those struggling. It's worth beating on any difficulty level, however ? especially if you're a Devil May Cry fan. Because clearing the game unlocks the man himself, Dante, which you can play as in a second game. Dante's game is a bit simpler merely due to his choice of weapons, but it's still a huge addition and plays differently enough (and has a slightly different story) to merit a second playthrough.
Like the rest of the game, the visuals harken back to the old days but yet maintain a new style. The ?film' look, with the reels above and below the action is a really cool touch and pushes the ?in a movie' angle the story is aiming for. The 2D cel-shading isn't anything new, but it looks cool and fits the gimmick. All of the crazy action gets really intense, yet there are few, if any, moments of excessive slowdown, which is a helpful thing in a game like this. All told, it's a sharp looking game though it doesn't have the gritty realism of other games, but rather a cartoony, lighthearted, campy look ? something you don't see often in more ?adult oriented' action games, which VJ tends to be. The audio consists of cheesy, b-movie superhero voice acting ? which is to say, it's pretty good for cheese ? and matching musical presentation. The bosses all have wacky and unique characterizations, which shines through in the voice track, nailing the intentionally campy feel. There's actually a lot going on with audio, and it all sounds great.