|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
It's just like the old days: be a hero, defeat the villain, rescue the girl. An average Joe is pulled into the silver screen and must learn cinematic fighting styles to save the world in Viewtiful Joe, a Nintendo GameCube game from Capcom.
Viewtiful Joe harkens back to side-scrolling platformers that were popular during the 8-bit era, from well-known titles such as Contra to lesser-known games like Kabuki Quantum Fighter and Shatterhand. Gameplay occurs on a 2D plane, though the environment can twist and turn as Joe advances through the levels. Players guide Joe through countless minions, traps, and bosses as he fights to rescue his girlfriend Silvia, save Movieland, and prevent an invasion of filmic foes into the real world.
Other than the modern rarity of 2D gameplay, what makes Viewtiful Joe unique are the Viewtiful FX, or VFX, maneuvers at his disposal. Similar to the Xbox game Blinx, Joe has limited control over time through manipulation of unseen movie cameras, employing slow motion, mach speed, and close-ups. Though must be used conscientiously, lest Viewtiful Joe revert to everyday Joe, these techniques are the only way to progress through the game, as Normal attacks do little damage and earn little reward, while slow motion allows Joe to chain together several punches and kicks while dodging enemy blows. Players must constantly be aware of their surroundings and create situations in which they can cause the most damage; simply barrelling through will produce little effect.
VFX also has innovative environmental results, such as causing fan blades to turn more slowly, or fires to burn out more quickly. Progressing from one area to the next often involves finding the right combination of local items, attacks, and VFX.
Despite the repertoire at players' disposal, they will find Viewtiful Joe to be exceedingly difficult. Losing a life returns Joe to an undefined earlier checkpoint, while losing all lives sends him to the stage's very beginning. The levels are long, with seldom save points. Making it to the level's boss is a feat itself; applying whatever stamina remains to successfully surviving the encounter is nearly impossible without the repetition of practice, which perforce includes a run of the entire prefacing stage as well. The only upside to this routine is Joe's points accrue, allowing him to purchase additional moves and items between stages — should he make it that far.
The beautiful view ("viewtiful" — get it?) afforded by the game is owed to the cel-shaded graphics, which are appropriate for the over-the-top movie world in which players are immersed. The action is colorful and detailed, and slows down or speeds up according to the VFX, though the Mach Speed effect often animates Joe too quickly for players to make effective decisions.
The dialogue between Joe and his mentor, Captain Blue, is quick and witty, though lines by the villains are mostly unintelligible, which is unfortunate since they reveal the plot. The sound effects punctuate Joe's blows in exaggerated Hollywood style, with cheers and applause for spectacularly rewarding combos.
Viewtiful Joe is a graphically unique throwback to gameplay style that needlessly waned in favor of 3D. While modern games better cater to gamers' short attention spans, Viewtiful Joe demands practice and patience with a difficulty setting that is more deterring than challenging: when this game throws down the gauntlet, players are likely to throw down the controller.
This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Tech News, 04-Nov-03