Review: Viewtiful Joe
Posted 01 Aug 2003 at 03:27 by Wouter
Viewtiful Joe is the second of the Capcom 4 games to hit the stores. The idea behind these games is to make good and unique games without spending too much money and using small development teams. P.N.03 was released in Japan a while ago, but did not sell a lot of copies. The game was a lot of fun to play, but the hardcore hi score driven gameplay didn't appeal to everyone. Viewtiful Joe looks like it can do better. It's a fun little platform/fighter game filled with Matrix-like slow motion and other effects. The in game movies, screenshots and the playable levels on the US demo disc already made a lot of Viewtiful fans worldwide.
The story is cheesy, funny and bizarre, like a good B-movie or comic even. It starts with Joe and his girlfriend Sylvia watching a movie featuring his favorite superhero, Captain Blue. Surprisingly though, Blue gets defeated in his own movie. On top of that, the bad guy reaches out of the movie screen and grabs Sylvia. It's up to Joe to rescue her with the help of a weakened Captain Blue. This may sound pretty lame, but expect a lot of funny side characters and weird plot twists.
So much for the story, now for some good news for importers: This game is really import-friendly! Most of the menus and the voice acting are in English. The only things you won't be able to read are the subtitles to the cut scenes and the explanations to the items in the shop. Understanding the game is one thing, but liking it would be nice too, so you probably want to know if it's any good. Well, read on!
Cel-shading may or may not be your thing, but you have to admit that Viewtiful Joe looks really special. The game captures the feel of superhero comics like no other game. All the characters and backgrounds have thick black outlines giving them a hand-drawn look. The great thing about this style is that the characters in the game look exactly like the artwork on the box; you won't feel cheated by pretty box art with this game. All the characters look like they walked right out of a comic book. Their animations are great, and even though most enemies return in multiple levels, they often wear other clothes and do new moves. The whole game plays in 2D, but all the backgrounds are 3D, this allows for some great camerawork. When you jump the camera tilts up instead of panning up with you and you'll often walk around a corner to enter another part of the 2D level.
The best part of the graphics is probably the VFX effects. You can slow down time, speed it up, or zoom in on Joe. All these features give him new moves and combos. VFX stands or Visual Effects and that is exactly what you get. Slowing down time makes the background all blurry and makes Joe's moves look even more impressive, Speeding it up makes Joe move so fast you see him multiple times at once during his combos. Zoom in on Joe and he does even more acrobatic attacks and poses between attacks. All in all Viewtiful Joe is a great looking game with a unique style.
The sound in Viewtiful Joe is not only good; it's a very important part of the gameplay. All the enemies make a distinct sound with every attack they do, so you can choose how to dodge or attack by listening to them. A lot of the time enemies (especially bosses) don't stop attacking when they're off-screen, so their sounds are sometimes the only thing that can save you. Not just the enemy sounds are good, the rest of the sound effects are done nicely too. Slow down time for instance, and every punch you land has a satisfying deep echo to it. Another great touch is the audience that cheers for you when you pull of good combos, making you want to do an even longer combo next time.
The best thing in the sound department is the voice work. Joe and the other characters all have a voice that fits them perfectly. And Joe talks a lot in the game. He calls enemies "too slow!" when he dodges them, yells with almost every jump or attack he pulls off and has a smack talk conversation with every boss he encounters before fighting him. As good as the voices are, they're not always easy to understand. You can read the subtitles if you can read Japanese, but you probably can't. The music is effective but not memorable, the tunes fit in perfectly with the chaotic fighting but you probably won't catch yourself humming them on the train.
Viewtiful Joe is a very challenging game. The gameplay is a mix between a platform game (Mario) and a side-scrolling fighter (Double Dragon). Before most enemy attacks, you'll see a skull, marking where they're going to hit you giving you time to dodge their attack. This sounds very simple but I assure you it gets really difficult in the later levels. Right from the start you have to watch enemy attack patterns to dodge and fight them. In most games this is only necessary when fighting bosses, but Viewtiful Joe forces you to study every enemy closely. The fighting is pretty complex, partly because the VFX effects are far from just nice gimmicks. You really need to master them to beat the game. A lot of enemies and most of the bosses may seem unfair, but once you find a way to use your VFX powers to avoid or counter their attacks, you'll see that none of them are impossible.
There are two difficulties from the start, Kids and Adults, and you unlock V-Rated mode by beating the game on Adults mode. All the modes have the same levels and the same amount of enemies; they just take more hits to beat, move faster and hit harder on the higher difficulties. The game is divided into seven levels, each with an impressive boss waiting for you at the end. During the levels there are a few points where you can trade in your points for upgrades, like new moves, extra hearts and lives. These are also the points where you'll start over when you lose all your lives. You can't save at every continue point though, so you'll often find yourself playing a lot longer than you planned, which can be a good or a bad thing.
The great thing about this game is that it combines pretty complex fighting with very simple controls. You use the control stick to move Joe around and to make him dodge up or down. 'A' makes him jump (twice if you're Viewtiful), 'Y' makes him punch and 'X' makes him punch. Doing combos is really easy, just throw a few punches and kicks in and Joe strings them together with great style. The VFX moves are also simple to pull off; hold 'L' to slow down time, hold 'R' to speed it up, press 'B' or 'C-stick' up to zoom in and press 'B' again or 'C-stick' down to zoom back out. You have to get to certain points in the game where you earn your VFX powers first though. You can combine VFX moves with attacks in a very cool way. Try do dodge an attack; the enemy you dodged now is dizzy and easy to hit. If you hold L now, time slows down and the dizzy enemy gets a bulls-eye mark over him. If you hit him you'll do a lot of damage and he'll fly away. Also if you hit one enemy with a bull's-eye mark and keep on holding 'L', every enemy gets a bull's-eye mark, so you can do massive damage all around you. Another good tactic is to hold 'L' to slow down and press 'B' to zoom in. Zoomed in slow motion punches hit really hard and work great against bosses. These are just examples; there are many cool ways to fight a group of enemies using your powers. You always have to watch your VFX bar though; it empties while you use your powers. If it's completely empty, you'll become regular Joe again for a short while.
The game may not be very long if you play it through in one go, but you probably won't pull that off. Every boss and a lot of other parts of levels are really hard and take a lot of practice to get through, so you'll spend quite some time playing Joe. There are a few fun things to unlock by finishing the game in the various difficulty modes, so that'll keep you busy at first. The game is also great for high score fanatics. After each section you get rated for V-points (score) defence and time. At first most of your ratings will say "Baaad!" or even "Crappy!", but practice and you'll be able to earn some "Awesome!" and "Viewtiful!" ratings. This game can keep you busy for a while, but it's nowhere near an epic RPG or something. It's solid fun playing it though, and can keep you interested quite long if you like improving your scores.
This is one of those games that will get good grades in the magazines and get a group of dedicated fans. You'll probably read about it in retro articles in the future, where it will be hailed for its gameplay and for ignoring current mainstream gimmicks like stealth and realistic graphics. It probably won't sell as much as games like Enter the Matrix or the Hulk though, because it's just not a game with a lot of mainstream appeal. All we can do is just play it, have a great time and hope Capcom will continue to make games like this. Importing it is a safe bet, you'll be able to understand most of what's going on and read about the rest on the internet. If you can't wait for the US or PAL release there's no problem with importing it, it works fine with a freeloader.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Unique, addictive and certainly a difficult platform/fighter. You must play this!
Unique visual style
Not very long
Pretty darn difficult!