Review by Aganar
"Long live beat-’em-ups!"
I've always been a fan the beat-’em-up genre. When I was little, those kinds of games were basically the only forms of multiplayer you would get back in the days of the NES (except of course for D&D type games like Gauntlet). Games like Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, and (as I discovered long later) River City Ransom were the only things I could pull out at any time with a friend or a family member and just play for a while. Sadly, while the SNES certainly had its few beat-’em-up gems, the genre was completely dead by the 32 bit era. Since then, the only attempt to bring the genre back was The Bouncer, which failed miserably. To these oldschool fans like myself, ''Viewtiful Joe'' is a complete godsend.
When you begin playing it, you are treated to a very comic book looking world. The cel-shading, while not as advanced as Wind Waker manages to still stay very impressive on their own, and creates a definitive style to the game. It also still is able to look quite smooth, and avoid the sort of blocky look that cel-shaded games often have. The outlines around characters are still rather thick, but instead of looking bad help convey the cartoony sense of the game. This effectively touches my soft spot for superhero games and such.
The game has a wonderful sense of atmosphere to the point where it really does feel like you are sucked into a cheesy superhero movie. The villains are always the obligatory bad guys you see in every movie. The areas are very reminiscent of famous old movies down to the title parodying. There's even the tiny little voice of the director, which frequently pops up, at times like when you pause or die.
Coincidentally enough, the game is about a guy being sucked into a movie (surprise surprise). You play as Joe, a nerdy movie-lover taking his girlfriend to see an old movie starring one of his favorite heroes, Captain Blue, when suddenly a villain crawls out of the picture and grabs his girlfriend, leaving Joe to jump in after him. Captain Blue appears, revealing that in his old age a new hero must take his place. After giving Joe the standard superhero equipment, Joe becomes a costumed hero and proceeds to track down his girlfriend. The story is filled with alot of built up and a few things that don't make alot of sense until the ultimate showdown to get Joe's girlfriend back. Corny, yes. But there is enough of a tongue-and-cheek nature to make it bearable.
But enough about small things like that and on to more important things. The mechanics and style of this game will completely blow you away. When you first start the game, Joe starts with only a select bunch of abilities and not much interesting stuff to work with. He might be able to dodge or attack some stuff in slow motion and possibly slide or do a jump kick, but his abilities are completely minimal. That said, it's still extremely fun and still probably deeper than any other side scrolling beat-’em-up around! But that's merely a taste of all of the moves Joe will learn over the course of the game. He learns more and more interesting moves (or film techniques, as I should call it) like being able to speed up time, zoom in, dodge any move in slow motion then blast back with a ''Stylish'' pose, and more. As you defeat enemies in more stylish ways, you get money, which can be used to buy the aforementioned moves, as well as extra lives and more health. Thus, you wind up with an oldschool game with tons of RPG elements and modern attachments to make this an extremely rewarding experience.
The best part of the game is perfecting your techniques against the enemies. As you progress through the levels, you will find more film canisters that control your slow motion and film techniques timeframe (I'm guessing the film canisters represent the budget, since the game will then look really crappy and old if you completely run out of film). As you gain it and as you learn new moves, you learn the most efficient ways to use your moves. At first, you may only gain a small amount of points for killing a bunch of guys and only use a few slow motion punches. But after you work at it you may find yourself using that same amount of time to double or even triple the score you may have had previously, thanks to a very well designed combo system programmed into the game. This system works very effectively because it (unlike P.N.03, which featured a similar combo system) rewards you for being stylish. The more fancy techniques and attacks you manage to use before your combo finishes, the more points you get. Thus, you will always be working to make yourself better for the sake of money. At certain areas where you can get a huge amount of points in a short amount of time you may find yourself ''building up'' so to speak, by getting as many points as you can then intentionally dying in order to repeat the area.
Bosses also manage to be a huge blast. It avoids the simple ''Hit, hit, run away'' pattern that older 2d sidescrollers had. Now all of the bosses have a unique strategy, which can often be extremely complicated to exploit properly. Viewtiful Joe has a reputation as one of the hardest games around, and the bosses alone can be described as a living hell. But for the most part the difficulty remains challenging, as opposed to the unfair difficulty, or trial-and-error type difficulty. I would have liked a few more bosses, however, because I really did enjoy them alot. We only end up with around 7 or so, and one stage is just a ''fight all of the bosses up to this point'' level, which even here I still heavily despise in oldschool games.
Along with other oldschool elements, Viewtiful Joe also has the consequence of being fairly short. While this does happen, the game doesn't really feel short at all. Even at 15 hours, one is left feeling satisfied, instead of disappointed. There isn't the feeling of ''Man, that was short'' or ''Hey! Where's the rest of the game?'' which can often befall quirky games of this nature. Along with this also comes the game's sound, which falls under average. There is nothing in it particularly memorable (save a few tunes), although the voice acting remains very good.
One of the more amusing elements of the game falls under the fine line of humor Capcom put into it. The voice actors, for the most part, come across very comical, and the game does have some very funny scenes. One can't help but giggle at one of the villains pulling out a script (conveniently labeled ''Viewtiful Joe!'') when he is too lazy to remember their plan for world domination upon being asked by Joe. There are also tons of little things I found that add to the sarcastic feel to the game. From movie parodies to nonsensical plot twists (comically added to chanting in the background during a ''plot revelation'' making the scene absolutely hilarious), there is a very fun and sarcastic sense to the game making it all the more enjoyable.
Alas, the game does have its few flaws. My most blatant is simply that Joe, who is supposed to be the ''cool'' and I guess funny main character comes across as really irritating. Maybe it was just his character or maybe simply the voice actor, but at times great scenes get ruined when he pulls out a speech that sounds like it was coming from a wasted hippy/record store manager. So, whether he just wasn't in on the joke, or he was too ''tongue-and-cheek'', he comes across as irritating, and you find yourself much happier when he doesn't talk. Another thing is that at points the game really does become too hard. It's not challenging, it's just insane. 5 black guys all of whom must have their furious attacks dodged 4 times before they can become vulnerable will gang up on you, combined with a machine gun toting helicopter shooting at you in the background. Finally, while the secret unlockable characters are certainly a nice touch (especially Alastor), you still wish there could have been a tiny bit more to them.
But that is not at all to say they are bad. The unlockables are still quite good. Despite his handicap, Alastor (Capcom's injoke Devil May Cry ripoff character/unlockable villain) is much more fun to play as than Joe, and Captain Blue and Silvia are fun for a quick run-through as well. To get them, you must brave through harder difficulties, which will put your ultimate Viewtiful Joe skills to the test, and at the same time make you question the existence of God!
Overall, Viewtiful Joe winds up being one amazing game. Of the original Capcom 4 Exclusives mentioned years ago this was the last one I would've expected I would like alot, and in all likelihood it will wind up being the best. Team Viewtiful has shown us that old game styles can indeed be revived, as long as they are done Viewtifully!
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 03/07/04
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