Review by MSuskie

""What? I have to fight this guy AGAIN?!""

I obviously get really agitated when I'm playing a completely, genuinely terrible game. Playing a game that is so bad in every regard and has little to no deeming value is aggravating. But games like these have one good function: They can be forgotten. It sounds silly, but when I play a horrible game like Superman 64 or Blinx: The Time Sweeper, I'm always reminded that I can stop playing whenever I want, put the game away, and never think about it again. It will be gone from my memory, and that feeling is rather relaxing. What I hate, in some ways, even more than an all-bad-all-the-time title is a game that shows a vast amount of potential but can't put it to good use. Viewtiful Joe is a game like that. It's a game that starts out great by introducing a simple yet extraordinary concept, and runs out of gas long before its already way-too-soon ending approaches. This kind of experience frustrates me because I can't forget a game like Viewtiful. It's such a great idea, but with such thoughtless execution that I was constantly straining my mind over the thought, “Oh, what it could have been.”

Just as Treasure scolded us for believing that the world of the space shooter was finished by giving us the brilliant and intuitive Ikaruga, Capcom proves with Viewtiful that clever and unique ideas can still be applied to the age-old genre of the side-scrolling beat-‘em-up. You're Viewtiful Joe (duh), a normal-guy-turned-superhero who has jumped into Movie Land to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. Your basic move set is pretty simple, with only two buttons for fighting (punches and kicks), as well as your basic jump, duck and dodge abilities. Joe's superhero powers are what give the game its surprising premise, as they provide endless ways to mix up the action. They consist of “slow,” “mach speed,” and “zoom in.”

And boom! You've got a seemingly amazing game. These three powers are quite easy to pull off and are used in so many different ways. “Slow,” set to the left trigger, is exactly what you think it is – a Matrix-style bullet-time effect that, when used, can allow you to predict enemy moves and even, yes, dodge bullets and missiles. It can also be used to deliver more deafening blows to enemies. “Mach speed,” this time on the right trigger, is the opposite. When activated, Joe moves at sonic speed, laying punches on enemies before they have time to react. Joe moves so quickly he lights ablaze, granting him the power to set things on fire. His final ability, “zoom in,” is powered up with a flick of the C-stick. The camera than zooms in, obscuring the action but allowing for Joe to pull off one of several special moves, such as a roundhouse kick or a tornado spin.

The possibilities for battle are, as you would imagine, endless. By moving fast enough, you can set enemies on fire, giving you the upper hand. You can slow down time and give him a good smack in the face, sending him flying into another enemy. When a guy shoots at Joe, you can hold the left trigger to dampen the speed of the bullet to molasses level, then hit it right back in the direction of the sender. When an enemy throws a bomb, you can use mach speed to light it, knock it over to an opponent, and then slow time right when it goes off to make the explosion longer and more damaging. Flying baddies will clunk to the ground as soon as you slow their propellers. You can duck under punches or leap over kicks. And Joe's powers are taken beyond the fights, as well. You can speed up time to quicken the flow of water or increase the power of a rocket. You can slow down a slot machine to hit it when the right icons pop up. You can zoom in to see small objects. Do you understand what I'm getting at here? Joe's three powers are used to their fullest, and the first few levels of Viewtiful are mesmerizing.

But I digress, for developer Production Studio 4 has fallen into one of the biggest and most taxing development traps in existence. Concept and execution must always be tackled with perfect equality. The concept is down. Now it's up to execution to finish the job, and that's where Viewtiful stumbles. The designers knew that they had a great idea with Viewtiful, but then realized a few levels in that they had no idea where to take it. So, instead of building new levels from scratch, they decided to fill later stages with content we've already seen in previous levels. And while it takes a while for this to sink in, it'll eventually hit you hard.

The result is one of the most excruciatingly repetitive games I have ever played in my life. Whenever the game decides to mix up the action and use Joe's powers for some sort of environmental puzzle, I had a blast, because Joe's three abilities are easy to use and pack a lot of entertainment. It's the fighting that's a hassle, and that's because Production Studio 4 used the same enemies over, and over, and over… And even the little baddies I don't mind, because they're fought in short spurts. The basic robot enemy, the pistol-firing cowboy dude, the pink dancers, the gambler, the yellow guy… There certainly isn't much variety in the set of bad guys, but that's okay, since all these little minions provide quick, easy battles. It's the mini-bosses that drive me insane. The helicopter, the tank, the fighter plane… Viewtiful only uses the same three or four mini-bosses repeatedly rather than inventing new ones, and this recycled material makes Viewtiful's later levels a pain.

Let us bear in mind that the game's bosses and mini-bosses were never that great to begin with. Production Studio 4 had a weird way of making the game more difficult – rather than making the bosses smarter or stronger, they instead decided to make the bosses' health meters really, really, really long, to the point that it takes about a decade and a half to beat each one. And most bosses use the same two or three attacks over and over again, and take cheap advantage of the game's camera, which is zoomed in too close to Joe and doesn't provide the visual coverage you need. So, the bosses are repetitive (in and of themselves), cheap, powerful, and take forever to defeat. And so, even when you're done with a boss, it'll pop up again later in the game, or in the case of a mini-boss, it'll pop up again in that same level. The tank, helicopter, and fighter plane mini-bosses I mentioned are used (what seems like) dozens of times, to the point that I was just so aggravated every time a new one popped up. Thankfully, the big bosses at the end of the levels only appear once… Or so you think, until you get to the sixth level, which requires you to fight every boss in the game again! Jesus ****ing Christ.

Like I said, I don't mind the fact that so many of the game's smaller fights are used with frequent repetition. It's how Production Studio 4 decided to stretch the bosses' and mini-bosses' battles out by making their health meters long as hell that really annoys the crap out of me. If someone were to make a modded version of Viewtiful without any bosses or mini-bosses, I would buy it in an instant. That's how fun the rest of the game is…

At least they got the visual presentation right. Viewtiful is probably one of the best-looking games on GameCube, not just in a technological sense (though, fire up one of Joe's three powers and get a taste of just how “technical” this game can get), but from an artistic point of view. The game is meant to resemble a comic book, and in doing so it adopts a look that all superhero games should have. The cel-shaded characters are set in worlds made up almost entirely of cardboard cutouts, perfectly replicating that frozen look of comics. Viewtiful looks fantastic. If only it sounded as nice. Though the effects do their job, the music is so bland and perfunctory that you almost won't even notice it's there. But the voiceovers really hurt. It's a repetitive game, so why not give it some repetitive voiceovers to go with it? If I have to listen to “Henshin a go-go, baby!” one more time… That phrase was never at all clever or witty to begin with, but does Joe have to say it every ten seconds? “Davidson is in the house! Hulk Davidson is born to be wild!” I hate Viewtiful's voices like poison.

Pros

+ The pink!
+ Joe's powers give a unique edge to this side-scroller.
+ Fluid graphics and a distinct, beautiful visual style.
+ The battle system is surprisingly complex.
+ Some of the puzzles and uses of Joe's powers are ingenious.
+ It shows a lot of promise…

Cons

- …And fails to deliver.
- Horrible bosses and mini-bosses…
- …That are recycled beyond recognition.
- The voiceovers are dreadful.

Overall: 5/10

Nintendo released a GameCube demo disk in early summer of 2003. It had demos for five GameCube games, and Viewtiful Joe was included amongst them. I must have played through that demo a million times. It was simply amazing. The fluidity of the control, the unparalleled art direction, the ingenuity of Joe's powers… It seemed like videogame magic, and I was convinced that upon its release, Viewtiful would be regarded as an instant classic. Screw renting – I bought this game, because I “knew” I would like it. And I did, until I realized just how goddamn redundant it was! Viewtiful's bosses are disgraceful enough as standalone incidents, with cheap attacks and enormous health meters. Using them over and over is simply uncalled for and comes close to ruining an otherwise outstanding title. I'm giving this game a 5/10 because there were times when I loved it, and it has potential. And maybe Viewtiful Joe 2 fixed these problems. But I'll probably never be brave enough to find out.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 06/27/06


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