Review by hanenbowFlow

"Unique, good looking, & great fun - up you go!"

Concept:

Viewtiful Joe's story is both simple and endearing. Our hero is a regular 'Joe' who gets sucked into the on-screen action of his favourite movie hero, Captain Blue. Captain Blue appears to have been defeated, so it's up to Joe to take on his idol's superpowers, save the day & rescue his sweetheart (who has been nabbed by the bad guys, of course!). Anyone who's ever dreamed of possessing the abilities of their favourite superhero will grin at Joe's enthusiasm for the beatings he must deliver on his way. This might sound like your bog-standard plot device, but the extension of the 'in a movie' concept into both gameplay & art style is extremely clever, never distracting & most importantly, entertaining.

VJ doesn't have levels - it has 'episodes'. The structure reminds me of the old B&W 'Flash Gordon' serials, with cliffhangers & 'what happens next' cliches delivered (tongue firmly in cheek) to increase the desire to 'tune in' (play on) to the next one. The story is told before, within & at the end of each episode & the in-game engine used to render acted scenes allows for a seamless blend of plot development and action. Episodes themselves are broken up with save points, opportunities to 'power up' (i.e. shop for new moves / lives) and the start and end points of multiple challenges (multiple baddies, mini-bosses & bosses) all of which return ratings of your performance.

The gameplay is almost purely fast&furious 'brawler' style-action, but with a depth & subtlety that might elude less experienced gamers at the expense of captivating the 'hardcore'. Jumping, punching and kicking the bad guys are the order of the day, but dodging attacks & building viewtiful attack combinations to hear the applause associated with high rankings, affords VJ a complexity that cries out to be mastered. Layered on top of this are the VFX powers; Slow-mo, Mach-speed & Zoom, which (unsurprisingly) allow you to speed up, slow down or get close to the action. Using these effects in combos with attack strings to devastate the opposition quickly & skillfully, without receiving damage, is the essence of fighting viewtifully. Thankfully, on 'kiddie' difficulty, button mashers can get to make progress (on the earlier episodes) giving the inexperienced the chance to 'just have a go' before 'getting into it', whilst still being fun.

Art Style:

VJ's production values are sky high. The attention to detail & the degree to which the games concept permeates every aspect of it's design could easily draw comparisons with the immersive qualities of Metroid Prime or Zelda - Wind waker. This is truly a testament to the quality of artistic (and overall) direction, which is demonstrably of the highest caliber.

Joe's look is distinctive; everything is modeled in 3D (backgrounds or 'sets', characters & moves) - but displayed from a 2 dimensional perspective within the game (or movie) screen - in a similar fashion to Ikaruga. Unlike Ikaruga however, 'realistic' textures have been eschewed for a cel-shading of the polygonal models; a perfect match for the gameplay & 'animated movie' feel. Also, VJ is not a true 'vert' or side-scroller, the action moves across both horizontal & vertical planes. Screenshots of this game will only give you a taste of it's 'look' - seeing it in action, as is often the case, is a must. Good job it's on the demo disc, eh?

The music, sound effects & voice acting employed are all of an impeccable standard. Background tracks are energetic & well suited (in pace) to the action, sound effects have a consistent (comic book / anime action) theme, nothing jars or clangs. The scripted lines are delivered with just the right tone; they're cliched & amusing because they intend to be, not because they've been lifted from shameful B movies / delivered by unconvincing 'aspiring' actors. This is all professional work.

In summary, this is one of (a very small number of) those games where nothing feels 'bolted on' - it's a coherent whole, and there are no 'duff' notes, noises or moments. If it's not to your taste, obviously you won't like it - but it's hard to fault the design or implementation. Like I said, it all screams 'attention to detail'.

Execution:

Many games come with very stylish, well fleshed out, clever concepts, yet still play like fumbling kids. Others handle responsively, demanding accuracy and attention, but simply aren't a good time. VJ gracefully leaps over both these potential pitfalls. The game is as fast as you can handle, you're always in control & (if you're like me) you're always having fun.

The standard cube controller is exceptionally suited to the requirements of play - the only better interface would be a Hori digital pad, as analog control is not required and a (larger) d-pad would supply a (very slight) improvement in precision. A arcade setup could work also, but only in a configuration that would allow for the 'holding' of either or both L & R triggers, while permitting free access to all other in-game controls (A, B, X & Y). As such, the Hori Soul Calibur II stick is not suitable, given it's button layout. The only other potential improvement would have been to have the Zoom 'effect' as a third trigger - however Capcom have wisely decided against placing this function on the awkward Z button - which is instead perfectly utilized for skipping cut-scenes for the action-hungry. There are also 3 configuration options for button / action placement - but sadly no 'free' configuration, a slight oversight.

VJ is strictly a 1P game, multiplayer wouldn't fit the style; a party for one through and through. 1P games can often be fascinating for those playing, but tragically dull for anyone waiting for their turn. Not so here. The highly stylized cinematic presentation and short (but substantial) episodic nature of play makes this a treat for the senses whether it's an interactive experience or not. Even those with highly short attention spans will find their interest held, unless the game is played really badly. There are improvements that could have been made to make it a seriously watchable game - but on the whole, with control in the hands of a viewtiful master, this is a game you could just sit and marvel at; a rare thing indeed.

Of course, that's not to say a 'Viewtiful Smash Characters' style-sequel wouldn't be most welcome though!

Lasting Appeal:

If you're worried about VJ being a 'short game', let me set your mind at rest.

VJ has masses of 'old-skool' replay value. There are unlockable difficulty levels & bonuses, in addition to the ultimate quest to achieve a totally viewtiful performance (on whatever difficulty you can manage). The game has arcade-like 'pick-up-and-play' appeal, and it's depth allows a skilled player to constantly find new ways to overcome the opposition. You'll play each episode over and over again because they'll always be as fresh as you make the action - this isn't a game you'll 'complete' & put away - you'll reach a level of skill / satisfaction with your performance. If you're used to 'finishing' games (and don't understand why you'd 'play them again') I'd strongly suggest a rental - chances are this might not be your 'cup of joe'. For everyone else, it's a keeper - you'll want this one in your collection because it'll always offer the opportunity to improve your skills (to all but the most adept of gamers), and even the awesomely viewtiful will want to show off their mastery to the uninitiated.

Verdict:

Joe gets a 9 from me because it's almost perfect and I can't use fractions here! There are little touches I'd have liked to have seen to make the game even more watchable (such as, for example: a looped slow-mo replay of the last few seconds of action being played when hitting pause; animated 'intermissions' leading in & out of the shop / save 'breaks'). I also get the impression that perhaps the delightfully quirky sense of humour, evident throughout, has been slightly restrained, maybe for fear of the hindering it's chances of possessing 'broad appeal'. These omissions, along with a limited set of controller configurations, are just nit-picking points off a maximum percentage; they're nothing that seriously detracts from the overall experience. Viewtiful Joe comes as highly recommended as I can make it.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/03/03, Updated 07/03/03


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