Review by McGray

"Joe. Viewtiful Joe."

Viewtiful Joe is an awesome game. It takes the over-used aspects of so many other games out there, like cel-shading, side-scrolling beat-'em-ups, and the ''bullet time'' revolution started by The Matrix (I love that movie), and makes them cool once again (not that I really got sick of ''bullet time'' anyway).

When I first heard of Viewtiful Joe, I couldn't have cared less. As if I haven't heard it all before. It's a side-scrolling beat-'em-up with bullet time and cel-shading. Yeah, it hasn't been done before, but it's just mixing up old aspects and trying to make them new. Doomed to fail, I don't care about it.

And that's probably the way you'll feel (or have felt) about Viewtiful Joe, unless you've seen it in action or played it for yourself. There is no way to convey the absolute, unstoppable feeling of power and raw action that this game gives unless you've seen it for yourself. I can drone on and on about this game and how spectacular I think it is, but chances are it's not going to sound all that interesting unless you've seen it, once again.

Story: Joe's story isn't all that great, but it ties the game together and gives it a light-hearted and actually humorous feel that keeps the game going at a nice pace.

Basically, you are Joe, an average guy who's passion is for his favorite movie hero, Captain Blue. Joe's the definition of a die-hard, hard-core fanatic. One night he and his girlfriend, Silvia, go out for a date to see Captain Blue's last escapade. Silvia tries to put some moves on Joe, but Joe is more interested in the movie than he is about Silvia. The movie ends and he misses the finale, disappointed. Just then, a huge hand reaches through the screen and apprehends Silvia, telling Joe (or maybe just talking to himself) how Silvia will serve as the object of his revenge. A huge machine is punched by giant menace and falls through the screen, and as it returns, it grabs Joe and takes him into the movie realm as well. Joe gets his very own V-Watch, a relic used by Captain Blue. Once he gains this, Captain Blue meets him shortly after and tells him about his latent super hero instincts. After Joe wins a light-hearted sparring match with Blue, Blue awakens Joe's hero powers and transforms him from an average Joe to Viewtiful Joe. Soon after, he's off on his own adventure to save Silvia, and become the new action hero of the big screen in Blue's place.

Gameplay: Viewtiful Joe revolves around one aspect heavily: super hero powers, or VFX, standing for ''Viewtiful FX''. In the game, Joe uncovers three VFX powers, each of them coming to him early on, and each one affects the gameplay in a different way. Your VFX abilities will be hindered by way of a VFX Meter. Whenever the VFX are in use, the VFX Meter will drain. If it drains completely, you will be momentarily transformed back to old Joe. The difference between Viewtiful Joe and regular Joe is that Joe doesn't possess the speed or power that Viewtiful Joe has, and he also can't double-jump or use VFX. After a little while as Joe, your VFX Meter will recharge past a certain point and you'll be returned to your super hero form.

The VFX Meter, at first, recharges fast enough, but you'd wish it'd recharge faster when you get into the heart of the mayhem. After most enemies you kill you'll find small stopwatch icons that will recharge your Meter a bit, and even past its natural limit if you pick up a stopwatch when you're gauge is full. Also, throughout the game you'll collect small movie canister icons, and after you pick up 50 of them, your VFX Gauge will extend a bit, which is very handy. The VFX Meter will be reset at the end of each level, though. Ah well.

Now that I've talked about the VFX powers enough, let's delve into what they actually do:

First and foremost is Slow, an ability which, obviously, allows you to slow time. This is most likely the ability you'll be using the most, as it's the most useful. It affects almost anything that moves. Helicopter blades will slow down and the chopper will fall to the ground, unable to sustain enough lift to keep it airborne. A usually too-fast-to-see bullet will become a harmless chunk of metal, easily avoiding or even deflected. Joe's attacks, especially, slow down and gain more kinetic energy, making them much more powerful when they strike the enemy, although Joe himself moves and attacks slower.

Next one you acquire is Mach Speed, which allows Joe to move at incredible speeds, and actually move so fast that he can duplicate himself to attack multiple enemies at once. After a while in Mach Speed, he will become a living fireball to signify the power and speed he possesses.

Last but not least is Zoom-In, a power that zooms the camera in on Joe and allows for new moves to be used and his power to be ramped up. Sounds like a gimmick, but you'll actually find yourself using this most of the time, and in a lot of fights, you'll be Zoomed-In more often than you're not. Sure, it sacrifices a bit of vision, but as I've heard other people say, you'll be doing so much damage and causing such havoc that you just won't care, and it's true.

One good part about all this is that the powers are easy to use. Mach Speed is triggered by holding R, Slow is triggered by holding L, and Zoom-In is toggled by a simple tap of up or down on the C-Stick, or just hitting B once to enter and B another time to exit. Combining them is also key. In Slow, you usually move pretty slow, but by holding down Mach Speed and Slow at the same time, you'll slow time while running at Joe's regular pace. Or by Zooming-In and going Slow, you'll augment your power by being in Slow, and at the same time have more powerful moves at your disposal. There's also the matter of instantly switching in between powers. Some enemies will spin and be surrounded by a pink aura, indicating they're near-invincible. Well, use Slow to knock them off balance, then use Mach Speed to trash them and several other enemies around the screen as you duplicate yourself.

You can also buy some upgrades for Joe by obtaining ''Viewtifuls'', which look like coins that are sometimes dropped, and can also be acquired by killing enemies with style, like eliminating a group with the usage of VFX. When you get enough, you can buy more life, extra moves and status enhancers. The list isn't all that big, including around 15 items, but there's almost always something more to buy. You can upgrade your Mach Speed and allow more duplicates of yourself to appear around the screen or buy more hearts for your life meter, which ramp up in price after every expenditure.

Using your new moves and abilities, you can often string together massive combos using primarily Slow and Zoom-In, racking up dozens of Viewtifuls as a time, watching the screen rumble and shake at every attack you deliver, and hearing people cheer as you destroy hordes of enemies, collecting stopwatch icons to keep your Gauge running for just a little bit longer. It's the thrill of one more kill, and in Joe, you won't grow tired of that sensation. At least I know I didn't.

Level progression usually involves figuring out a puzzle that usually has something to do with using your VFX Gauge, taking out some crucial baracade or finding a key and the likes. There's nothing here that will really rock your noodle into overdrive, but some of the puzzles will make you think for several moments or minutes before you understand them.

Levels are broken down into smaller segments, placing a save point or power-up screen in your path before you move on, but sometimes you'd wish the save points would come in greater number. It's nothing that really drove me mad, but it never hurts to have a lot of save points.

Most levels have a boss or large enemy at the end, and these bosses aren't easy. They can present problems after you figure out their patterns, as well. As this is a Capcom game and many people have been comparing its free fighting style and difficulty to that of the amazing Devil May Cry, I'll say right now that the bosses in this game, once figured out, aren't as hard as DMC's, but are still pretty hard. The patterns in and of themselves, particularly the one belonging to a late-game boss by the name of Fire Leo, can take quite a while to crack successfully. Fighting these bosses is very tough indeed, and give a decently large sense of accomplishment when you beat them, which is always nice.

Difficulty itself isn't anything to be taken lightly in Viewtiful Joe. In the easiest mode, the game is a cake walk. In the next difficulty up, it hits you hard with about twice the difficulty of easy mode and makes you work for your reward. This isn't an easy game, so don't go in expecting one, dang it.

Graphics: As sick of cel-shading as I am, it works perfectly for Joe. It's light-hearted comic book feel is perfectly conveyed here with the use of cel-shading. Joe's outfit looks stylish, with red tights and a large, metallic V on the top of his helmet. His helmet itself surrounds Joe's face, leaving his nose and chin visible, but his eyes are hidden behind a veil of black, appearing as yellow slits, which is cool. An effect I thought very cool right from the start, is at the beginning of every boss fight, Joe would perform a pose and pair of metal shutters would close over his mouth, and blue glass would slide down from his helmet and over his eyes, completely covering his face. It was a way of telling Joe was ready to get real serious, and that just made me feel powerful, even though the bosses usually slapped me around like the pathetic homeboy I am.

Backgrounds are varied and interesting. The first level is something of a jungle, and it progresses into what appears to be sewers, to a city, and eventually all of the way into outer space, parodying Star Wars, and obviously doing so.

Yes, there are Star Wars references in here, though only for a short time. There are references to things every once in a while. Capcom references, especially, are hidden around more than anything else, like a statue appearing in Resident Evil making its way into one of the backgrounds, or Joe kissing his fists and using the line Dante used at the start of Devil May Cry when fending off an airborne suicide crotch-rocket: ''Time to go to work, guys.'' Stuff like this doesn't appear every two minutes, but it's there, and you'll notice it if you look.

Enemies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They start at a low zombie/robot type thing, and go from that to a sort of zombie/robot/cowboy hybrid, to a helicopter and tank, and other interesting yet random things. They're not exactly the most inspirational enemies you'll fight in a game, but they're the type of generic cronies you'd expect in a beat-'em-up, so it works.

Joe's framerate is silky smooth. Dang it, man, I don't even know why I'm including this in here. Can side-scrollers have a bad framerate? Dang it.

Sound: Sound in Viewtiful Joe does its job and does it well. Voice acting that's rather cheesy, but fits nicely, some decent beats to keep the flow of the game running smoothly, and sound effects that are actually very fitting.

On the voice acting, it's cheesy, but fits almost perfectly. Almost everyone has one or two funny things to say, keeping the game's feel and flow very light-hearted. Some of the things said made me laugh, and they might do the same for you. Bosses often make a humorous or dim-witted comment, and Joe's always following right behind with a funny and often times equally dim-witted comment, which is entertaining.

No one in the game is all that eloquent. Joe, our hero and protagonist, is pretty thick and doesn't take too many of the things going on all that seriously, which is good, as it fits the game's quirky style. A complaint I did have, however, is that bosses often talk in voices so garbled and contorted that it's nearly, and sometimes fully, impossible to understand what they're trying to say. Subtitles really would've helped and made it more enjoyable. Still, Joe understands enough of what they're saying to trash talk a bit, so I guess it's not all that bad.

Another funny thing I found, just to be brief, is that in each level, the director has something different to say at the pause screen. When you pause in the first level, it's, ''Let's take a break!'' and in the later levels, it's ''Pee break...again.'' I love it.

The sounds you'll be hearing the most are the sound effects of the VFX. Slow makes a wooshing sound as time bends and almost stops, while Mach Speed makes the opposite, in a manner of speaking. Joe also has a good amount of his own grunts and yells that he uses as well. The sound really comes together when you're in the middle of a huge brawl with several enemies coming at you from all sides, and you're bouncing from baddie to baddie, smashing the ground while Zoomed-In, kicking and punching and sliding around, destroying one after another. In the background, you're hearing the sounds of your VFX, camera's clicking and taking pictures of the action, and even sometimes Joe yelling ''Oh yeah!'' and people in the background cheering at all the commotion.

Replay Value: There's plenty of replay to be had in Joe. Sadly, it's a rather short game, taking a skilled player around 6 hours to beat on the easiest setting. But if you've got any balls, you won't be heading to the easiest setting, and Adult mode (the ''Normal'' setting) slaps on twice the amount of difficulty that the easier mode (Kids) does. Here you'll probably be dying a lot, as some of the simpler enemies can be quite a challenge with the VFX Gauge's faster draining rate and less vitality to be played around with. Not only that, but once you beat Adult, there are two more difficulties to be played through (V-Rated and Ultra V-Rated) to really give you a hardy run for your money. Aside from that several unlockables characters, and just the fun of playing through Joe again gives it a high replay value factor.

Rent or Buy: Rent by all means, if you don't buy first. I can imagine some people getting tired of the redundant action, but this game is something to be looked at by anyone and everyone. If you've got the resources, go ahead and plunk down the measly $40 bucks to pay for this game, but if you're unsure, don't hesitate to rent it first. No sense in wasting your hard-earned cash for a game you're not sure you'll like. Either way, rent or buy, check it out.

To sum it all up and tie all ends together, Viewtiful Joe is a fantastic action game no GameCube owner should pass up. Excellent, though sometimes redundant gameplay, great graphics and sound, decent yet humorous story to keep things afloat, and a lot of replay make for a great game all around. It's short, sure, but the quickly ramping difficulty of the later levels and replayability more than make up for this. Check it out, seriously.

Story: 6/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 8/10
Replay Value: 10/10
OVERALL: 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/22/03


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