Review by buruburu1

"Creative, fun, HARD"

Graphics (26/30, judged by era)- I confess when the first trailers for this game came out, I was skeptical. After all, cel-shaded games were dime a dozen at the time, and in any case the overall style of this game was particularly heavy-handed versus the more traditionally anime styles of other cel-shaded games of the era. Add to it a hero who in his human form had a lot in common with Nu-Metal bands of the day who shall go unnamed but who were named after flaccid breakfast breads one might pour gravy on, and I held off a long time to play this.

But having just done so in 2011, I must say the graphics were a pleasant surprise. There are still some odd choices, but these were choices made more by the concept artist on whose works the graphics were based. So things like a character whose belly has a rather awkward and large convex belly button, or the aforementioned slacker human hero, are still a little annoying. The rest, for the most part is very well done. At a distance, the enemies and environments really do have a nice cartoon look to them, which is wonderfully animated most of the time. The environments look ripped from a comic book much of the time, and vary quite a bit. The visual effects—key to the game play mechanics—are well-rendered and don't get old. It's only a shame that the real-time story sequences did not switch to entirely different models with more care paid to them and their outlined effect, because the cel-rendering looks particularly heavy-handed during those sections.

Sound- FX/Voice (7/10) Fairly good environmental sounds carry the game through, along with a number of sound cues which help to identify enemies and their attacks. Often boss characters in particular are best fought when you are able to hear them, as they taunt in line with patterns, or they make other sounds which cue you that a certain attack is forthcoming.

Sound- Music (7/10) The music is largely forgettable, but enjoyable while you're playing. There were a number of times when I remarked to myself that the music was quite good, but it really does stay put in the background rather than asserting itself.

Game play- Length/Replay (15/15) For a game found at budget-price anywhere, that it lasted me 16 hours or so was just fine. The game was just at the point of starting to feel a little long when it ended, but it was a good length. There are multiple difficulties to the game, and new player characters you can unlock, which helps extend the length if you wish to play again. Apparently after finishing the "adults" difficulty, you can keep you upgrades on subsequent replays at that or more difficult settings, which is a nice touch. However, since the game is quite difficult, you may not feel motivated to replay it, as I was not. If you are, this game could easily pass 20 hours total with just one further play-through. And easily past 40 if you try to play all the difficulties.

Game play- Story: (2/5) The story is rather ridiculous and frivolous, here, let's be honest. It's another take on you being pulled into a movie world, complete with movie reel effects from time to time. This was a dumb idea reaching way back to the first Castle-Vania game, so it's surprising that it's something game designers go back to. Had the game simply built up an internal story (as if it were not a film), it would have sold itself much better. Nevertheless, the game stays with the movie gag and makes reference to film tropes from time to time.

There is a decent amount of voice acting in the game, during cut scenes. Unfortunately, most of it is bad. Apparently, subsequent games with other characters have their own story lines, but they are given via subtitle, not voice. So, the designers evidently didn't feel confident enough that players would go through the game again to put down the money for more voice work.

Game play- Game Design (22/30)- As a side-scrolling beat-em-up in the classic arcade style, there is a lot to congratulate the game for. It's an old genre, after all, and there are few ways to make it feel fresh. So the key aspect to the game is in the visual effects, which since this is a game set within a movie, supposedly, are meant to echo the popular effects in many action films of the time. Your character is able to utilize these effects at will to help him. So there's super slow motion / bullet-time, zoom, and a speed up or fast-forward ability. You'll use these constantly, and so though they might seem like gimmicks, they turn out to be the essential attribute of the game's core mechanics. And they are actually a lot of fun to use. There is a lot of enemy destruction to be had, and button mashing won't help you.

Battling, and using these effects to deliver long combo attacks, gains you in-game currency which you can use between level sections to purchase upgrades and new special moves. What's nice is that if you fail repeatedly and need to continue, your running total is not reset, so that you are able to—with multiple attempts—gain enough money to finally buy upgrades that might help you pass a difficult part. This is great, as many games punish you for hitting a wall of difficulty, in making you lose all progress if you reach game over, meaning you can get permanently stuck. Here, though some parts are very difficult, if you can use the money earned to buy two new permanent heart containers (health), it might be enough that you can finally past, for instance.

Boss fights are creative, but get increasingly difficult as you try to figure out their patterns. This is exacerbated by the main flaw in this game: its difficulty.

When you begin you're asked what difficulty you'd like to play at, using a movie-ratings system. So you can play the kids' version or the adults' difficulty. Naturally, being an adult, I chose that, considering it "normal" difficulty. And perhaps it is. However, what I encountered was a pretty brutal game, especially in the back half. Looking around the message boards, you'll find, for instance, many gamers who actually gave up on one particular level, which I also thought I would finally give up on, too, in which you forced to pass a Boss Rush mode which is hellish.

The problem is that the game has very few auto-save or similar points. Levels can be fairly long and difficult on their own. At the end of a certain sub-stage, you're given a rank for how you fared on it, and some bonus money, and then move forward through the next part of the level. At this point, the game should auto-save your progress, so that if you die you only repeat the current sub-stage. This is how most games work. Instead, when you hit game over, your continue starts at your last save point, and this might be all the way at the beginning of the stage. This becomes a headache at many points, and became the point at which I stopped playing for the day on many occasions.

Further, when you hit a more formal break during the game, you're given the chance to buy upgrades and then move on. Here you are sometimes able to save the game. But, not always—sometimes you can only power-up and continue on. These curtain-call intermissions are points you can continue from, but they are few and far between, and even as many as there are, you can't save at all of them, so if you power down you start from a point even further back. If even all of these areas had save points, it would have gone to great lengths to drop the difficulty to a more bearable point. So, after struggling through to a boss, which was preceded by a non-save intermission, you will find yourself forced to beat it during that session, lest you power down and return to have to backtrack a long way to arrive back at that point.

I imagine the kids' difficulty would have been just right for a first play-through. I did finally finish the adults' difficulty, but it was really tough, and left me with no appetite for a second play-through on a harder difficulty. I considered a replay at the current difficulty (since you can keep your power-ups), but I'm too close the having just finished it to consider doing so at the moment. Maybe.

**Final Thoughts: If you like old-school action titles, this is for you. If you like a challenge, this is definitely for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/26/11

Game Release: Viewtiful Joe (US, 10/07/03)

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