"Viewtiful, Simply Viewtiful!"

Given the rather abysmal situation the Nintendo Gamecube is currently in, one would hardly be surprised to find declining support and unimpressive releases characterizing the last generation of titles for Nintendo's “Second Nintendo 64”. Even more expected, it would hardly be a shock for a big name companies like Capcom who took great financial risks by granting Gamecube exclusivity to its popular Biohazard (Resident Evil) to look back to Sony's camp for financial stability. Despite all these presumptions however, Capcom managed to release the amazing Space Channel 5-esque hybrid shooter, PN03, and now graces the world with its mindblowing fantasy fighter, Viewtiful Joe.

Perhaps not unlike many other gamers, back when Capcom announced it's “big line up” of Gamecube games last year (PN03, Viewtiful Joe, Biohazard 4, and Killer 7), Viewtiful Joe wasn't exactly the one I thought had the most promise to it. The game not only looked strange, but seemed just plain dorky with its comic book premise and blatant sentai tributes. As time progressed, the prospects of this game-whose name originally could be taken as a stereotypical Japanese misspelling of an English word- looked anything but promising with a lack of media released and a seemingly mute Capcom to promote it. Then things began to change: with the release of Product Number 3 (PN03), Capcom decided to include a Viewtiful Joe preview movie to give Gamecube owners a look at the next game in store for them. Suddenly Viewtiful looked Beautiful; it's odd comic book/movie hybrid formula actually looking like fun, and the action looking anything but ordinary. In short, Capcom decided to show the gaming public exactly what its secretive game was, and indeed make PN03 players quite angry that they could not run out and purchase this ‘Joe' title as well.

After waiting and waiting and waiting, Viewtiful Joe is finally upon gamers, and what a game it is. Having resisted the temptation to play the demo since its release, I began playing ‘Joe still holding some doubt as to the actual game itself. Sure the PN03 movie made it look, sound, and seem great, but that's the entire point of a preview: to offer the viewer the best parts of the product in hopes of making a future sale. I am happy to report that not only is Viewtiful Joe everything Capcom made it out to be, but MUCH more as well.

It's truly difficult to try and begin to review ‘Joe, as deciding which element of the game stands out the most is a difficult choice indeed: everything is amazing, everything is worth praising. On that note, I would like to begin this review proper with a praise of an aspect VERY few games receive: its voice acting. Yes, yes, yes, it's generally assumed that any game made in Japan will have great voice acting because of said element being a superstar profession in the Land of the Rising Sun, however Viewtiful Joe does not feature Japanese voice acting. Perhaps in part of the game's “American-type” appeal, perhaps in part because of Capcom's growing tendency to record QUALITY English voices for its Japanese releases, or perhaps for some unknown reason entirely, Viewtiful Joe features an amazing cast of talent that actually serve to show what happens when a company decides to hire a cast rather than hold an open call for has-beens or never-weres. Despite the game's less-than-serious approach to life, the voice acting is just the opposite and it truly pays off big time. Joe's voice actor not only fits his character perfectly, but actually manages to capture the nuances and intricacies that would characterize such a person in real life. Even the stereotypical “damsel in distress”, “evil mega villain”, and “retired ex-hero” archetypes are all superbly voiced, making the game not only a visual delight, but an aural one as well…

…thanks equally to the AMAZING musical score the masterminds at Capcom have conducted for this game. Back in the days of the Famicom and Super Famicom, catchy music would be rather obligatory given the limited quality of sound and thus the need to make memorable tunes with what was available. Sadly, once games reached a CD medium, soundtracks seemingly got worse as developers could now move beyond simplistic MIDI recordings, but at the same time just make better sounding garbage. Viewtiful Joe is truly one of the first games I've played in ages that not only features great music, but whose music is deeply infectious and will linger in your head long after you finish playing it. (In fact, I'm humming some of the music right now while typing this review). It's hard to classify the music style so to speak, so perhaps the best way to define it is ‘wacky'. The game features simplistic little melodies but beefed up so much dynamic and flare that it would even make world renown DJ's stop and think for a moment. Accompanying the voice acting and soundtrack are sound effects that fit the game to a T.

Perhaps the best area to focus on next is the graphics. While cel-shaded games are nowhere near the impressive caliber they once were, Viewtiful Joe somehow manages to erase any prior exposure to this medium from the user's psyche and instead offers a visual paradise. If art imitates life, than Viewtiful Joe is a living doppelganger. The game comes across as a comic book imitating a movie imitating a comic book, and words can't even seek to describe it accurately. Imagine if you will, an ordinary comic book. Now imagine the comic is transferred into an animation, except still retaining the same original form. Now imagine that form trying to imitate the style of an old fashioned movie. This amalgamation is nothing like Viewtiful Joe, however it's the best way to attempt to describe what IS like Viewtiful Joe. The graphics are amazingly sharp and bright, and highly stylized to convey moods and feelings without even being interactive. Furthermore, the graphics actually change to reflect the condition Joe is in; when he's nothing more than a mere human (more on this later), the backgrounds become washed and blurry, but when Joe transforms into Viewtiful Joe, the backgrounds light up with color and life.

The control to Viewtiful Joe could not be easier and the final product is elevated that much more because of this. Using the analog stick to maneuver Joe, players then use the large green “A” button to make Joe jump, and the “X” and “Y” buttons to punch and kick. There are a few additional features, but the extremely streamlined main control scheme works wonders. Perhaps the most impressive of the aforementioned ‘hitches' is a special super-power that Joe is able to use when transformed into his alter-ego, Viewtiful Joe (come on, did you actually think superheroes were super ALL the time?). Capcom, offering a nod to The Matrix, has programmed a “Bullet Time”-esque slow motion power that allows Joe to repulse the seemingly endless onslaught of weirdoes that try to halt his progress. By holding the “L” button, time slows down and Joe can launch a series of attacks upon his tormentors before they even throw a punch. The more punches you throw in sequence, the more points you earn. What's more, just the opposite occurs if the player presses down the “R” button instead: Viewtiful Joe is able to move at super speeds and smack foes into submission before they even have time to turn around.

Another terrific addition to the game play is the use of physics, specifically those of force and motion. Despite the gross lengths developers go through to ensure that their work adheres to the world of reality as best as possible, they often forget the most basic concept: the law of physics that states for every action there is an equal reaction applies to people as well. What does any of this mean? Simple: when an enemy swings at Joe, they will hit him. When an enemy swings at Joe and he dodges however, they will actually get off balance. This adds an amazing amount of realism to a game, as instead of enemies coming off as nothing more than robotic like humans, they come off as human like robots. (Well, not quite, but hopefully you get the picture).

The game play itself can be boiled down to the following: kick/punch your way to the end of the stage while collecting items. Sounds like every other fighting game, right? Wrong. Viewtiful Joe adds a ton of innovations to this clichéd genre, something that is indeed a surprise hailing from the same company that took nearly a decade to count to ‘three'. Shortly after starting the game, Joe will be granted his superpowers. From that point on, a gauge will appear that determines the quantity of Joe's “Bullet Time” powers and consequently his ability to remain in superhero form. While using “Bullet Time”, this bar will slowly begin to decrease and should it run out, Viewtiful Joe will return to just ordinary Joe (Joe Schmoe perhaps?) and the player will have to wait until the bar begins to fill back up again before they are automatically transformed back into superhero form. While the bar will ONLY drain while using ‘Bullet Time', said dynamic is often the only way to attack most enemies and thus it is used quite frequently. Luckily, scoring repeated hits yields elixirs of sorts which will fill up a small portion of this bar and allow for prolonged use. Furthermore, by collecting Vietwiful Icons (literally the letter “V”), you can gradually extend this bar: every 50 icons yields an extension. Also thrown into the mix, scoring repeated hits on enemies while using ‘Bullet Time' will allow the player to earn massive combos and points, all the while serving to ensure a high score at the end of the battle. What am I talking about; battle? Viewtiful Joe can best be thought of as a series of little squirmishes in-between big ones. Each group of villains Joe fights will have a separate rating based on your superhero prowess. In a fitting gag on the usual Capcom superior ranking of “S”, the name of this game is “V”, for Viewtiful of course.

Perhaps one of the greatest elements of the game is its humor, something that is present everywhere and influences everything. For example, when you first turn on the game the Capcom logo will fall apart and Viewtiful Joe will “intelligently” fix it. When choosing which difficulty to play the game on, players will notice the hard mode is called “Adult”, complete with the design and flashing neon readily associated with “naughty” clubs and bars. But that's hardly where the fun ends; when the Joe dies, for example, out of nowhere a director will shout “CUT!” and when the player presses pause, the game the director shouts “Take 5!”. This is only the tip of the ice berg however; its as if the crazy minds at Capcom took every single episode of ‘Ren and Stimpy', put them into a blender and pureed it, and then added some extra weirdness to top this magnificent mix off. Even the battle ranking is loaded with laughs: score an overall ‘V' and you get Viewtiful, but do poorly enough to earn a ‘C' and it becomes ‘Crap'.

The story behind Viewtiful Joe is a simplistic one, but superbly told nonetheless. Taking his girlfriend to a movie, Joe does what ALL stereotypical males do: fight off his girlfriend's making out advances in favor of…watching the movie? Sure enough, the old superhero flick soon turns frantic when in a bizarre change of pace, the villain actually kills the hero! The next thing Joe knows, the evil monster has stepped out of the movie, kidnapped his girlfriend, and tries to kill him as well! Will Joe save the day? Why exactly DOES the now deceased (or is he?) Blue superhero look so familiar? What does Viewtiful mean? All those questions and more will be answered…as for what ‘Viewtiful' means however, all one needs to do is consult the back of the manual.

Viewtiful Joe is truly one of the most unique games ever created, and by far one of the most (if not the best) impressive title available on the Nintendo Gamecube. It is a real shame that more gems like this aren't around, as then Nintendo might not be in such a rut. As it stands however, anyone who loves games owes it to themselves to appreciate what they DO have, and Viewtiful Joe is more than worthy of such praise.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/25/03, Updated 03/17/06

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