Review by GuyIncognito2K1

"As a long time fan of the beat 'em up genre, there was no way I couldn't give this game a 10"

Episode 1- Introduction: First off, for those who don't understand what a beat 'em up entails... it's a game where you play as one character against an army of foes, typically in a 2D setting, with a screen that scrolls to the right as enemies pop out by the dozens while you vanquish them with your martial arts prowess. Some might confuse fighting games with beat 'em ups, since they both entail fisticuffs. However, a beat 'em up is almost nothing like a fighting game, since you don't engage in one-on-one combat but rather against a multitude of enemies. Some of the best examples of the beat 'em up genre have been Aliens vs. Predator (not the PC or the Jaguar game, but the arcade game) and Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow over Mystara.

What do those beat 'em ups have in common? They were both made a certain company known as Capcom, which is now known today as the king of sequels: the Mega Man, Street Fighter and Resident Evil franchises have done so well that for a while it seemed all innovation had gone out of Capcom's developers, as they churned out more and more product that became less and less unique.

Then I heard about Viewtiful Joe. It was slated to be a beat 'em up, which certainly whetted my appetite (considering how rare the beat 'em genre has become lately). The comic-like look of the game appealed to me, and the action seemed intense, so I simply had to pre-order the game. Hype for the game's release began to spread, which at times made me feel a little uneasy: would this game actually live up to all it claimed? Well, after picking up the game and playing for a few days, I think I can safely say that this is not only the best beat 'em up I have ever played, but that Viewtiful Joe might be one of the finest action games ever made.

Episode 2- Story: Joe, a big-time film buff, takes his girlfriend Silvia to see a classic movie starring his favorite action hero, Captain Blue. Now, you'll immediately notice that Joe is not your average movie goer. I mean, this guy is a nerd with a capital N-E-R-D. Silvia makes some romantic advances, but all Joe cares about is watching the film. Suddenly, Captain Blue is defeated on screen, and the great and terrible monster who defeated him steps out of the movie and grabs Silvia, saying ''She will be the object of my revenge!'' Joe, too is unwillingly dragged into the movie, where he ''daringly pursues his girlfriend's kidnapper,'' though really, Silvia is the last thing on his mind: he just can't believe he's inside an action flick. Joe meets with the spirit of Captain Blue, who tests his fighting prowess, and when Joe's efforts prove satisfactory he is rewarded with the power to transform into a superhero with the phrase ''Henshin a go-go baby!'', and Joe gains the power he needs to tackle the forces of evil and rescue his girlfriend.

Shakespeare it ain't, but that's certainly a good thing for this type of game. This game is light-hearted, fun, and doesn't mire the gamer in drama. Of course, there are always people who prefer serious storylines in their games, and those people may not enjoy the story of Viewtiful Joe. Me, I'll be laughing at the corny jokes and stupid bosses.

Episode 3- Gameplay: In this beat 'em up/platformer, Joe is blessed with a double jump, a blazing martial arts style and the power to control time. He can use ''Slow,'' which slows down time so Joe can anticipate and dodge enemy attacks with sheer ''viewty,'' (the elegant twist of Joe's body as he avoids a bullet will make your eyes pop) or to aid in platforming: by slowing down time, for example, you can make the propellers on a hovering platform slow down, causing the platform to fall to your level so you can jump on. Slow also dramatically increases the power of Joe's attacks, due to the prolonged contact of Joe's punches and kicks. You will literally send foes careening around the screen with the power of one slowed-down punch. Next on the list of Joe's powers is ''Mach Speed,'' the ability to speed up time. This lets Joe perform super fast combos, and once you maintain a combo in Mach Speed for a certain amount of time, Joe begins to glow, setting foes on fire with his fists and dealing extra damage. Last on the list of Joe's powers is ''Zoom in,'' the ability to zoom close to the action. You might be asking yourself, ''How does that help Joe?'' Believe me, it does: Joe is portrayed as a posturing, preening superhero, who wants all the attention his audience can muster. By zooming the action up close, Joe assumes a flexing pose and his entire move set changes to become more powerful: his punches become lightning fast, his kick becomes a vertical 360 degree sweep, and his jump becomes a spinning move of death. And just try jumping and using Zoom In- Joe will crash into the ground with a mighty stomp, sending all foes reeling. But be warned: the longer you use Joe's powers, the more power you drain from his ''VFX'' meter, which supplies him with power for his special moves. Once you run out of VFX power, you return to your normal Joe form, which leaves you much more vulnerable (though you can still fight). Thankfully, your VFX meter charges constantly as long as you don't use Joe's powers, and can be extended by collecting power-ups in each stage.

When you get the hang of using Joe's powers, you'll find yourself doing stuff like this:

Dodge an enemy attack, duck and hit punch for an uppercut that sends the enemy upwards. Slow time, jump, alternate between kick and punch for an air combo against the stunned enemy. Now zoom and kick for a flashy finish, and if the enemy is still alive and within reach, use a dive kick to put more hurting on.

Sound complicated? It's not, when you get the hang of it. Using Joe's special powers properly is key to getting better ratings in the game.

And you'll want good ratings, because they earn you more coins and even get you secret characters. Coins are used to purchase moves and power-ups in between stages, among them the ability to dive kick (as mentioned above), slide kick, extend your life bar, or even recover after being knocked down to reduce damage, or pose after dodging an attack, damaging all enemies on screen. (Move over, Zoolander...)

To improve your rating, try defeating enemies with a better technique: all enemies telegraph their attacks with a skull icon, which indicates where the attack will land; high or low. By ducking or hopping at the right time, you can avoid the enemy attack and leave them stunned and helpless. This is when you turn on Mach Speed and combo them into oblivion, earning you more points than if you simply attack them.

You also will get multipliers added to your score if you can successfully perform a ''Rock On'' combo, where you attempt to hit as many stunned enemies as possible while remaining in slow motion the entire time, adding x1 to your multiplier for each enemy hit. The dynamic of a Rock On combo is very well-realized, as it becomes harder and harder to push the multiplier up while maintaining slow mo, which continually drains your power. All I can say is, practice.

Unfortunately, there's one thing missing from this game that would have done wonders for improving player ability: an endurance mode. Imagine being able to continually fight hordes of enemies, practicing your Rock On combo timing until you can score 20 consecutive hits without even picking up a VFX-restoring bottle. Alas, you won't find this in Viewtiful Joe. Still, you'll find your skill and technique improving anyway.

Episode 4- Control: Slow is the L trigger, Mach Speed is the R trigger, Zoom is a toggle command from the C stick or B button. This way, you can activate your powers and leave your thumbs free for some serious beat 'em up action. A jumps, X kicks, Y punches. You'll be alternating between X and Y a lot for your combos, and the big A button will help you jump at a moment's notice. I find the controls to be very well done.

However, there are people who find the Gamecube controller to be uncomfortable, and prefer the X-Box S controller or the PS2's Dual Shock. You can get an adapter for the 'cube to let you plug in a Dual Shock, or you can wait for the game to be released on the PS2 (which probably won't be for a while... optimizing this game to run on PS2 hardware won't be an easy task for Capcom) but if you're a fan of the X-Box controller, you're out of luck. Just gotta get used to the curves and teensy dimensions of the 'cube controller.

Episode 5- Graphics: Beautiful, to say the least. Viewtiful Joe's cel shaded graphics emulate the visual style of a comic book, with dark outlines and vibrant colors. However, the game also imitates the style of a celluloid movie, with the borders showing a movie reel scrolling to the right whenever Joe busts out one of his powers. When Joe runs out of VFX power and transforms into his normal self, you'll see the background take on the washed-out, grainy look of an old movie. This game simply oozes style.

However, after some deliberation I realized that there are plenty of people out there who crave only the most realistically-rendered graphics, and they probably will not enjoy the visual presentation of Viewtiful Joe. As far as I'm concerned, that's their loss.

Episode 6- Sound and Music: There are some catchy tunes that fit a beat 'em up perfectly, but better yet are the sound effects and voices. Joe's voice brings to mind the image of a conceited superhero who likes nothing more than to show off to the camera, with his constant one-liners and taunts. These voice samples don't get distracting, surprisingly and they mesh with the action very well. The sound effects are incredible: just hearing the resounding pow of Joe's fist connecting with an enemy in slow motion is enough to make you say ''SWEET!''

The voice acting of other characters is well-done, but difficult to distinguish. This game has loud, peppy music which muffles what a boss may be telling you prior to fighting. I use headphones when I play, so I don't miss a word, but many others have found this oversight annoying. Just a fair warning.

And the Grand Finale- Replay, Style and a Thrilling Conclusion: This game is extremely fun. You'll play it for hours to improve your rating, even after you've already beaten it. The thrill of defeating innumerable foes with ''viewtiful'' style and grace will keep you entertained, and Joe's dazzling flair, with his flowing pink scarf (a pink the shade of cherry blossoms, that symbol of the Japanese hero) which billows in the wind and follows Joe's movement through the air and his awesome helmet with a V-emblem over his visor, will captivate you. Only Capcom could take the stereotypically cheesy Japanese superhero genre and elevate it to an art form.

But it's not just aesthetic style that makes this game such blasted fun. When you're fighting hordes of stupid machines, dodging bullets in slow mo, kicking incoming homing missiles back to their origins, air comboing enemies into scrap metal, zooming and unleashing a flurry of mighty punches, you just get this feeling. A feeling to impress, to astonish, to awe. You want to show this game off to everyone you know; you want to be the center of attention, you want to do stuff that makes your friends go ''whoa!'', you want to be...


Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 10/09/03, Updated 10/13/03

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