Review by discoinferno84

"Those kicks were fast as lightning, and it was a little bit frightening..."

I remember going into my local Gamestop in early 2003. I had some time to kill and wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I trudged over to the demo consoles to see if anything new had been added. I noticed a quirky new title among the demos I’d played out in weeks past. It was called Viewtiful Joe. At first, I just raised a satirical eyebrow at the cell-shaded side-scrolling hero. I thought to myself, “Okay, it’s just some new fighting side scroller game. Why are they just trying to revive an over-used game genre on the Gamecube? And what’s with the cell-shading?” All my doubts about Joe vanished when I discovered exactly was so “Viewtiful” about Nintendo’s new hero.

In this era of gaming, we’ve come to expect some semblance of a story that are appealing and draw the gamer into the game. While the story of Viewtiful Joe won’t get any awards for grand plots and deep characters, it is still infused with enough light-hearted humor to make the characters both likeable and memorable. The hero is a regular guy named Joe. Joe’s personality is really more of a caricature of those found in the average present day male. Joe is decked out in a t-shirt, cargo pants, and a backwards baseball cap. He has a girlfriend named Silvia, with whom he treats with questionable sincerity. Joe takes Silvia on an “ideal” date by watching old movies of his hero, Captain Blue. But this sad excuse of a date is ended when the evil villain from the movie jumps off the canvas and into our reality. The villain snatches up Silvia and carries hero back into the land of the movie. Stunned at the loss of a girlfriend that he probably took for granted, Joe plunges head first into the movie to get his beloved Silvia back.

So, what does a guy like Joe have to defeat the evil minions of Movie Land? It’s certainly not his charm. Early on in the game, Joe is bestowed super powers by his hero, Captain Blue. Joe can slow or speed up time to gain advantages in fights. He can also have the camera zoom up on his image to intimidate the opposition. Joe can rack up an incredible amount of damage by simply fighting in slow motion. While this is certainly a jump from traditional beat-em up scrolling games, Joe’s powers are executed perfectly. Viewtiful Joe really consists of the standard beat-em up game formula. As in any other game in this genre, you beat up anything that comes across your path of destruction. The difference lies in the use and presentation of Joe’s powers. There’s nothing special about hitting a hapless foot soldier standing in your way of progress. However, there is much more entertainment value when you can slow down the fight sequence and watch as each hit dramatically takes its toll. It’s almost like creating your own little Matrix-style fight sequence. Using Joe’s powers effectively can result with some entertaining fight sequences. You can send your enemy flying upward in slow motion, and then intercept him with a midair kick. You can have the camera zoom in on Joe to get a look at our hero as he deals out the damage. You can even have Joe strike a Viewtiful pose that can stun your enemies in both fear and awe of his power and style.

While the prospect of annihilating your enemies with style is appealing, there is a limit to Joe’s power. You can only use the various abilities as long as Joe’s power meter is active. Sure, you can prolong usable power time via in-game pickups, but in the end Joe’s powers only last for a few seconds before they vanish and Viewtiful Joe turns back into regular Joe. With limited amounts of time, you must learn how to use Joe’s powers strategically. You won’t be using Joe’s powers to simply bash everything that moves. You’ll also be using them to manipulate you surroundings, to gain access to other parts of the level, etc. For example, in order to access some doors, you need to play a slot machine. The tiles rotate too fast for you to get the needed combination. You must use Joe’s powers to slow down the rotation on the slot machine tiles and line up the necessary images. It’s little puzzles like these that make gamers pay attention to the game instead of mindless button mashing at various enemies.

A key element to the gameplay lies with the bonus points. After you’ve finished a fight sequence, you are graded on your performance. The more combo attacks you use, the better your score will be. Using Joe’s powers effectively will get you more points. So when you’re facing a swarm of oncoming hooligans, you need to able to figure how to inflict the most damage in the least amount of time. Will you slow down everything and execute some grand combo? Or will you speed up time and smack the enemy with a hundred tiny hits in the blink of an eye? Perhaps you will have the camera zoom in to take a good look at the Viewtiful hero that you are? How about all three? How you use Joe’s powers in combat is entirely up to you, but you will be graded and scored accordingly.

Repetitive gameplay is the only issue that really stands out. After a while, it starts to seem like you’re fighting the same horde of bad guys, just under a different setting. While this may seem true, you still have several variations of attack to use. You may be facing down essentially the same minions over and over, but that means you have the opportunity to perfect your combo attacks to get a higher score. Also, you can always challenge yourself by limiting your abilities during a fight. You could just use regular attacks and see how long last. You could limit yourself to using only kicks. Finding new and creative ways to eliminate your adversaries is part of the fun. While the enemies all start to look the same, the levels are all designed with different puzzles. The game designers could have just left the levels bland and unimportant, but the in-game puzzles mix up the monotony of the basic gameplay.

The cell-shaded graphics mesh well with the gameplay. Movie Land is portrayed as if it were a comic book. All the characters have thick black outlines to over-exaggerate their roles. Joe is clad in a red bodysuit and a flowing pink cape. Sadly, the bright cape stands out more than our hero. But at least it adds to the Joe’s overall character and presentation. When Joe uses his powers, we are thrust into a psychedelic world of neon colors and bright lights. Luckily for us, Joe’s actions don’t match the hippie graphics. Joe’s fists become glowing balls of energy. If you leave time in fast-forward for a few moments, Joe will catch on fire since everything’s going so fast. The sound is equally excellent. If you just fight with no super powers, Joe’s punches sound like light taps. But it you slow down time and attempt the same battle, the light tap turns into an echoing thud. While most of the enemies are essentially mute, Joe has plenty of his own side effects to add to the fun. With all the load sound effects going on in battle, you can scarcely hear the music. The music is nothing noteworthy, but you’ll be too busy annihilating your foes with style to notice.

The thing that I like about Viewtiful Joe is that it doesn’t take itself seriously, and yet executes it so well. The voice acting was perfect for the given roles. Joe sounds like a lackadaisical hero. Joe announces his Red Hot Kick as if he were trying showing off to someone. Silvia does sound like an exasperated girlfriend. Captain Blue’s voice is deep and dignified. Even the narrator sounds like a stereotypical storyteller trying to appeal to an audience on the edge of their seats. Joe’s “confident” attitude makes him a likeable character. Sure, you’re bashing countless robotic enemies. But you can do almost the same thing in any other game in this genre. But with Joe, you’re taking out all those enemies with speed, strength, but most importantly, with style. Viewtiful Joe comes across as a satire to all those games that try too hard to be excellent. But does a game need epic storytelling, outstanding characters and deep gameplay? Viewtiful Joe seems to prove otherwise. When it boils down to it, maybe a game just needs a likeable character with fun and easy gameplay to be great.

This game isn’t going to win any awards, despite its memorable characters and overall appeal. Viewtiful Joe is no Academy Award winner. It’s more of that Friday night comedy where you and your friends can sit back and have a good time. This game is takes the best aspects of the beat-em up genre and creates a unique style of gameplay. If you’re looking for something easy, fun, and mildly entertaining, give Viewtiful Joe at least a rental and see how it grabs you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/08/04

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