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Monday, September 15th, 2014

Linkman's take on... Viewtiful Joe



Ah, Viewtiful Joe. An interesting name for an equally interesting game.

Back in the GameCube's earlier years, Capcom announced five games being exclusively for the console, the infamous "Capcom 5." Out of the five games, one was cancelled, two were ported to the PlayStation 2, and one was even released for both consoles simultaneously. Only one game remained exclusive to the GameCube, and surprisingly enough, it's the least talked about. Among this mess surges Viewtiful Joe, a challenging and charming sidescroller that proves there's plenty to be done in a genre thought to be dead.

In the game, you take the role of your average guy, fittingly named Joe. Joe is a major movie enthusiast, and particularly enjoys superhero flicks; specially old ones. The story starts out when Joe is accompanied by his lovely blonde girlfriend Silvia in one of his classic flick viewings. Silvia is desperate for some red hot lovin', but Joe is way too caught up in his movie to notice! Just when Joe is getting frustrated because he is missing his movie, the unexpected happens and a giant Robot leaps out of the movie screen and drags Joe and Silvia to the movie itself, kidnapping Silvia in the process. It's up to Joe to journey through-out Movieland in search of his beloved Silvia!

Inside Movieland, Joe meets Captain Blue, who just happens to be the hero of the movie they’re in. Blue is, however, defeated, and cannot rescue Silvia. So he chooses Joe as his successor, and provides him with a V-watch; a powerful device that would transform even the wimpiest of wimps into a formidable superhero by just saying one word: Henshin! Joe takes the V-watch, and mutters, with a smirk on his face: “Henshin-a-go-go, baby!”

Our average Joe transforms, from a simple red-headed guy with an unhealthy obsession for hero flicks, to a bodacious superhero, ready to take on all the obstacles between himself and his goal: the beautiful Silvia!

Our dearest hero will have to cross oceans, sail through the skies, fight oversized sharks, Japanese school girls, helicopters, ninjas, cowboys and even tanks! All this in the name of his dear Silvia. Will he make it, rescue his golden-haired sweetheart and ride towards the sunset? Or will he fail miserably and be humiliated while his girlfriend breaks up with him? This, my friends, is the beginning of Viewtiful Joe in a nutshell. And it’s an incredible game. I shall describe why I enjoy this game so much, and hopefully I’ll convince you to give it a chance.

Let’s start with the ambient. The game's storyline and presentation is as quirky as it is charming. The game is portrayed much like a superhero flick, complete with a narrator to add emotion, over-the-top villains and predictable yet very fun plot twists. All of this comes with an excellent graphical presentation; sweating originality, Viewtiful Joe displays some impressive cel-shaded graphics, with outstanding animation both technically and artistically. Through-out several chapters in the game, all quite long and spanning several areas, one can appreciate colorful visuals, detailed backgrounds and enemies. A similar experience can be found aurally, with fittingly composed tunes backing up all the action. The game is entirely voice-acted, all the voices feel adequate to the characters, and the script that goes along with it is usually hilarious. In short, the presentation of the game is fantastic. It uses the GameCube's power magnificently and generates an amazing ambience through-out the game. A wonderful job by Team Viewtiful, they've made justice to the game's name and created an absolutely viewtiful game.

But for the meat and potatoes, the gameplay, I can sum it up in one word: Phenomenal. Joe encompasses several styles of gameplay in one colossal package. The game is first and foremost, as I've said already, a sidescroller. But Joe takes the concept to the next level, adding it's own charm to the equation.

The hero Joe becomes a superhero in Movieland, much like the ones he used to idolize. This grants him three superpowers, dubbed as VFX powers: Slow, which allows him to put the entire world in slow motion; Mach Speed, which does the exact opposite and takes everything to the max speed; and Zoom, which focuses the camera on Joe and allows him to show his ravishing moves and dazzle his foes. These three powers run off a charge bar that drains when you're using them, and quickly recharges when you're not. If you bar empties, Viewtiful Joe reverts back to standard Joe, and must wait until his bar is charged to become Viewtiful again. This creates a very quick dynamic and is the entire basis of the game.

Viewtiful Joe is a very varied game in this sense. The whole game is based on Joe's VFX powers, and it does a perfect job at it; the game has action, puzzles, platforming and tons of secrets for you to discover while playing this gem, and everything is based on these three simple actions. Allow me to elaborate.

On the action side, our protagonist Joe has to face dozens of different enemies, including some very menacing bosses. Now, obviously you can use your powers simplistically, like using Mach Speed to punch the brains out of your foes, but Joe raises the bar and keeps this game from having a silly and repetitive combat system. The game rewards combos and provides several different techniques for you to purchase with your earned points, so performing good fighting is not only fun, it's also extremely important. To elaborate on the combos, basically every object in the game can become your weapon. For example, using Slow to punch a baddie is good, but using Slow and punching the same baddie in the right direction, so his body hits 2 other baddies rings you up several extra points. You could leave it at that, but the smart thing to do would be to use Mach Speed in combination with Slow --which keeps everything in slow motion, except for Joe-- to get yourself close to your just-knocked baddies before the combo is done, Zooming In and performing a spinning kick to hit all three of them at the same time. The possibilities are endless, and the crowd that is supposedly watching the movie will cheer for you if your combos are good! The game's fighting mechanics are extremely rewarding, the controls are tight, and if you combine that with imaginative enemies and bosses, you've got yourself a winner.

And the puzzles are just as rewarding. They base themselves off the VFX mechanics with smashing success: the puzzles are logical and simple, but at the same time interesting and challenging. It's impressive how many different things they managed to make with just these three different powers, and everything works great. Some of the first puzzles feel a bit simplistic, but some of the later ones will comprise of several different puzzles solved in different ways that piece together to form a big puzzle, and when you solve those, the feeling is great. All this complemented with constant and well-done elements of platforming and the afore-mentioned action, and you've got an outstanding and innovative sidescroller.

The game is divided in seven different chapters, which themselves are divided into acts. The acts are quite long, but nothing too excruciating; there's usually save points between acts, and you can buy power-ups as well. The game lasts quite a few hours on your first time, and you'll probably be back for more because of the option of replaying the game with all the upgrades from the previous play-through, and giving you a chance to buy those you have missed (an option known as New Game+ because of Square's fabulous Chrono Trigger.) There are also several juicy things to unlock, which I won't spoil in this review.

The difficulty is a bit of a fine point. The game starts with two difficulties: "Kids", for the young ones and less experienced, and "Adults", which is for the daring and intrepid, and provides a very nice challenge. There are more unlockable difficulties that are bound to make you suffer from the challenge, but "Adults" mode is just right in terms of challenge. It actually manages to have some difficulty, but it's far from impossible like some other games out there. "Kids" mode is fairly accessible, but beating it leaves you out of some after-game goodies you get from the "Adults" difficulty. In other words... This is not a game you're gonna cruise by if you're looking to play the standard version. If you don't think you can handle it, there's the easier difficulty... But I'd recommend against it. Go for the real version.

Don’t let this discourage you, though. Viewtiful Joe is just an amazing experience. It's fun, it's charming, it's challenging and it's rewarding. The amount of polish in the game is noticeable and the effort is much appreciated. Don't miss out on this game; I promise you won't regret it.

9.6 out of 10.
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