Viewtiful Joe. The title doesn’t drop too many hints as to what this game will provide, other than the subtle hinting at the word “beautiful.” I, like many, didn’t know what to expect when I saw this one coming down the pipes.
As images and videos started to show up I realized that we might have quite the innovative game on our hands. I picked up a demo not too long after, and all I knew was that I wanted more. By the time it came up for release I was frothing at the mouth to continue the adventure, but was a bit worried it might not live up expectations. Would it be too easy? Would it get boring to quickly? Not likely.
In terms of visual presentation Viewtiful Joe lives up to its name, which the developer’s define as a beautiful view. It feels like playing a comic book, with bright characters, seamy villains, and aesthetically pleasing vivid levels. The cel-shaded world and characters are extremely well done, and the effects beautifully affect the characters and levels. You may see the occasional overlap but these are both rare and hardly noticeable. Cinematic sequences in Viewtiful Joe are also unbelievably well done, tying the game together perfectly as chapters in a movie.
The sound in Viewtiful Joe is spot on. The music is good and suited to the style of the game. The voice acting is very well done; from Joe’s battle cry, to his cinematic conversations, you can tell they spent time on it. The enemies sometimes come off a bit cheesy but in all honesty it suits the game perfectly to have the villains come off that way. In-game sound is equally fitting, and never seems to drop the ball.
With all this praise it may be hard to believe that where this game truly shines is in gameplay. Gorgeous, two dimensional, innovative gameplay. The controls are almost perfect, the concepts are fresh, and the whole thing never ceases to be entertaining. Fighting in Viewtiful Joe is almost a cross between a 2d fighting game and an old school beat-em-up. Guys flip out from off screen and start swinging; you dodge and start pounding combos, special attacks, and movie effects. You start initially as just regular Joe, with no special effects at your disposal, but it isn’t long before your hero Captain Blue bestows upon you a “V watch” which you use to morph into a superhero. You also get the ability to bring time to slow motion, move at mach speed, and zoom in on the action. These effects don’t just make you look pretty. They affect how your attacks work. Viewtiful Joe isn’t just about beating up bad guys, it’s about looking pretty doing it as you pound your enemies, amassing “viewtifuls.” “Viewtifuls” are rewards for doing things in an attractive manner, which can be spent between levels on new combos, weapons, more life, and much more. If you are in slow motion you can link attacks on different enemies together and get multipliers to gain “viewtifuls” in higher amounts. Using your mach speed makes you attack at a much higher speed, also sending multiple versions of Joe to attack others and grab items. Zooming-in alters your attacks to be more powerful and useful while freezing your opponents. Watch out, though. If you run your VFX bar down to nothing not only are you unable to use your special effects, but also you will revert to regular Joe, which can make things quite difficult. Finally, each episode is split by a few breaks, where you can buy power ups, and further split into sections, each of which you get graded on in three categories: V-Points, Defense, and time, and you are awarded a bonus for the average.
The learning curve on Viewtiful Joe is steep to say the least. You have to learn which skills are effective in which situation and how to amass the most “viewtifuls” at a time. Basic attacks, on the other hand, are quite simple. You have a punch and a kick. The bad guys vary in difficulty from mindless attackers to gun toting cowboys and vicious swordsmen. There are numerous ways to defeat each. However, even when you know what to do it can be extremely hard to get the job done, especially with all the other bad guys still gunning for you. Initially you have two difficulties available to you: “kids” and “adults.” The adult difficulty is quite tough. You don’t get that many lives and don’t start out with much life. Kid mode gives you more of both of these, but still comes off pretty hard. With the save points spread out by a good distance, this game’s difficulty can be nerve wracking. The bosses at the end of these levels are also tricky, although some are more so than others.
There are a number of unlockable features, such as another difficulty level, one which doesn’t warn you of impending attacks. Another character is also part of the deal. Even without these added features, this game is dripping with replay value, making you want to go back and score higher in a few sections or use fewer continues.
All in all, Viewtiful Joe is beautifully put together, well constructed, innovative, and extremely fun to play. The two-dimensional levels have no lack of depth and three-dimensional appearance and do not disappoint the eyes. It can be ridiculously difficult, but it’s better that way. Even so, it may be too much for some gamers on any difficulty setting. However, I think that the fresh gameplay elements, stylistic design, and wonderful characters will make it one game almost everyone will love.