There is an interesting tendency amongst gamers lately. Older games get popular again; on e-bay games that are no longer in production, especially so for an obsolete system, are sold at prices that most people would have called insane only a few years ago. The buyers are often not collectors but “normal” gamers like you and me that simply miss something in nowadays' games: innovation and variety. But why do we see not much innovation lately? It is simply too risky nowadays. 10 years ago a “big” game production would need investing several thousand dollars. A failure of the game because the developers tried something the consumer didn’t like in the end would possibly mean the financial ruin for a handful of developers. Sad for them, but be honest, did you really ever care?
Times have changed and nowadays failure means much more than just sealing the fate of a few. Today the investments needed to develop a modern title can EASILY consume several MILLION dollars, and although the companies got bigger and normally have enough money on the safe side, they perhaps can get over one failure... but make that two or three and the company would be done for.
Taking this into credit it is most surprising that Viewtiful Joe was developed at all. Rumours are that it was already due for termination when almost done - about the same time P.N.03 was thrown out only half done (the last statement is of course only my personal opinion) – but thanks to some manager at Capcom whom we owe lots and lots of thanks it was finished and released. And let me tell you this - we would have missed something really great if it was done otherwise...
Life is viewtiful
Joe is quite an average teenager: his only noticeable little taint is his unhealthy addiction to the antique superhero movies featuring his all time hero “Captain Blue”. His lovely girlfriend doesn’t really understand his addiction but being the good girlfriend she is she accepts him as he is. And that’s why yet again they spent an afternoon at the movies, all alone in a big cinema watching old Captain Blue moves. Things get a little out of hand when the movie suddenly gets a little too real when a monster reaches right through the screen and grabs Joe’s girlfriend and pulls her INTO the movie. Without thinking Joe goes after them – the start of a viewtiful adventure.
When I saw the first screenshots from the game I had doubts myself. Another crazy Japanese game I thought. Boy was I wrong. The graphics is maybe something you have to get used to, but taking a closer look at them they are quite nice. Cel-shaded characters in a beautiful comic world are simply not comparable to hyper-realistic graphic engines, yet it looks nice at it is.
Each stage offers various environments jumping and running inside and outside of buildings while you fight many very loony enemies. Ever seen a robot that thinks it's a ballerina? In this game you will...
Playing is viewtiful
But what makes Viewtiful Joe that unique and fun to play is as always a good, and this time refreshingly new, gameplay idea.
But let’s start with the basics. After Joe is drawn into the movie world he is attacked by crazy robots. Being a healthy young man (and more likely because of being in a movie) Joe is of course skilled in the ways of unarmed fighting. He can throw punches and kicks like a pro, and as long as the robots don’t outnumber him there is no problem. Very soon we learn our first new skill – dodging and jumping over attacks. Joe’s movie trained reflexes can predict an attack before it actually happens, causing a red icon to flash symbolizing either a high or low attack giving us enough time to avoid the hit. The second advantage of this is the fact that the enemy will easily stumble if you avoid his attack, because of the power he put into it, making him an easier target (and a more valuable one too if we take a look at our score after beating his screws out of him). The fights get more desperate, but guess who comes to the rescue – Captain Blue! He accepts Joe as his apprentice and shows him how to find his hidden super hero powers in himself. And Joe, our average moving loving teenager becomes VIEWTIFUL JOE! But what powers does our new superhero wield? Here the new gameplay idea mentioned above comes into play (not only literally, as from this point on you can use it).
The idea – we are in a movie after all – why not use lots and lots of special effects? The shoulder buttons activate the most important effects used in every movie: slow motion and fast forward. So what’s so special about these two functions that they make the game so special? Well slow motion and fast forward don’t affect the whole environment – they only affect Joe our hero.
For e.g. slow motion this means that you can not only time you punches and kicks – Joe’s means of offence – better but some enemies can only be beaten by making careful use of your power. The above mentioned ballerina spins too fast to hit her, but going into slow motion you can time your attack and smack this crazy robot's head. Or a gun-wielding wanna-be robot cop is shooting at you? In slow motion you can not only dodge the bullets, but in fact can “punch” them back at your enemy. Maybe not very realistic but what a great fun :-) .
Besides defeating enemies, slow motion is also important for progressing through the game. A platform kept in the air by a rotor? Slow motion, the rotor is turning not so fast anymore, and the platform drops down to you: jump on it, normal speed again and up you go. Again forget physics – it is the idea that counts!
Totally different possibilities are offered using fast forward. Again it is especially very handy for attacking. Lunch a hundred punches but your enemy will never know what hit him. Or imagine something set you on fire – in fast forward the surrounding air moves faster, easily blowing out any flames that could hurt Joe. The possibilities continue, and after playing that long I likely haven’t found all of them either. Something in the way - watch it rot away. A slowly filling basin – kicking in the turbo helps.
But beware: using your powers consumes the so called FX (find out yourself why it is called that way) energy, and if he runs out of energy “normal” movie physics again apply to Joe. In the beginning of the game running out of energy even means that Viewtiful Joe will transform back into the much weaker Joe, but never fear as the energy replenishes itself quite quickly. Powerups throughout the level expand the FX bar, making it possible to stay longer in either slow-mo or FF. At the end of each level you can further buy various powerups using your acquired credits. This includes additional lives and hit point replenishments, but also nifty powerups like an item called “Always Viewtiful”, preventing you – as the name implies – from changing back into Joe if you accidentally use up all you FX power. Also Joe’s only additional weapons: some sort of a bomb and the so called “Voomerang” can be purchased here. They are both thrown weapons, especially useful if used on large enemy concentrations.
It always fascinates me that the most basic games often offer the greatest fun. Theoretically Viewtiful Joe is “nothing” but a basic (it is not even in real 3D) Jump’n’Run with a few new ideas. Yet it is one of the best games I played in a while. “The few new ideas” were really great ideas, and of course the crazy and fun enemies, and the huge, varied and always challenging levels do their part too. Read my lips (as if you could) but let me tell you this: a must have title!