"Viewtiful Joe is out on the PS2!" "Wasn't that a gamecube exclusive?" "Yup, it WAS"
I had never seen Viewtiful Joe in action before but I had heard the stories. It was supposed to be "weird", "original" and "fun". So when I learned about its PS2 release, I was eager to find out if the stories were true. In a single word: yes!
The weird part has a lot to do with the graphics in this game. They are unlike those in every other platform game I've ever seen. Yup, this is a platform game, but very different in look and nature from the classic 2D platformers like sonic and mario and modern 3D platform games like Ratchet and Clank. If I had to compare Joe with anything else, it'd be the two Pandemonium games that would only run after installing a 3dfx video card on your pc (yes, these are older games, also released on the PS1). Though essentially a 3D game, Joe moves as though he's in a 2D world. You only really notice the 3D effects when the camera starts moving, for example when the road you're on starts swerving left or right.
Smoothly moving from weird to original, Joe is different from Pandemonium in that Joe has cell-shaded graphics, a visual development we've seen more often over the past year or so (XIII springs to mind). It works really well in a platform environment, and gives the game the sort of look that makes you think you're in the middle of a comic book / cartoon hybrid.
Joe himself is a guy without any special powers at the start of the game. He's enjoying a movie starring his favorite character Captain Blue when suddenly his girlfriend Silvia gets abducted into the screen (this would no doubt qualify as 'weird' again). Joe then receives a so-called V-Watch from Captain Blue, a gift that enables him to perform incredible feats that only a superhero can manage: Viewtiful Joe is born!
Joe's quest is obvious: rescue Silvia and defeat the bad guys responsible. To do this, Joe has to do a lot more than jump from platform to platform. There's puzzles to solve, enemies to beat up and incredibly cool moves to pull off. The first "VFX power" you learn enables you to slow down the game, reminding me of the slow-motion beat 'em up action in Enter the Matrix somewhat. V-points are awarded by pulling off combos, almost as though you were playing a Street Fighter game where you charge up your special powers in much the same way. After a short while, you'll start learning new moves, making your way towards superhero status.
Although that may sound waaaay too complicated for a simple platform game, it isn't! The game has a very good learning curve and thus eases you into the game gently. It always remains "cool!" to play, never "frustrating!". Its style at times reminding you of the good old over-the-top classic superheroes from the past (Adam West as Batman, anyone?), Viewtiful Joe never fails to entertain you and the people watching you play. That's right... you can actually have people over and make them have a good time by watching you play! Eventually they'll wanna play too though, so be wary of that.
The PS2 version isn't a straight port, but has a few neat little changes from the Gamecube version. Okay, one BIG enhancement: Dante, whom we met in Devil May Cry. After you complete the game with Joe, you get to do it all over again with Dante. But you're not just taking Joe's place, no, you're in a different story, can pull off different moves and use different weapons. A VERY worthy addition to the game, and not a rushed little extra feature that you lose interest in after a few minutes "because you've seen it all before".
Which finally brings me to the last element in the stories I heard: fun. That is exactly what Viewtiful Joe is, worlds of fun. It might be a tad on the short side, but hey, time flies when you're having fun, right?
On a related note, we should see Viewtiful Joe 2 arrive right at the start of the holiday season. The sequel will be released on both Gamecube and PS2 simultaneously, so us PS2 owners can pretty much delve into a new fun-filled adventure right after we've steered Joe to victory.... for the sixth time.