Capcom has been releasing some innovative titles for the Gamecube lately and this new title is no exception. In the game, Viewtiful Joe's protagonist is an average Joe, who takes his girlfriend on a movie date to see the latest film from his hero, Captain Blue. While he's watching the movie, a series of strange events occur that have transported him into the movie. Unfortunately, the move villains have kidnapped Joe's girlfriend Sylvia. It's up to him to save her and he's granted special powers by Captain Blue. These special abilities allow him to transform into a super-hero. Not only can he jump higher and has stronger kicks and punches, but he's also been granted special View FX, or VFX, that allow him to slow down the action, zoom in or speed things up. These abilities come in quite handy, but Joe has to be careful not to get hit too many times, or he transforms back into his regular Joe guise.
These unique play mechanics are essential to the game, since you won't get far without them. They also allow you to fight the enemies more effectively, since a large portion of the strategy involves ducking out of the way of enemy attacks to avoid damage. This is especially true when multiple foes attack simultaneously. While the action generally takes place on the 2D plane, there are some 3D areas, though the game's innovative enough to work this into its system seamlessly. During each level, Joe can pick up a variety of power-ups including food and power restoration by collecting icons, or by defeating enemies. Joe will also collect V-points, which he can use to buy additional power-ups after he completes each level. When Joe's in superhero form, he has to keep an eye on the V-Guage. It drains as he performs special moves, and when it empties, he reverts back to human form. When he's in human form, the guage automatically powers up and he can also collect V-films to restore this power. Performing special moves also releases V-Marks and medals, which can be used to buy additional power-ups.
Viewtiful Joe's level designs are straightforward, with the action unfolding at a decent pace. It unfolds in linear fashion. The game is easy to understand and play, which is a nice change of pace that, allows you to focus on the action, not the map. As in traditional platformers, there's a lot of jumping from one area to the next, but there are also a surprising number of puzzles and mini-games that add depth and help break up the action. During the game, Joe will face off against several distinct types of enemies. the enemies before he can move forward, grabbing as many power-up icons as he can along the way. The standard foes include the mindless drone Bianky's, and flying foes called Verdy. Each of these has a unique attack pattern that Joe can counter in a number of ways. For example, Joe can slow down the action while the Ballet Biankys are spinning, which leaves them vulnerable to his punch or kick attacks. Joe can battle these using either his kick, jump or punch attacks which are easy to perform. In most areas, he needs to clear out all the enemies before he can move forward.
Once you've connected with a power-move in VFX mode, they are dazed for a short time at which point you can attack them with a combo move. In addition to these standard foes, Joe will also face an array of sinister bosses including a Gunslinging cowboy, a flying bat named Charles the Third, Helicopters which flood the area with Biankys and more deranged foes. When you encounter these bosses, you'll have to switch to a more defensive defensive. This is where Viewtiful Joe's innovative gaming system really shines. In order to defeat a lot of these bosses, you have to use your VFX moves to punch fast moving shots, which makes them reverse course and damage them. This system is cool because it takes the clichéd bullet time and makes it an intergral part of the game, not just a cheap gimmick. The hardest part of the game is to figure out these Boss characters' weak points and then counter them effectively. Sometimes, you are given a quick warning icon that allows you to use the VFX, but not always. While the gameplay is relatively simple at the early stages, Viewtiful Joe becomes progressive more difficult as you move on. It's later levels walk the border between difficult and seemingly impossible. This makes it easy to get frustrated, but the rewarding gameplay offers plenty of satisfaction for your efforts.
The controls and interface are well-done and most players should have little problem understanding the basic mechanics. Since you automatically switch between regular guy and superhero modes, it allows you to concentrate on the action, further simplifying the controls. Fighting your opponents in the special modes is a little disconcerting at first, since the screen blurs and your reaction time is delayed a bit, but once you get accustomed to these features, the gameplay begins to shine. While it could have been a flashy distraction, Viewtiful Joe implements the special modes effectively, and players only need to press a single button to enter these modes. As far as overall feel goes, the game definitely has an old-school flavor, and veterans will love the tight, responsive controls. However, the VFX modes definitely make for an interesting twist that keeps things from becoming too nostalgic.
Viewtiful Joe's unique graphic approach definitely evokes classic side-scrollers in spirit, but Capcom has taken many of the genre conventions and turned them on their heads. The elaborate design and street inspired hip-hop aesthetics of VJ are really cool, with a sharp look highlighted by thick black lines. The overall appearance to the characters is creative and innovative and this stylish approach makes it one of the funkiest games to come out since Jet Set Radio. While the technique has been overused, Viewtiful Joe's cel-shaded graphics actually add to the experience. Instead of coming across as a gimmick, Capcom has used cel-shaded visuals effectively throughout. This lends the game an exaggerated comic book feel that fits the storyline perfectly. Most of the game takes place in 2D, with objects that appear to be cutouts. However, the perspective switches to psuedo-3D at certain points. For example, the game switches to an angled perspective when you jump very high up, this is a stylish approach that enhances the comic style presentation. There are also some cool special effects, such as blurring and object shadows that make the VX sequences far more dramatic while still being easy to understand. Additionally, when Joe transforms back to his regular guy mode, the screen takes on the appearance of old film stock, complete with scratches and runs. Making this even better is the funky soundtrack and voice-overs which are top notch and definitely add to the experience. Overall, the production values are highly polished with silky smooth character animations and fluid movements throughout that make for a distinctive game with a refreshing approach..
Despite the cool graphics approach and innovative play mechanics, Viewtiful Joe's biggest problem lies in it's difficulty. It goes from very hard to near impossible as you play through the levels. While the standard enemies can be dispatched with relative ease, fighting the boss characters can be quite difficult. This can make for an extremely frustrating experience that can leave you stuck on a difficult level for quite some time. It's especially annoying because the game sends you back to the beginning of the level when you die, which quickly becomes tedious. However, if you have the persistence and patience for it, Viewtiful Joe can be quite a rewarding and satisfying experience. Even though less-committed players will probably give up on it, if you have the persistence, you'll definitely find a lot to enjoy in the game's innovative VFX modes, stylish graphics and solid gameplay. It's a fantastic game, but it's off-beat approach and difficulty make this a niche title that is probably not going to get the mainstream audience it deserves. Capcom deserves a lot of praise for trying something unique and different. While Viewtiful Joe isn't flawless, has more than enough spirit and sass to make for something adventurous Gamecube owners should seek out.