Viewtiful Joe 2 is the upcoming follow-up to Capcom's awesome original GameCube adventure from last year. The original game provided GameCube owners with an inventive new experience that blended impressive cel-shaded visuals with surprisingly fresh gameplay. While basically a 2D side-scroller, the game's fresh approach breathed new life into that well-worn genre.
For the sequel, Capcom's Clover Studio is aiming to refine its winning formula with the addition of new gameplay elements. We've had the opportunity to get brief looks at the upcoming game over the past few months, but we haven't had an in-depth look at the second installment in the promising series. Fortunately, we recently had the opportunity to check out a new work-in-progress version of the game that let us get in a hefty chunk of time with Joe's latest adventure, which is poised for a release next month on the GameCube and PlayStation 2.
Viewtiful Joe 2's story sticks pretty closely to the hallmarks of any proper action game sequel. The happy ending of the original game doesn't last too long, as Joe is tapped to save the day yet again when even bigger trouble starts to brew. While Joe's original adventure sent him on a swashbuckling quest through Captain Blue's Movieland to save his ladylove Sylvia, Viewtiful Joe 2's story raises the stakes even higher. This time out, Joe must face and defeat the evil Black Emperor, a new villain whose plans are nothing less than world domination (it's good to see he's aiming big). In order to deal with this new threat, Joe must venture through Movieworld, a considerably bigger place with appropriately bigger threats.
Now while this may sound daunting, and it is, Joe is not going at it alone this time. Anxious not to join the ranks of famous kidnap victims such as Mario's Princess Peach and The Legend of Zelda's Zelda, Sylvia has gotten her hands on a V-watch. The specifics of how this happens are a little vague. Depending on who tells it, she either begged Captain Blue for one or she threatened the hero until he coughed one up. At any rate, Sylvia is on board for the adventure with her own supersuit complete with pom-poms. As if Sylvia wasn't enough help, Joe will be assisted by his dear old dad, Jet Black, movie theater owner and projector technician extraordinaire, who will aid the pair from the other side of the silver screen.
In terms of structure, not much has changed from the original game. You're still going from one movie-themed stage to the next, battling enemies and solving puzzles by using your VFX powers. For those unfamiliar with the VFX powers, you'll have access to a total of four: slow, mach speed, zoom, and the all-new replay. Slow does just what you'd expect--it slows down everything around you a la bullet time; mach speed does just the opposite and lets you move like lightning; zoom brings the camera in close as you perform stylish moves that leave your enemies spellbound; and replay is the newcomer to the mix, letting you record an action and perform it three times in rapid succession.
Timing is everything when using replay--if you get the timing right, it lets you do three times the damage during an attack, or it lets you earn three times the health if you trigger it while having a snack. The flow of the game will be given some variety, thanks to levels where you'll use the Six Machine, the pair's trusty vehicle, to get around. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to earn new moves for Joe and Sylvia as well as upgrade their abilities by visiting a shop in between levels and cashing in the coins you earn.
Not Just Another Sequel
Before you think Viewtiful Joe 2 is offering the same experience as its predecessor, you should know that there are some key new additions to the gameplay. First and foremost is the "viewtiful touch," a fancy way of saying "on-the-fly character swap." Over the course of your adventure, you'll be able to swap between Joe and Sylvia whenever you like. Early versions of the game we played let us choose which character to play as, and now the game has been tightened up to highlight that feature. Swapping characters is now a vital part of going through areas, as Joe and Sylvia now have unique sets of VFX powers. Joe will have the original three powers from the first game: slow, mach speed, and zoom, while Sylvia will have slow, mach speed, and replay. In order to solve the many puzzles in the game you'll have to use the pair's abilities at the proper time. The other major difference from the original game is the addition of the Six Machine, as it offers more variety.
The gameplay in Viewtiful Joe 2 is an addictive mix of simple mechanics and a healthy degree of challenge. The core fighting mechanics, coupled with the tried-and-true VFX powers that let you alter time and your environment on the fly, are very user-friendly. You'll find that stringing together long combos against enemies or turning the tables on bosses is basically easy to do once you figure out how. The puzzles in the game will keep you on your toes, as you'll not only have to make sure you're using the right character, but also the right combination of powers. One thing that you'll notice pretty quickly about Viewtiful Joe 2 is that the game requires you to do a great deal more multitasking with the VFX powers. Whether it's using slow to keep things around you moving at a crawl, or engaging mach speed to get Joe though spinning fans, or using Sylvia's replay power to trigger a switch, the powers are cool and intense.
As far as its presentation goes, Viewtiful Joe 2 is looking as solid as its predecessor. The graphics aren't seeing a quantum leap over the original game, although what we've seen so far does show off more of a refinement. Joe and Sylvia look sharp and suitably heroic. Each character has distinguishing elements, like Joe's not-so-manly scarf and Sylvia's pom-poms, and they are nicely done and complemented by unique animation. Their enemies are equally well done and feature the same wacky design as the troublemakers you encountered in the previous game. The environments are good, and they draw from a broader range of movies for inspiration, which translates into a greater variety of locales.
While there isn't a massive upgrade to the graphical quality, Clover appears to be getting more bang for its buck because of its richer visuals. You'll see more little touches crammed into the levels, such as particle effects and moving objects. The scope of the levels feels bigger as there are more open areas. The game looks and runs roughly the same on both the GameCube and PlayStation 2, although the GC has the edge with its cleaner visuals and faster loading. At the moment, both platforms have small patches of frame rate inconsistencies, but it's not that noticeable.
While it doesn't push the sound capabilities of either platform to the limit, the audio in Viewtiful Joe 2 is still shaping up very well. It's on par with that in the original game, with its peppy overemoted voices, catchy tunes, and dramatic sound effects to sell the whole experience. Truth be told, we don't see how the audio could be a better complement to the visuals and gameplay.
Based on what we've played so far, Viewtiful Joe 2 is looking extremely promising. The tweaking Clover has done to the Viewtiful Joe formula is feeling good. The game appears to retain the appeal and accessibility of its predecessor while adding in some very cool new elements. Whether you own a GameCube or a PlayStation, you'll want to keep an eye out for Viewtiful Joe 2 when it ships next month.