Viewtiful Joe 2 will be, as the name implies, the sequel to Capcom's 2003 GameCube action game that was packed with challenging brawling action. Though the game used cel-shaded 3D graphics to great effect (the story focused on a monster movie fan that got sucked into one of his favorite films, after all), it played like a traditional 2D side-scrolling game. The hero of the game, Viewtiful Joe, fought against a weird army of monsters and robots armed with a series of super powers, like slowing and speeding up time and zooming the camera in on himself, in order to save his girlfriend Sylvia. Now Sylvia (who was an unlockable character in the first game) and Joe are back in the sequel, and we've got the details.
Like the original game, Viewtiful Joe 2 is a side-scrolling action game that requires you to alternately beat the living daylights out of your bizarre enemies, and to use your special powers over the world of movies to solve various puzzles that block your way. In the early version of the game we played, Silvia and Joe handle pretty similarly--they're about as fast as each other and about as effective in hand-to-hand fighting. Both characters' powers are still limited by the "Viewtiful FX" (VFX) meter that, when depleted, make Viewtiful Joe and Viewtiful Sylvia change back into plain old Joe and Sylvia. However, while Joe still uses punches and kicks in battle, Sylvia prefers her ray gun over throwing punches and she can actually deliver damage to her enemies from a distance. Interestingly, this is a pretty viable tactic, especially when used with the duo's first VFX power, slow, which causes enemies and the environment to slow down--and Sylvia's ray gun blasts balloon in size to become more damaging.
In the early version we played, Joe and Sylvia fight their way through a dinosaur-filled lava area by dodging flying volcanic boulders and beating down a whole pack of those weird skeleton-faced robots that appeared in the first game. As you might expect, some of the robots have new tricks, like wearing tribal masks and shields that they can use to block your attacks until they make themselves vulnerable. Like with the first game, many of your enemies will still signal their attacks (either high or low) with a glowing pink skull icon, and if you can successfully jump over or duck under these attacks, your enemies will be briefly stunned and will let you follow up with a devastating combination attack that makes all enemies onscreen vulnerable.
The early levels in the sequel seem to have more wide-open spaces (rather than the closed-off rooms and corridors of the first game), so you need to be a bit more creative if you want to pull off long strings of punches and kicks, which still earn extra "viewtiful" points when you string together a stylish-looking barrage of attacks. Fortunately, at least in the early version of the game we played, Joe and Sylvia both begin with their midair diving kicks (performed by jumping, then pressing down on the control pad and the kick button) and sliding kicks (performed by pressing down on the control pad and the kick button).
Like with the first game, Joe and Sylvia will also eventually learn the "hyper FX" ability (which speeds up time and makes environmental fixtures, like fans and turbines, move faster), along with the all-new "replay" ability, which conjures up a huge, superimposed "REC" sign onscreen to signify that Joe's or Sylvia's attacks are being "recorded." Successfully recording a good kick will let either character deal as much as triple damage in a single strike. You'll also use the replay ability to solve certain puzzles, like a locked door that must be hit three times in rapid succession. Other puzzles in the game, like those in the first game, challenge you to use your powers creatively, often in combination. One puzzle requires you to slow time long enough to float a huge plug into a huge overhanging socket, then use a continuous run of hyper FX in a turbine (much like a hamster in a wheel) to supply power to the locked door in front of you.
And like in the original game, Joe and Sylvia will face powerful boss enemies that will require specific strategies, along with well-placed combination attacks, to defeat. The first such boss is a huge drilling machine, piloted by one of the game's ubiquitous white robots, which leaps up from the ground under Joe or Silvia and periodically spits out a small throng of more robots. The secret to destroying this boss is to pull off massive combination attacks against these roving robots (similar to the Black Hawk helicopter bosses in the first game that also unloaded robots on you)--doing so rapidly depletes your enemy's health meter until it's destroyed.
Viewtiful Joe 2 seems like it should offer more of the highly challenging gameplay and colorfully stylish graphics that the first game did. And if the early versions of the game we played are any indication, you won't see much difference in the performance or the graphics between either version. Both the PS2 and GameCube versions of the game seem colorful and appear to move briskly, though the PS2 version seems to have longer load times. Then again, the game is still a ways off from release. And while this may not be in the final game, the early versions we played started Joe and Sylvia out with a whopping 10 "hearts'" worth of health (Joe and Sylvia lose a filled "heart" each time they're hit), twice as much as what they started with in the original game. Even if the final game does start Joe and Sylvia out with that much health, they'll most likely need it to conquer the game's tougher enemies and puzzles that they will encounter later on. Viewtiful Joe 2 is scheduled for release in November on the GameCube and on the PlayStation 2.