Thanks to the success of the original Viewtiful Joe on the GameCube, the wannabe movie star's video game acting career has lasted longer than perhaps anyone could have imagined. Joe and his pals have appeared on multiple consoles, over multiple games, the latest of which is a PSP port of Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble, which originally appeared in November of last year on the GameCube. We recently spent some time with the handheld game to see how far Joe's acting chops (and VFX powers) have evolved in this latest superpowered incarnation of the series.
If you never played the original game, a quick plot recap of the game's main story mode is in order. Former superhero and now full-time action-movie director Captain Blue is once again trying to put together a string of hit action movies. The only problem is, everyone--including Joe--wants a starring role in the productions. In order to cast his lead, Blue sets the many selectable characters in the game against one another in a series of competitions to find out who deserves to star in each film.
These one-on-one battles manifest themselves as a series of madcap minigames that usually has you competing directly against another computer-controlled opponent. As you progress through each movie, the scenery and setting changes and, therefore, so too will the goals you'll need to accomplish in order to win. These goals are all over the map--from collecting more diamonds than your opponent in a set amount of time, to taking down more enemies, to seeing who can deal more damage in a boss battle--each scene has a novel way of deciding who the victor is. In addition, for each set, you'll have overarching goals you'll want to accomplish. One set might require you simply to stay ahead of your opponent on points, while another might ask you to not only win the competition, but earn a set number of "V" points while you're at it. The scene settings themselves are similarly varied--from leaping between mid-air girders, to dealing beatdowns to ancient Incan gods, and battling it out on the wings of a bi-plane, you can expect the settings in Red Hot Rumble to pack plenty of diversity as the game progresses.
Adding more complexity to these one-on-one face-offs is the fact that you can interact with your opponent--give him or her a smack or two to ensure they stay down while you gain an advantage, or work together to take down a boss (just make sure you're doing more damage than the other guy). That balance between working together and against one another adds to the already manic pace of the battles and, even if it's not always clear just what's happening onscreen, it's definitely not boring to look at.
Controls in the game are easy enough to pick up. You move with the directional pad or analog stick and jump with the X button. Attacks are controlled by the square, circle, and triangle buttons, with the latter two setting off your character-specific special attacks.
It wouldn't be a Viewtiful Joe game without cool VFX powers, of course, and Red Hot Rumble for the PSP doesn't skimp here at all. VFX powers are initiated by pressing either the left or right triggers, and in addition to your standard slow power, which slows down time to Matrix-like speeds, Joe also has powers such as machspeed, which briefly turns you into a fiery ball of destruction; zoom, which drastically increases your size and power; sound effect, which literally hurls huge slabs of destructive sounds at foes; and a supremely strange power that teleports you and your foe to another dimension where both compete in superbrief button-mashing minigames that are seemingly over before they begin. As you might expect, using the correct VFX power at the right moment is the key to defeating certain enemies. For example, one battle has you taking on a whirling tornado which is seemingly invulnerable against your standard attacks--engage your VFX slow power, however, and you'll be able to slip between the swirling vortex and take out the bad guys.
Captain Blue, Joe, and Silvia are all part of Red Hot Rumble, but they are far from the only characters found in the game. Other playable heroes include Blade Master Alastor, the yo-yo wielding Captain Blue Jr., sexy Sprocket, Emperor Jet Black and his cool-looking katana, and some guy named Dante who fancies himself a devil hunter. (Yes, Devil May Cry fans, we're talking about that Dante.) While each character has their own set of moves, it seems like the story mode is solely concerned with Joe, regardless of whom you choose to control in the actual minigames. Perhaps that makes sense--it is a Viewtiful Joe game, after all--but it can be an oddly jarring transition when making your way through the story mode.
Other modes in the Red Hot Rumble include trial mode, a series of unconnected minigames featuring VJ characters; a versus mode to go up against CPU-controlled opponents in no-holds-barred battles; and a network mode to take on up to three friends via the PSP's wireless ad-hoc connection.
If the idea of Super Smash Bros.-type action set in the VJ world is appealing to you, that's exactly what you'll be getting with Red Hot Rumble for the PSP. The game's familiar cartoon look, humorous voice-over work, and unrelenting pace seem to translate well to the Sony handheld, but we'll have our final word on the game in our full review after the game ships in late March.