Capcom has shown that it is fully capable of delivering fast and fun 2D fighters on the PSP. Dark Stalkers Chronicle and Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX are the best fighting games currently available on the PSP, but as if that weren't enough, Capcom has brought yet another fighting game to Sony's handheld. Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble is a port of the GameCube title of the same name, with a few added goodies that are exclusive to the PSP. These bonuses are nice, but this version of the game still suffers from the same problems as the console version. The Viewtiful Joe style and attitude are here in spades, but unfortunately the battles just feel sloppy and unsatisfying. There are some great singular mechanics in play, but they're all just tossed together in a mess of flashy effects and shallow gameplay.
The story in Red Hot Rumble is pretty straightforward. Captain Blue has retired from being a superhero and has decided to direct a movie. He's having a problem casting the lead role, though, so along with his sexy but otherwise uninteresting assistant, Sprocket, Captain Blue hatches a plan to hold an audition in the form of a series of all-out brawls. The toughest and most stylish will certainly win, and he or she will be cast as the lead in the movie. Just about everyone from the two Viewtiful Joe games shows up for their chance at the glitz and glamour of becoming a big-time movie star. So you end up fighting battle after battle against an array of quirky characters on a variety of movie sets, with themes ranging from a Western town to Atlantis. Each scene is divided into several battles against at least one other opponent.
Each battle in Red Hot Rumble has a specific objective that you have to complete in order to win. You might have to destroy as many enemies as possible, be the last one standing, defeat a boss character, collect gems, or even shoot down a comet by attacking certain switches within the level. By completing these objectives and performing better than your opponent, you'll earn coins. The coins are used as a gauge of how well you are performing in the audition. You'll collect coins by completing objectives, but you can also just pick them up as you play because they're everywhere. You can also beat up your opponents and steal their coins.
You have several different moves and special abilities at your disposal, and the moves differ quite a bit depending on which character you're using. There are well more than 20 characters in the game when you include each character's alternate forms and costumes, although most of them are locked when you start playing. There are familiar characters like Joe, Sylvia, Hulk Davidson, and Gran Bruce, as well as new characters like Android Rachel and Sprocket. There are also some exclusive characters that you'll only find in the PSP version of the game, the most notable of whom is Dante, of Devil May Cry fame. Unfortunately, the characters aren't very well balanced, because some characters have weak attacks and can't move very fast or jump very high, while others have super-powerful attacks and can fly around the screen with ease. Sometimes you'll feel completely limited in battle simply because your character just can't keep up. It doesn't always matter though, because even if you're a terrible fighter, you can just run around collecting coins and you'll probably end up winning the battle on coins alone, regardless of whether or not you even tried to complete the objective.
To its credit, the game does have some stipulations that prevent you from simply grabbing coins in every battle. For example, you might have to win two battles, or get knocked down no more than two times. If you fail to meet those conditions, you lose instantly and have to start the scene over again. It's kind of a cheap way to compel you to play carefully, but it works.
The controls are fairly simple in Red Hot Rumble. By default, you can move around using the D pad or the analog stick, jump (and double-jump) using the X button, perform a regular attack with square, and a special attack with triangle or circle. You can also use VFX powers with the L or R buttons. You can modify your attacks by pressing the control stick in any direction. If you hold down and attack you'll do a slide, and if you hold up and attack you'll do an uppercut. The special attacks are more powerful, and they're unique to each character. Joe can do a red hot dragon punch, Sylvia can do a triple shot, and Captain Blue can summon blue thunder. Each character has several special moves, and you'll usually rely much more on your special moves than on your basic ones. As you fight and when you kill enemies, VFX orbs will appear randomly. You can collect these orbs to use VFX powers. There are four powers you can get: slow, which slows down everyone but you and makes you invincible; mach speed, which lights you on fire and lets you fly around the screen; sound effects, which let you materialize a sound effect and throw it at your enemies; and zoom, which makes you about five times larger than usual so you can pretty much beat the crap out of everything on the screen.
While the VFX powers are useful sometimes, they aren't as fun to use here as they are in the other Viewtiful Joe games, because the game just isn't designed to make you want to use or need the powers. In fact, the powers can be annoying at times because they make the already chaotic battles even more frantic and confusing. The biggest problem with this game is that you spend way too much time not knowing what the hell is going on. You'll have up to four players onscreen, plus half a dozen or more enemies, plus all the VFX orbs and health pickups, plus about a million coins, explosions, projectiles, and special effects blasting your senses all at the same time. It's especially problematic in four-player ad hoc battles, because the camera is pulled out to accommodate all the characters, and from so far away it's nearly impossible to see what you're doing.
There are occasional breaks in the chaos in the form of VFX battles. As you fight, orbs will pop up all over the place, and if you get a super-VFX orb, you can use it to initiate a VFX battle, which is a sort of battle within the battle where you compete in simple minigames to steal coins from your opponents. Of course, you can have your coins stolen as well, so VFX battles aren't necessarily a good thing. There are five types of minigames, and they're all extremely simple. There's one where you have to mash buttons as fast as possible to fill up a gauge; one where you have to rotate the analog stick as fast as possible; and a couple of timing games where you have to simply hit a button at the right moment. These battles can really turn the tide of a match, but the VFX battles require very little skill and they just aren't that interesting once you've seen all of the minigames.
Red Hot Rumble does support up to four players for ad hoc battles, but the multiplayer battles are pretty much the same as the single-player battles, just with a couple of extra characters to confuse the situation even more. You can play any of the battles from single-player story mode in battle mode. There are more than 20 stages in all, and even though there's decent thematic variety, you'll pretty much get the exact same experience of the single-player story when you play in multiplayer. Another problem arises in multiplayer because a lot of the characters in the game look very similar, so when you have four characters onscreen at once and they're all wearing helmets and spandex, it's really easy to get mixed up. The best part about multiplayer is that Red Hot Rumble on the PSP has a game-sharing mode where you can enjoy two-player battles with only one copy of the game.
Also in the PSP version is Trial Mode, in which you can take on a variety of challenges to try to meet objectives and beat your records. The trials are usually brief, objective based battles that have you killing as many enemies as possible in a set amount of time, scrambling to collect a certain number of coins, collecting falling hearts, or racing to the top of a large building as pianos and flower pots fall from above. The trials are slightly more focused than the story battles, but for the most part the action is the same
The sheer amount of stuff onscreen at any given time is impressive though, especially because the frame rate remains perfectly steady throughout. Aside from that, the graphics here have the same great 2D style that makes the Viewtiful Joe series so distinct. There are plenty of bright, colorful effects, and all of the character animations are top-notch. Some of the level designs are a bit bland and several are taken directly from previous Viewtiful Joe games, but you won't have much time to be checking out the scenery during battle. You'd think the chaos would be exacerbated by the smaller screen of the PSP, but this actually isn't the case. It is still difficult to discern what is happening at times, but no more so than on the GameCube version.
The game sounds very familiar as well. You'll hear all the upbeat music to keep you moving along at a brisk pace. But aside from the opening movie theme, there aren't any standout tracks. Nevertheless, the music is well done and fits the game perfectly. The voice work is just as campy as previous Viewtiful Joe games, but the voices lend a lot of personality to characters that otherwise might not be very interesting. You will hear a lot of the same battle cries though, which can get annoying after awhile, but eventually you'll learn to just tune it out. Still, a few less shouts of "Red Hot!" coming from Joe would be nice.
Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble is just a bit too crazy for its own good. It packs in all the style of the Viewtiful Joe games, which is great, but there just isn't enough room on the screen to contain the action. The gameplay is a mess of bright colors and unsatisfying button mashing. Its heart is in the right place, but the game lacks focus and feels disorganized. Viewtiful Joe fans will appreciate all the characters and the game's look and feel, but as a fighting game, Red Hot Rumble just isn't very satisfying.