Viewtiful Joe Review
Viewtiful Joe deftly delivers a fantastic cel-shaded look while also adding a really great series of unique gameplay twists that make it much, much better than the average side-scrolling action game.
Originally released on the GameCube last October, Viewtiful Joe is now making its way to the PlayStation 2. It may not seem immediately obvious, but the action genre has been getting a slow makeover for the past few years. Prior to Viewtiful Joe, the evidence was Capcom's own Devil May Cry, which really demonstrated how to put together an action game with a sense of flair that moves beyond simple visual and character design and also makes an impact on how you play the game. Since that release, Capcom and other developers have tried to recapture that sort of fast-paced, stylish gameplay with mixed results, usually falling into the trap of looking cool at the expense of good gameplay. Viewtiful Joe deftly delivers a fantastic cel-shaded look while also adding a really great series of unique gameplay twists that make it much, much better than the average side-scroller.
The game's story only pops up briefly between episodes, but it's conveyed fairly effectively. Joe is a fan of old, Japanese-style superhero films starring Captain Blue, a costumed action fighter that calls to mind other Japanese hero stories, like Kamen Rider, Ultraman, or the Power Rangers. One day, while Joe and his girlfriend, Silvia, are watching one of the old Captain Blue features on the big screen, the screen comes alive, and Silvia is kidnapped by one of the movie's monsters and taken inside the screen. Joe, of course, gives chase, enters Movie Land, and is coached by Captain Blue to become a hero himself. He'll proceed to dodge, punch, and kick his way through droves of weird enemies and plenty of tough bosses.
Of course, a superhero wouldn't be anything without special powers. And without Viewtiful Joe's special powers, the game would be a pretty plain 2D beat-'em-up. Joe's powers are all thematically similar, giving him command over the movie-based world he's fighting his way through. Joe earns his powers gradually. The first power is the ability to drop everything into slow motion, and it's probably the most useful power in the game. Holding L1 activates the power, and its most important feature is that Joe's punches and kicks do more damage when he's in slow motion. But it also has a lot of puzzle-oriented uses, too. The propellers that hold up the game's hovering platforms will fall to the ground when slow is activated, since the props won't spin fast enough to keep the moving platforms in the air. This also comes in handy pretty early on, when the game puts you up against a giant attack helicopter, whose machine-gun fire can be deflected back at the thing when time is slowed down. You'll also use this ability to slow the reels of a slot machine and to avoid incoming numerous projectile attacks.
The second power you acquire is the opposite of slow. Mach speed kicks everything into high gear, letting you unleash such a fast and fanatical string of attacks that Joe will heat up and burst into flames--which is handy for, say, lighting the fuses on any nearby bombs you might encounter. Mach speed is also great for getting away from incoming attacks, and just as slow will lower any propeller-based platforms, speeding things up will cause them to rise.
The third and final superpower you'll earn is slightly more esoteric than the others, but it's definitely useful. Zoom gives you a close-up of Joe in action, and the resulting screen time can cause lesser enemies to freeze in their tracks. Zooming also increases your damage and gives you access to a few different attacks.
All three of Joe's unique powers drain your VFX meter, which automatically replenishes when you aren't using any powers. At the start of each of the game's worlds, you'll have a relatively short meter. But collectible items strewn about the levels let you increase the length of your VFX bar. If you drain the meter completely by overusing any of your powers, Viewtiful Joe will lose his superhero suit and just become regular old Joe. With that loss, you'll also lose the ability to double-jump and use any of the VFX powers until the meter crosses its original threshold, at which point you'll automatically become Viewtiful again.