Viewtiful Joe Preview

We check out Capcom's stylish GameCube game.

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Viewtiful Joe has slowly become one of the most promising original titles in the upcoming GameCube lineup since Capcom announced the game in November 2002. This side-scrolling action game has garnered quite a bit of attention to date, thanks to its stylish presentation and retro gameplay, and we recently had a chance to get a look at the Japanese version of the game to see how it's coming together. Featuring polished graphics and surprisingly involved gameplay, Viewtiful Joe is shaping up to be tasty offering that should please GameCube owners eager for a quality title.

The late, great Captain Blue needs your help.
The late, great Captain Blue needs your help.

For those unfamiliar with the game's premise, Viewtiful Joe follows the surreal adventures of Joe, a young man who bears a passing resemblance to Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. When the game opens, we find Joe attending a screening of a sci-fi classic starring his hero, Captain Blue, with an amorous lady friend named Sylvia. Sadly, Joe's film-geek tendencies keep him oblivious to Sylvia's advances and focused on the film, which takes a surreal turn when Sylvia is pulled into the screen by the movie's villain. Before he can process all the weirdness, Joe is nabbed by a mech and tossed into the movie screen as well. After gathering his wits, Joe is asked by the ghost of the recently defeated Captain Blue to fill his shoes as an action hero. Joe, anxious to get Sylvia back and awestruck at meeting his idol, agrees and heads into the movie set, intent on becoming a hero. The story is told via real-time cutscenes that make good use of the game's unique art style.

The basic structure of the game is pretty straightforward. You'll simply have to make your way through various stages based on different movie sets and defeat assorted enemies and bosses on your way to the final showdown with the villain who nabbed Sylvia. Each level will be broken down into smaller segments that will require you to clear a certain number of enemies before moving on. When you clear a segment, you'll be graded on your performance and awarded coins based on your grade, and you'll also hear the cheers or boos of your audience. The gameplay mechanics are a surprisingly deep mix of traditional side-scrolling beat-'em-up action and puzzle solving. The combat is simple and accessible, thanks to a straightforward three-button setup. You have a punch, a kick, and a jump, and they'll yield different combos when mixed. When taking on foes, you'll be clued in to incoming attacks by an onscreen icon that will give you the opportunity to avoid them. The core mechanics are expanded on as you progress through the game, thanks to the ghost of Captain Blue. Your ghostly hero is eager to lend a hand and pops up to grant you "visual effects" powers that will be essential to getting through the game.

Joe and Sylvia in happier times.
Joe and Sylvia in happier times.

You'll eventually earn a total of three visual-effects powers on your adventure: slow, mach speed, and zoom. Each of the effects will have two main uses in the game. During combat, slow will let you get the drop on enemies, perform combos, and reflect bullets fired at you; mach speed will let you unleash a flurry of attacks against your foes before they know what hit them; and zoom will let you perform a ground attack that rattles any nearby enemies. Outside of combat, the effects become integral components of solving puzzles. Slow will cause flying platforms and enemies to drop to the ground, turn water droplets into a bowling-ball-sized drop, and increase the effects of counterattacks against foes. Mach speed will let you move quickly, and it will also cover you in flames that you can use to light objects on fire when you attack. Zoom will enhance your moves and let you trigger switches. The catch to the visual-effects moves is that they draw from a finite meter. Fortunately, you'll be able to increase the size of your meter by collecting the film canisters strewn through the levels. Your meter will grow slightly every 50 canisters. Besides the Captain Blue-granted visual-effects moves, you'll be able to purchase new moves once you get further into the game. You'll earn currency by destroying objects and defeating enemies, and you'll be able to increase the number of coins you earn for defeating enemies by performing combos.

The graphics in Viewtiful Joe are very much in step with its deceptively simple gameplay. At first glance, Viewtiful Joe may look like yet another cel-shaded game. However, the game's art style and presentation feature an impressive layer of polish that complements the gameplay and tone perfectly. The environments feature a stylized design that blends 2D and 3D elements to present a very surreal experience, and the game's combination of detailed art and dynamic camera angles create a very cool world to adventure in. Both of Joe's character models are detailed, although his "Viewtiful" incarnation is the more fetching of the two, thanks a few extra flourishes like his heroic scarf, which bends and twists according to his smoothly animated motions. The assorted foes you'll face are a motley gathering of weirdos with unique attacks that give them distinct personalities. Speaking of personality, you'll find that the bosses in the game have it in spades, thanks to some zany design and over-the-top voice acting. One of the key elements of the game's visuals is the great use of little touches to enhance the action. For example, you'll see speed lines and motion-blur effects when Joe uses the various visual-effects powers. One of the coolest touches is the use of a filter that gives the game the grainy look of an old movie when you're playing as regular Joe. Once you power up to your Viewtiful incarnation, the graphics clean up instantly.

Joe does the hero thing. Pink scarves are heroic, right?
Joe does the hero thing. Pink scarves are heroic, right?

The audio in Viewtiful Joe is shaping up nicely. The character voices, tunes, and sound effects are all consistent and do a fine job of giving life to the game's world. The voice acting, which is already in English, nails the game's over-the-top tone and goes a long way toward selling the characters. The music in the game is catchy collection of tunes that suit the action. The various sound effects complement the look and feel of the game--especially the satisfying collision sounds, which provide even more incentive to pull off combos.

If you're quick, you'll be able to dodge enemy attacks.
If you're quick, you'll be able to dodge enemy attacks.

Based on what we've played so far, Viewtiful Joe is turning out to be a pretty satisfying game. The graphics are impressive, and the gameplay is turning out to be deeper than we expected. We're curious to see how long the game is and if it manages to sustain its charm all the way through. Viewtiful Joe is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube in the US. The import version of the game is due out this week in Japan. Keep an eye out for more on the game soon.

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