Cheesy dialogue and happy endings are in trouble once again, and who better to come to the rescue than that high-flying cinematic hero, Viewtiful Joe? A few months ago, Capcom brought its wildly innovative side-scrolling platformer of the same name, formerly a GameCube exclusive, to the PlayStation 2. This year, the aptly titled Viewtiful Joe 2 has popped up on Sony's machine only two weeks after it debuted on the GC, and it delivers more, more, more of what made the first game superb--but it's so similar to its predecessor, it's inherently less inventive. That only slightly diminishes its entertainment value, though, since it's still a far sight more unique than most of the games available on the PlayStation 2 (or any platform, really). Overall, a few additions to an already proven formula make Viewtiful Joe 2 another great and quirky action game.
If you played the first Viewtiful Joe, you'll feel immediately at home in its sequel, but newcomers will find that this is a side-scroller with some truly novel and pleasing tricks up its sleeve. Joe and his girlfriend Silvia once again find themselves inside the world of the cinema, this time in a place called Movieworld. They'll be fighting against the malevolent Black Emperor and a bizarre menagerie of enemies (many of whom are similar to those from the first game) as they attempt to recover a smattering of rainbow-colored Oscar statuettes.
Of course, this is all just an excuse to send you traipsing through a multitude of levels patterned loosely after big hits from movie history--everything from Jurassic Park to Indiana Jones and even Japanese samurai films is represented here. The game is referential without really being derivative, putting its own slightly nutty spin on all this source material and establishing a very unique sense of style in the process.
As an action-movie star, Joe has the standard array of punches, kicks, uppercuts, and sweeps, not to mention the requisite double jump. What really set him apart from the average video game hero are his VFX powers, which allow him to speed up and slow down time, as well as bring the camera in for a close-up so he can perform much flashier (and more-powerful) attacks. Your VFX ability is limited by a meter that runs down quickly as you use your powers, though it fills back up just as quickly.
As in the first game, the purpose of the VFX powers is twofold. First, they make it a lot easier to take out enemies, dodge incoming attacks, and so on, which is important in itself, since the game tends to throw a ton of foes at you at once. Second, every level is full of mind-bending puzzles that you'll have to solve with your powers to progress. Curiously, Joe hasn't received any new powers in this sequel--he'll rely entirely on his existing three--but he's still just as much fun to play as he was in the first game.
Rather, the honor of a new VFX ability falls to the game's second playable character. Last time around, you played solely as Joe throughout the entire game, but this time a "viewtiful touch" feature has been added. As inexplicable as it sounds, the viewtiful touch allows you to switch between Joe and his girlfriend Silvia at the touch of a button (maybe that's where they got the name). Silvia plays a little differently than Joe, since she moves a lot quicker and comes armed with a laser pistol (which can later be dual-wielded, John Woo style) rather than a punch. She has the slow-down and zoom-in powers that Joe has, but she loses the speed-up power in favor of "replay," the game's lone new VFX ability. This power lets you essentially repeat your last action three times over, which comes in handy in a lot of fighting situations.
Silvia's new power, and indeed all the VFX powers, also come into play with some frequency in solving the game's puzzles, which are both plentiful and perplexing. Viewtiful Joe 2 ratchets up the puzzle component a bit, presenting some puzzles with fairly convoluted solutions that require you to occasionally combine powers or switch between characters with speed and precision. A lot of these puzzles have interesting designs and are rewarding to solve, as you generally have to think about them for a minute. It can be a little vexing when you have to think about them for a lot of minutes, though--some of the puzzles in the game have rather obscure solutions and won't be solved easily. If you're the type who likes to puzzle over these sorts of problems, the harder they are, the more satisfied you'll be when you finally get the answer. But if you're coming to Viewtiful Joe 2 with a yen for nonstop combat, the harder puzzle sequences in the game tend to slow down the action a little bit. Unless you really get hung up on the puzzles, you should be in for a fairly lengthy 12-15 hour ride.
As in the last game, there's a ton of technique involved in Viewtiful Joe 2's action. You can dodge enemies' attacks to put them into a dizzy state, and then go into slow-motion mode to launch them into other enemies. An uppercut move common to both characters lets you knock foes into the air and then juggle them with other attacks, if you're fast enough. Even the tough boss characters often require you to make creative use of your powers and basic attacks. Rather than encouraging you to simply hammer on the buttons to plow through as many enemies as you can, Viewtiful Joe 2 makes it a lot of fun to play with your VFX powers and numerous attack moves to find new combo attacks and stylish new ways to take out foes.
In fact, you'll earn "viewtifuls" by collecting pick-up items and performing particularly stylish attacks, and you can cash these in between levels to purchase new special moves (some of which are unique to Joe or Silvia, and some of which can be used by both). At one point you'll even get to take control of Joe's vehicle, the Six Machine, at which time the game turns into an impromptu shooter of sorts. In short, Viewtiful Joe 2 offers a ton of variety in its action, so there's a decent incentive to go back and play through it in different ways after you beat it.
When Viewtiful Joe hit the GameCube last year, it boasted one of the most inventive unions of technology and visual panache seen in years. The game arrived on the PS2 in August 2004 with slightly less colorful visuals but the same great style, and now Viewtiful Joe 2 is here with, well, the exact same thing. This game still looks just as great as its predecessor--with its cel-shaded 3D characters and backgrounds displayed in the format of a 2D side-scrolling game, and with all its filters and other special effects, such as film grain, Viewtiful Joe 2 looks like a wacky cross between a movie and a comic book. The enemies, the animations, the backgrounds--everything boasts a wonderful amount of expressiveness and character. The only negative thing that could be said about Viewtiful Joe 2's visual presentation is that it looks exactly like Viewtiful Joe. And that's not really that bad a thing to have to say. The only bad things you could say about the PS2 version in particular are that its colors don't pop out at you quite as much as the GameCube version's do, and that the frame rate can bog down a little more in a few spots, but these differences are barely noticeable. Thankfully, the game plays just as well on the PS2 as on the GC, so your choice should hinge mostly on which controller you prefer.
The audio in this game is just as over-the-top as the visuals--but again, it's also extremely similar to what you heard last time around. The sound effects are action-movie big, and the voice acting is slightly corny in an intentional way that fits perfectly with the style of the game. The soundtrack is well done and works fine with the action, but it's not extremely memorable, and some of it was lifted from the first game and altered only slightly for its inclusion here.
Viewtiful Joe 2 is so similar to its predecessor that if you played the first game, you'll already know if you're interested in playing the sequel. It has all the same kinds of action, some really devilish puzzles, and just enough new gameplay to tickle your fancy if you finished the first game and were left wanting more. If you haven't played the first Viewtiful Joe, you owe it to yourself to check out one of the most innovative action-game concepts of the last few years--and this sequel is a fine place to start.