Life Is Viewtiful!

User Rating: 8.4 | Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble! DS
I never did play any of the console iterations of Viewtiful Joe. I’d heard they were quite difficult, and to be honest I’ll take fun over difficulty any day of the week and twice on Sundays. However, it was my understanding that Double Trouble (DT) toned down the difficulty level to make room for more puzzle-oriented gameplay that made extensive use of the touch screen. Many folks felt that DT offered little or no challenge – therefore I knew I’d found my “in” for the franchise. When someone says a game is easy, that’s usually a good indication that it will be just my speed. I was right, and Double Trouble has been a really Viewtiful ride!

Story: Let me share with you my impressions of the game’s story as if you’ve never played any Viewtiful Joe games before – I hadn’t – and you may very well have not either. Joe, the main playable character, comes down to check out the scene of a new movie, starring his sister Jasmine. Annoyed by Joe’s presence, Jasmine precipitates a scuffle, and while the two are wrestling around an evil-enemy group, known as the Madow, come along and steal the movie tape. Joe, seeing an opening for stardom, transforms into his Viewtiful self, and proceeds to attempt to track down the baddies and save the day.

The gameplay is comprised of 6 chapters, and there are cut-scenes littered throughout that keep the story moving along. It’s a fun, funny story, and its unique qualities fit all the other unique aspects of the game. However, even for a game this satirical the ending is pretty goofy and perhaps slightly inconsistent with the rest of the story. But the last few seconds are pretty hilarious.

Gameplay: I still cannot quite believe just how little attention this wonderful DS title has received and continues to receive. Folks looking for a game that really shows off what the DS is all about, need – not should, but need – to get this game. Whether you’ve ever played a Viewtiful Joe (VJ) title before or not is neither here nor there. I never did, and I can’t imagine it being more fun if I had.

Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble (VJDT) is kind of a “beat `em up” game. But the fighting is more like popcorn during a movie – it’s tasty and fun to eat while watching – but not necessarily the main attraction. Movies are probably a great metaphor for describing this game too, since the entire theme is based on The Movies. Joe travels throughout Movieland, “a theme park modeled after the hits,” and it’s the game’s puzzle elements, which he must navigate through, that really make up the star power in this title (Capcom).

Let’s begin with the basics…

Joe can punch (X-button), kick (A-button) and jump (B-button). But he’s also Viewtiful. What does that mean? “Henshin-a-go-go, baby!” VFX powers are what set VJ apart from your average run-of-the-mill super hero. With the L-button, Joe can “Slow” down time. This allows him to dodge fast-moving objects – or even punch them back at enemies – and also increases his attack power, as well as giving him other incredible advantages. The Slow power will come into play often, and using it in conjunction with other VFX powers will be absolutely necessary to get past certain areas of the game.

So, let me give you a rundown of all the other VFX powers:

Scratch: This power allows Joe to rain down various heavy objects upon his foes. By triggering the R-button and then using your fingernail to scratch the touch screen, you can knock out multiple enemies, as well as move certain objects that might impede your way.

Slide: Joe and his surroundings appear on both screens. A close-up view stays on the top screen during most of the gameplay, and a more full view of the environment, which is where you’ll be watching the action most of the time, stays on the touch screen… That is until you need to get a closer look at things. Using your fingernail once again, you can “Slide” the top view down to the touch screen. Certain areas require this action in order to engage a switch or lever. Also, only by using Slide can you defeat certain enemies. (“Touch,” also considered a VFX power, is actually more a part of Slide, since you’ll only use it while using Slide. Once Slide is initiated you can touch various areas of the screen to engage certain mechanisms or eliminate foes.)

Split: I saved the best for last. Other than Slow, you’ll probably be using Split more than any other VFX power, and it is incredibly clever how it has been integrated into the gameplay. What Split allows you to do is to actually split the touch screen in half and move the top portion of the touch screen to the left or right. It might not sound terribly interesting at first, but when you experience how it’s used within the actual gameplay you can’t help but smile at the amazing amount of creativity that went into the concept. If there’s a fire blocking your way, try splitting the screen to make an area of flowing water go over the fire and put it out. Having trouble getting to the next room – no door? Split the screen, moving the top part of the wall over and out of your way, and then jump over the split wall into the next room. It’s a tremendous amount of fun to experience all the various ways that this particular VFX power has been incorporated.

So there you have it – the basic ingredients. But it’s when they’re combined together that the game shines like a diamond. One puzzle requires you to punch an object into the air, slow time, split the screen so that the mid-air object lands on top of another object, and only by doing this can you progress through the level. There are loads of great brain teasers like that one, planted within the action, that make for quite an exciting time.

Yeah, there are one or two platforming elements that are a bit annoying – not because they’re cleverly difficult -- but because they’re unnecessarily difficult due to the 3D perception of the platforms themselves. However, barring a few scant instances, the game plays like a dream. Some folks who’ve played DT have commented that the combination of face buttons and touch controls make the gameplay cumbersome and / or “clunky.” But I think that’s where the difficulty factor of this game comes in. It takes some time to get used to maneuvering properly, but once you get the hang of it it’s smooth sailing.

Graphics: A really nice job in this department. IGN, when they did their review of the game, said Double Trouble offered the best graphics on the system (at the time). I don’t know if this game represents the best in visual quality for the system, but it’s definitely up there with the top contenders. In-game graphics are awesome, and everything animates very smoothly. The environments are full of vibrant colors that help give the VJ series its flare, and the whole Viewtiful thing is like a Mardi Gras explosion with Skittle confetti.

Sound: The music is really quite cool. It’s sort of a techno-heavy metal, but there are also plenty of other themes that play throughout the game, adding contextual suspense to those areas. However, what really “supes up” the actual enjoyment of gameplay are the sound effects. When you collect V-coins (the currency of the game) or other items, you get these really awesome, old arcade-sounding effects. Plus, there’s nothing like hearing Joe blurt out his signature “Henshin-a-go-go, baby!” at the beginning of each level. Even as a new-comer I was well familiar with his schtick, and it’s pretty darn entertaining. The enemies too make neat sounds, especially in slow motion, and there are short voice-overs for most of the other significant characters sprinkled throughout the game.

Presentation: Double Trouble does a lot of things right in this area. It also lacks a bit in this area. What it does right is it gives you 10 slots to save on. It also offers a fully detailed, color manual. It’s nice to see 3rd-party publishers follow Nintendo’s fine example by offering a high-quality instruction booklet. Some folks *cough – Konami – cough* seem to never print their DS-game manuals in color. Another treat is that throughout the game you earn V-points, either from collecting V-coins from defeated enemies, or by your overall performance throughout a level. You can then use those V-points to buy new moves, added health, or other goodies in the Power-Up section.

Where Double Trouble left me wanting more (or something else entirely):

1. It would have been nice to have the option to go back and replay completed levels, either to increase your performance or just for fun.
2. The cut-scenes are pretty cool, and the way they’re implemented is very creative. However, you have little control over the progression of the text, and the sentence structure is very disjointed. For example, one caption (captions are done comic-book style) might have almost all of the sentence text within it, and then the very last word(s) is saved for the next caption – not for dramatic effect either. You have to kind of see it to know what I’m talking about, but it breaks up the flow of what the characters are sometimes trying to express. Also during the presentation you are most times required to press the A-button to progress to the next portion of the cut-scene, and yet also required to use the touch screen to move the next slide up (the game uses photo slides as part of its cut-scene presentation). The slides are a really clever addition that fit nicely with the overall theme of the game, but the redundancy has an air of sloppiness.
3. Additionally, there are areas – mostly during the cut-scenes – where the music cuts abruptly from one theme to another (or completely out altogether). It’s pretty jarring. Some folks don’t consider sound or music that much in a game, but I’m a very audio-oriented person. I appreciate smooth musical transitions, and these little flubs didn’t get past my radar.
4. Lastly, there’s no way (that I’ve found), during gameplay, to return to the Start / Options screen. You’ll have to shut off your DS and restart. That can be an unnecessary pain, and perhaps cause undue wear on the DS itself and / or its battery.

“That’s a wrap!”

The End: Aside from some issues with the game’s presentation what we have here is a DS masterpiece that seems to have gotten overshadowed by other games released around the same time, namely Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. As great as that game may seem to some (myself included), Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble is no less a respectable addition to its respective franchise. As off-putting as the notion of combining the face buttons and the touch screen together for constant gameplay can be, VJDT is a shining example of how to do it right. The marriage is perhaps not one made in heaven, but it’s the movies, baby, and everything still ends happily ever after.

It’s not terribly long – but not something you can just breeze through in a few sittings either – and for $20 it’s well worth the price of admission. If you’re interested in experiencing a game that puts the DS’ touch screen features to the test, this is the game to check out.

Thanks for reading, and have a Viewtiful day!


The Breakdown

Presentation / 6.5
Viewtiful, colored manual; animated, in-game tutorials to get you going; and a lot of cool options to make gaming fun & easy. However, it would’ve been nice to have the option to go back and play individual levels, and the cut-scenes could have used a little tidying up.

Graphics / 9
Arguably the best visuals on the DS. But regardless of your taste, the game has some Viewtiful cel-shading, smooth frame-rate motion, and surprisingly clean textures.

Sound / 9
The music is definitely hip, and the one prevailing VJ theme is a really catchy tune. I think it fits the feel of the whole Viewtiful Joe thing really well. The sound effects and voice-overs too are a nice match for this arcade masterpiece.

Gameplay / 9
“Henshin-a-go-go, baby!” Once you’ve experienced what it means to be Viewtiful, that battle-cry will become a mantra for life. Well, that might be a slight over-statement, but Double Trouble is doubly awesome! The developers should be (and perhaps are by rabid fans of the series) hailed as geniuses. Clever integration of extremely creative touch-screen functions earns this title a star on the Walk of Fame.

Replay Value / 7.5
By today’s standards it’s not terribly long – about the same amount of play as Dawn of Sorrow – however, playing Double Trouble through multiple times, I think, is a lot more fun than DoS. The nature of the game is very “arcade,” and if you like that sort of thing you’ll enjoy it anytime you’re feeling particularly Viewtiful. It is called Double Trouble for a reason though, and that reason is never fully justified – you’ll have to play through it to know exactly what I’m talking about, lest I spoil things – but let’s just say it would’ve been nice to have been able to go back, after completion, and play as one (or more) of the other characters.

Overall / 8.5 (Life Is Viewtiful!)