Games for Lunch: Viewtiful Joe
Developer: Clover Studio
Release Date: Aug. 24, 2004
Systems: PlayStation 2 (reviewed), GameCube
ESRB Rating: T
0:00 Despite hearing about a bazillion people gush about this game over the years, my only exposure to the series is a five-minute demo of the Nintendo DS version at E3 2005. Will the original live up to the hype?
0:01 Red-bodysuited, musclebound Joe races into a black void just in time to do a stylish dodge of the Capcom logo that flies in. Then he kicks some of the letters that fell out of place. What a "Viewtiful" intro, and we haven't even hit the title screen yet!
0:02 "The Jadow move ominously across the land, dyeing the sky with blood and staining the earth. Those who have faith in justice and honor, valor and goodness, call out his name -- the ultimate superhero, the only one who can save the world from extinction. If he can't do it, no one can," intones a cheesy yet endearing B-movie announcer. "Who, me?" replies Joe, as he runs, punches, kicks, and flexes like he's a supermodel. So... stylish... can't... speak...at normal... rate!
0:04 The difficulty choices are "Sweet," "Kids" and "Adults," the latter rendered in red-light district neon. I haven't considered myself a "kid" since that incident at camp. Adults it is. I may live to regret this.
0:05 An old film-reel countdown precedes the introduction of "Captain Blue," who shows up on grainy film with tinny hero music. "Captain Blue fights with every ounce of his being. This is all that blue has ever wanted: To do the right thing," intones the same announcer from before. Joe is watching this movie with his girlfriend in an otherwise empty theater. It's not the red-suited Joe from earlier, but a schlumpy, blue-shirted version with facial hair. "Why don't you show me some off-screen action," girlfriend Silvia says, but Joe wants to watch the movie. Is this supposed to make him a sympathetic character? The fact that he loves movies so much he ignores it when his girlfriend throws herself at him?
0:07 In the movie, a shadowy evil guy evil taunts Capt. Blue, who promptly... dies?!? "Goodbye, beautiful world. Nothing will ever be the same," the announcer somberly announces. Sylvia can swear she's seen Capt. Blue somewhere before, but before she can figure out where, the evil guy predictably reaches out of the screen and takes her. A red mecha-suit thing does something similar with "Joe the Hero," as the title card calls him.
0:08 "Hey, wait a minute. Am I inside the movie?" Joe asks, winning an award for most expositional question of all time. "Correct, my young friend," says the dead Capt. Blue from offscreen. Joe has to take Blue's place as the "new action hero." Didn't Scwarzenegger do that already? "I beg you to take up the cause of justice, young movie lover," says Blue as he gives an ecstatic Joe a "V-Watch."
0:09 Diving right into gameplay, I'm immediately punched by a bad guy, but a tutorial pops up instructing me how to duck the blow (hint: the down button), or I can jump over low attacks with the up button. Simple enough.
0:11 I get "10 viewtifuls" for beating up some grey-clad goons, whatever that means. Three more enemies appear and the game tells me to "Just go for it!" So I do!
0:12 Finished with those three. The game grades me on my first battle, which consisted of a bunch of punching with the square button. I get a "B" which stands for "BAAAD!" Is that the good bad or the bad bad?
0:14 The new set of enemies includes a grey goon in a tutu who pirouettes to attack. This time I am graded "A for "AWESOME!" Don't ask me what I did differently.
0:15 Capt. Blue tells me I haven't yet awakened to my "real power," so he comes back to life to school me. Why he can't just come back to life and fight the enemies instead of me is not addressed. Now when the V-Watch starts to glow I can cry "Henshin-a-go-go, baby" and become the red-suited "Viewtiful" Joe. With the new slow-mo power I can knock off-balance enemies across the screen and into other enemies. Sweeeet.
0:17 I'm loving the slow-mo, but if I use it too much I turn back to shlumpy Joe until my V-Watch recharges. Sucks. I should mention how much I like the look of the game's environments. Looks like a cartoon version of a film set.
0:19 A giant slot machine lands in front of me and comes up three roses. A ninja pops out of the machine and starts punching me. This is quite unlike any movie I've ever seen.
0:21 The ninja goes down relatively easily. Combat so far has been a simple matter of waiting to dodge the telegraphed attacks and hitting back in slow-mo. Fun, but not too tough yet. It's still early, though.
0:22 A bit of a clever puzzle follows the ninja fight. I have to slow down the slot machine to stop the spinners on the "Vs" so I can get the key to move on. Nice to know there's more than mindless punching (and kicking, which I literally just discovered is accomplished with the triangle button.)
0:23 Apparently it took me too long to figure out what to do with that slot machine, because I'm graded C for "Crappy!" Is that kind of language really necessary, game? What did I ever do to you? Besides solving your puzzles too slowly, I mean.
0:24 I somehow lose my last bit of health to a falling axe, even though I barely noticed losing the first four sections. Note to developers: It should be incredibly apparent when my character is getting hurt. I do like how the director screams, "Cut Cut Cut" to signify the end of a life.
0:26 Mini-boss time: A grey-goon in a cowboy outfit jumps around like a Mexican bean and fires slow-moving shots that are pretty hard to avoid while trying to attack him in mid-air. I lose a second life already. I knew I would regret that "Adult" difficulty choice.
0:27 I'm beginning to get the hang of stringing together a bunch of slow-mo kills into a combo. A bunch of "viewtifuls" are my reward. I still have no idea what those are or why I want them (or even if I want them!).
0:29 I finish off the cowboy on the second try, along with a few late-arriving henchmen. Another Crappy rating. -- It seems I've gotta work on my speed. That's what she said! HA!
0:31 New enemy alert: green goons that change into bomb-dropping helicopters. The game is imaginative, I'll give it that. They're quickly dispatched and followed by some simple jumping challenges on the chandeliers.
0:33 Boss time: a machine-gun-toting helicopter. A hail of henchmen and missiles accompany him, both of which get knocked out relatively easily, but I'm too cavalier about hitting the chopper's spinning blades when I attack it directly and I lose what was apparently my last life. I'm sent all the way back to the beginning of the level. Ugh.
0:35 I love the way Joe pauses in mid-fall when he does a midair attack, but I'm a little peeved that his "running" speed would barely rank as a slow walk in most other games.
0:37 Another fight with Capt. Blue, but this time I already have my "Viewtiful" powers, so I can make short work of him. A is for "AWESOME!", bitch.
0:42 The slot machine takes a ridiculously long time this time. I can't seem to get the timing of the wheels right. Frustration begins to set in.
0:45 The cowboy goes a little better this time, now that I know his extremely basic pattern. Jump, slow-mo, kick, repeat.
0:48 Back to the chopper boss, this time with a full complement of three lives. Still having trouble dodging those bullets, and the goons are beginning to overwhelm me. Maybe I should have gone with the "Kids" difficulty.
0:52 Ah-HA! I finally figure out that I can dodge the bullets using my slow-mo ability. I can even knock them back at the helicopter if I'm careful. I figure this out too late to spare my second life, though.
0:56 ARGH! Using my bullet dodging, I'm able to reduce the chopper to a sliver of health, but then I get killed by an attack I could have sworn I had dodged. It's been a while since I've been so challenged by an old-fashioned 2-D reflex test.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I love games with a good sense of imagination and style, and this one has both in spades. Also, I'm a bit of a masochist.
This review based on a retail copy of the game borrowed from a friend roughly two years ago. Seriously. Thanks Mike.... You'll get your game back soon! I promise!