Impressive artistic design, solid humor, eminently satisfying boss encounters and reliable controls are all parts of this video game homage to classic films.
Capcom is a company well known for making difficult games. Some of these include titles from the Street Fighter, Mega Man, Resident Evil and Devil May Cry series. But apart from the high difficulty, there are multiple reasons why those games went on to eventually become classics. Some of them are fondly remembered for their enthralling plots, some others for their engrossing gameplay and some others for their top-notch presentation. Viewtiful Joe is definitely one of those games that is going to be remembered, a title developed by Capcom and one that, albeit quite challenging, has enough unique qualities to be considered a modern classic.
The plot of the game is pretty simple: Joe, an avid movie-goer, is on a date with his girlfriend Sylvia. They go to see a film at the local theater, but as usual, Joe seems to be more enthusiastic about the movie than on the actual date. Suddenly and unexpectedly, during the film’s climax, a giant robot comes out of the screen and kidnaps Sylvia. Immediately after that, and without hesitating, Joe goes after the immense machine and he’s transported into a parallel universe known as Movieland. In this place, Joe meets his hero, Captain Blue (a character of his favorite Super Sentai movies) who gives Joe the V-Watch, a special item that allows him to transform into a super hero called Viewtiful Joe.
Something that quickly becomes apparent about the game is its unique sense of humor. Truly funny video games are hard to come by, but Viewtiful Joe is definitely one of those titles. The game is full of clever references to classic films such as Star Wars, Jaws, King Kong and The Matrix, among many others. Another way in which Viewtiful Joe achieves this cinematic vibe is through its graphics as the game has delightful aesthetics that truly transport you into that world called Movieland. The superb visuals successfully replicate the feeling of watching an old B movie and even the soundtrack complements what happens onscreen. A clear example of this is the countdowns which typically appear on old movie reels, but the game cleverly uses them for loading times. Small details like these aren’t purely cosmetic as they definitely add a new layer of authenticity, something quite rare in 2D platformers.
But the meticulously crafted graphics go beyond that, as Viewtiful Joe has this unique use of cel-shading. By no means is Viewtiful Joe the only game to use this graphical style, as titles like Jet Set Radio, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi series and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King have also used it in extremely suitable ways. But after seeing what Clover Studio was able to do with this game, the use of cel-shaded graphics seems particularly suitable for a 2D platformer of this kind. Although the game is set in a 2D plane, this is a 2.5D beat ‘em up, so even though you may move in two dimensional locations some of the characters, enemies and places are modeled in 3D. So when certain powers are used the game changes the perspective, allowing you to truly appreciate the game in three dimensions. In addition, very appropriate voice acting adds to the game’s unique atmosphere as not only does the main character have a suitable voice, but also all the secondary ones, including the narrator and all the bosses.
Furthermore, the basic gameplay mechanics are quite easy to grasp, but hard to master. The basic movements consist of different kinds of kicks and punches, but you can mix these with time manipulation mechanics as Joe’s V-Watch allows him to slow and accelerate time at will. Not only is this useful to defeat enemies and bosses in an effective way, but also to solve some of the game’s various puzzles. The only drawback of using these special powers is that they consume the VFX bar and should you run out of energy, Viewtiful Joe transforms into regular, powerless Joe, becoming weaker and ineffective in battle. When the bar eventually replenishes, you automatically transform into Viewtiful Joe, acquiring your unique powers again.
Additionally and like in most Capcom games (Devil May Cry and Street Fighter are two clear examples,) at the end of each level or section your overall performance is graded, taking into account variables like the time it took you to finish the level, how well you defended and the amount of V-Points you obtained. If you get a high rank you are given even more V-Points and these may be used at the end of each level or chapter to acquire additional power-ups, abilities, lives, health and so on and so forth.
To perform well you usually need to pull of some insane combos, something that can easily be accomplished by combining (duh!) not only moves, but also by alternating between different special powers. Thankfully, controls are extremely precise, as even when the difficulty feels mildly frustrating and you lose a life or two, it seldom feels like the game is at fault. The higher difficulty becomes even more apparent at the end of each chapter when you are required to face a boss. Each boss encounter encourages you to use different abilities to defeat it and it definitely feels like the game is testing your knowledge about the game’s basic mechanics. But even if it takes you a couple of tries to defeat a given boss, these fights are eminently satisfying.
A minor flaw with the PlayStation 2 version of the game is that at times, it suffers from some framedrops which are definitely noticeable, but fortunately never become interfering. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Viewtiful Joe ends in a cliffhanger that definitely leaves you wanting for more, but the game is short enough to justify at least another playthrough on higher difficulties, something necessary if you want to unlock some secret characters. This version also has a new super easy difficulty called “Sweet” and Dante from the Devil May Cry series is available as an unlockable character.
In conclusion, Viewtiful Joe is so much more than a common platformer, this is a hilarious homage to B movies in the form of a video game, is a title that successfully recreates the feeling of watching an old film. And top notch gameplay, controls that respond precisely to your input, beautiful aesthetics, satisfying boss encounters, charming characters and funny moments definitely complement that feeling. If you still have your PlayStation 2, you have to play this game.