Early screen shots of Viewtiful Joe
revealed next to nothing about the enigmatic superhero. Apart from his penchant for skintight clothes and a curiously flamboyant demeanor, that is. But it was enough to pique the curiosity of all who saw them.
It certainly had us scratching our heads. Just as soon as Viewtiful Joe made its splash debut, however, curiosity vanished. In its place sat utter bewilderment and joy, as the game blasted us with a game experience second to none. And it did it in style. As Viewtiful Joe, we kicked a phenomenal amount of ass as we ripped through seven stages filled with more action than a stack of Stallone flicks.
As anyone who finished the game knows, the end of Viewtiful Joe can produce tears of joy. It's a damn hard game to conquer. Defeating the final boss signals the end of a journey full of delight, anguish and more profanity than I'd care to mention.
Apart from an overwhelming sense of style, it's this dichotomy of satisfying gameplay and maddening difficulty that distinguishes Viewtiful Joe from most games today. And as everyone might guess, Viewtiful Joe 2 keeps up with the tradition.
Like its predecessor, Viewtiful Joe 2 slaps conformity in the face and unleashes a storm of unrelenting action drenched in the same brand of funky chic. It's fun. It's fast. It's pretty. And yes, it's damn hard. Fans of the original will find exactly what they're looking for.
Maybe a little too much of what they're looking for. VJ2 looks and plays so much like the first, in fact, that someone looking at it in passing may mistake if for the original. But there are differences; some superficial while others fundamental, so playing through VJ2 offers a different experience from the first.
For those of you of who haven't had the pleasure of donning Joe's crimson tights, here's the lowdown on what made the first game so strangely cool and outlandishly daring, both in terms of art direction and game design. For starters, Viewtiful Joe plays much like the classic brawlers of old in that you run around from left to right smashing everything in sight. What made Viewtiful Joe so remarkable was the execution and convergence of classic elements with daring art style. The game looked funky and controlled like a dream, letting players execute artful combo attacks with ease. Once you mastered the controls, it was all over. Nothing could stand in your way.
And it's the same in Viewtiful Joe 2. Using the same roster of VFX powers as in the first game, namely Slow, Mach Speed and Zoom, you'll devastate swarms of enemies once experienced in the ways of the game. You become a whirlwind of pain, delivering hyper-stylized attacks with gusto. And getting to that point is just as hard, and ultimately just as satisfying, as the firs time. With over 40 different enemies, you'll need to find ways of tackling each effectively and consistently, since the game throws wave after wave of hostiles at you.
Like the original, gamers will still face the same types of enemies throughout the adventure. Meaning once you encounter an enemy, you'll see it repeatedly until you finish the game. It would have been nice for each level to feature its own set of unique enemies, but that's not the case here. The most common enemy from the first game, the robotic Flat-M3 or "Flatty," appears en masse in every level. The same goes for mini-bosses and major bosses.
Joe will need to bust the guts out of each multiple times before the end of the game. VJ2 even features an encounter where Joe and Co. need to beat six previously defeated bosses in sequence, just like in the first game. With so much personality going into every aspect of the game, you would think VJ2 could offer more variety in enemy design. Once an enemy (especially a boss) goes down, you shouldn't have to see their faces ever again.
Fortunately, beating the living snot out of everything in sight is just as viscerally fantastic as it ever was. And this time, Joe's got a little company. His girlfriend from the first game, Sylvia, returns in force here.
No longer a damsel in distress, she kicks just as much ass as Joe ever did. Hiding beneath her skin tight suit and flashy sense of vicious femininity lay a flurry of devastating punches and kicks. Not to mention laser pistols. And VJ2 gives her plenty of chances to use them.
Sylvia's pistols kick villainous ass like you wouldn't believe. Replacing Joe's powerful punch, Sylvia's gun fires jumbo shots of blue energy. Once Sylvia picks up another gun and starts dual wielding, she dishes out an immense amount of damage.
She can also keep her distance and shoot enemies from afar, granting players a little breathing room when things get a little too crowded. Sylvia's arsenal expands later in the game, letting her "lock" on to eight enemies and deliver eight consecutive shots. Her guns deliver the goods, and you may find yourself using them often.
Only Sylvia can reach certain switches by shooting them with her laser pistol, for example. She also has exclusive ownership of VFX Replay, the all-new ability in the game. Replay lets Sylvia record her actions and play them back to deliver three times normal damage. This applies to everything, including kicks and shots from her laser pistol. It also applies to damage, so if Sylvia gets slapped while in Replay mode, she's gonna get beat three times in a row. While this ability sounds cool, it delivers little damage when you take into account how much VFX juice it takes to power the move. Replay is visually impressive, but apart from being required to solve a few puzzles, it lacks the indispensability of both Mach Speed and VFX Slow.
Making its debut along with the Replay ability is the all-new "V-Touch," which lets you swap characters at the touch of a button whenever you like. The game lets you choose a character before heading into a level, but you can switch characters mid-level using "V-Touch." Doing so triggers a cool animation showing Sylvia or Joe jumping in from the sides of the screen and throwing the other into the foreground. The effect looks mighty cool but leaves you vulnerable for a brief moment. Like the rest of the game, timing here is critical. Trading characters at the wrong time leaves you at the receiving end of pain and suffering. For example, since Joe is the only one who can use Mach Speed, he's the only character who can extinguish himself when on fire.
Swapping Joe for Sylvia while Joe's on fire will roast the heroine in a jiffy. Of course, Sylvia can call Joe if she catches fire, leaving him to put the flames out with ease. Aside from letting you choose characters on the fly, "V Touch" boasts nifty offensive capabilities as well. Swapping characters while enemies stand confused and the dynamic duo will unleash a blast of energy that takes them out in one fell swoop. Many of the puzzles require both characters to flex their respective muscle. Since each manipulates time and space in different ways, you'll find yourself switching between hero and heroine constantly.
Each hero also has weaknesses. Sylvia takes damage when enveloped in flames, for example, and Joe gets shocked whenever he touches electricity. Naturally, the game makes great use of this. Certain boxes in the game carry an electric charge, ensuring that only Sylvia will be able to bust them open.
At other times, you'll need to cross a lava pit or set an object ablaze, so you'll need to call on fire resistant Joe to come save the day. Joe bursts into flames when using Mach Speed, just like in the first game, while Sylvia builds an electric charge when using her VFX Replay ability. All of this sets VJ2 above its predecessor, as it introduces a new set of challenges.
Now, you'll be required to master the abilities of two heroes, and knowing when and where to use each is one of the greatest aspects of VJ2. The environmental puzzles are far more intricate this time around. Instead of just slowing time to manipulate floating platforms and the like, puzzles now call for the constant swapping of characters and imaginative uses of the VFX powers.
You'll use VFX Slow to build pressure in volcanoes, causing their eruptions to increase in intensity and you'll use Mach Speed and Slow together to unlock a bank vault. Some of the later puzzles involve multiple rooms, items and the use of all your powers. Each is very well thought out and marks a definite improvement over the mini brain busters of the original.
Puzzles aside, the levels in VJ2 offer more variety this time. Before the end of the game, Joe and Sylvia will race through underground ruins on a rusty mine cart and explore the oceanic depths using two submersible renditions of the Six Machine, Joe's heroic vehicle. During these underwater stages, Six Machine changes in form and function depending on who pilots it. Use Sylvia and Six Machine turns into Six Drill, letting you crush walls and burrow underground.
It releases explosive barrels demolishing enemies lurking above you. Use Joe, and Six Machine turns into Six Dolphin, an agile submarine that shoots torpedoes. Knowing when to use each is critical, as beating the underwater levels requires split second decisions and a super fast trigger finger. Spoiling any more would be cruel. Suffice to say fans of the original will find more to love here. The different play styles just add more depth to an already deep game. Each version of the Six Machine controls just as well as the heroes themselves. Now, a warning. The Six Machine stages are tough, so play them alone as liberal use of profanity may be required to diffuse the tension they build.
Aesthetically, VJ2 conjures the same trippy coolness as the first. Joe and Sylvia jaunt from snow covered mountains to ancient Japan, and from ancient ruins to the depths of outer space. While differing in theme, each stage sports the funkified, offbeat look that made playing the first game such a visual treat. Enemies look just as cool, with each featuring silky smooth animation and wacky design. The only gripe here is the occasional, actually rare, cases of slowdown during the underwater sequences.
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