The original Viewtiful Joe on the console brought back that old-school, one-two punch-kick beat-em-up action of games like Double Dragon and Final Fight, all the while introducing some really clever gameplay mechanics such as the Matrix-like slow-motion power for more devastating and satisfying attacks. It was an instant classic on the original GameCube that not only justified a multi-console sequel, but also a spin-off fighter that's just hitting the market. Though the current reception for Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble is a bit on the lukewarm side, this isn't the case with Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble on the Nintendo DS. This game might break away from the intense action of the GameCube original and its console sequel, but the puzzle elements are the real treat in this Nintendo DS product.
When the Nintendo DS system was officially revealed more than a year ago, Nintendo emphasized one bullet point over all others: the unique functionality of the handheld system allows developers to really push its creative juices in new and unique ways. Nintendo proved this point with several original creations of its own, but I honestly doubt even that company could see the ideas that Clover Studio brewed up for its first DS product. Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble extends the development team's unique console franchise onto the handheld in an unbelievably original way.
It's a bit of a shame that the game starts out so confusing. Though Viewtiful Joe begins fresh with the necessary training mode for newbies, the Nintendo DS presentation is clearly catering to people who are already familiar with the Viewtiful Joe franchise and characters. The storyline is totally obscure and hard to follow, especially due to a very clunky cutscene engine. But honestly the game's more about its unbelievably creative gameplay mechanics than it is its plot, so these awkward pauses between the levels aren't nearly enough to affect the enjoyment all that negatively.
Viewtiful Joe starts out as the same combo-focused brawler game design, but as players earn Joe's VFX powers the originality really begins to surface. Players will quickly earn the ability to slow time, which will come into play to avoid and counter attacks from quick-moving enemies, as well as slow down items in the environment that are moving too fast. But we've seen this before -- it's the new additions that really make Double Trouble shine.
Scene Splitting is one of the most creative uses of the Nintendo DS touch screen we've seen yet. By swiping the finger horizontally across the lower screen, players can cut the environment in two parts: lower and upper. This technique is used extensively in Viewtiful Joe, and you'll find it used in some incredibly creative ways when it's combined with Joe's attack abilities. Splitting the scene, for example, can cut a room or object in two parts, and with the scene sliced in half, Joe can interact with both parts as a "new" or "altered" environment. One early puzzle challenges players to get two gigantic AA batteries into a machine, and the only way to do that is to split the scene, bringing the machine's upper part over the battery to allow Joe to kick the battery up into the proper slot. Heavy objects can also be slid off their platform with this power.
Then there's the screen-sliding function. Stroking the lower screen downward will bring the upper display down to the lower display. This function enables players to interact with environmental objects, since the upper screen elements are close-up camera shots of the items that are in Joe's current level. So, if Joe needs to use a keypad or flip a switch, players will need to go to that item, drag the screen down, activate the item with their finger, and send that screen back up to the top. It's done as seamlessly as possible, and though the touch screen sensitivity gets a little wonky at times, with a little practice this motion is as easy as sliding the thumb down the right side of the screen.
Joe's "scratch" ability isn't as creative as the previous two talents, but it does add new control and combat to the existing gameplay. Tapping the R trigger activates the Scratch VFX power, and while it's activated players can rub their fingernail over the screen to affect the area like an earthquake. Using this ability, players can knock out dazed enemies with objects shaken out of the sky, or nudge heavy items off their rickety perch to solve specific puzzles.
I'm sure many fear that the touch screen elements clutter things up by requiring the player to remove their hand off the action buttons to perform, and in some cases this fear is justified. Players will have to constantly shift their grip from button to screen to perform some tasks, which occasionally makes Viewtiful Joe feel a little clunky in control. But the first level is a great "training level" to practice the hand motions, and the level designers try not to complicate the situations by overwhelming the player with multiple control tasks at the same time.
The reward for learning and using Joe's abilities to complete tasks quickly, effectively, and creatively: the opportunity to power him up with even more combat techniques. After each challenge, the game ranks the player in how they've performed, and offers credits that can be spent for attributes at specific parts of the level.
Clover Studio's ambitious graphics engine is one of the first games to push individual 3D environments across both screens. This is clearly not one of the strengths of the Nintendo DS hardware, yet here's Capcom's team pulling off the seemingly impossible, showing off the same area in two unique perspectives on the DS system's individual displays. Sacrifices were made to get this to work: the game runs at 30 frames per second instead of the console's silky 60, and most fights are against, at most, two opponents at a time. The resolution has also been affected, but in all honesty even with these shortcomings the game looks and feels like a Viewtiful Joe sequel. And it's still stunning to see moving on the DS system.
Yes, it's true that there are only a couple of on-screen enemies at once during any given fight. It's a trade-off for the 3D engine -- the programmers generally throw out another enemy once one bad guy's gone to keep the action going. This action limitation does remove the console version's "congested" and "energetic" feel during the action, but the designers compensate for this by putting more focus on level designs and the puzzles within them. The scene splitting, screen sliding and touch functions make up for the lack of baddies to kick and punch because of the creative uses of Joe's powers, both individually and together.
The game's also quite meaty, with dozens of levels to stomp through. The developers made sure of creating a handheld-friendly design, as Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble auto-saves the action after every completed level. Including the auto-save position, there are ten save slots
plenty of positions on-hand so that multiple people can have their own game running. The game lacks a multiplayer component, but there are multiple ways to play through the challenges. Hidden characters? Hmm.
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