When Capcom unveiled the uniquely artsy action fighter Viewtiful Joe, GameCube owners immediately took notice. The title's off-the-wall cel-shaded visuals and humorously out there Hollywood-influenced storyline helped separate the game from any would be competitor and as a result a sleeper hit was born. Joe's stylish fight mechanics have since enveloped the unwitting hero in an official sequel -- one that went largely unnoticed by GCN owners since it was no longer exclusive to the console. And now Capcom has come back for another round. Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble hits GameCube exclusively through the year, which should make it a more attractive buy to elite GCN snobs -- you know who you are! And best of all, the title aspires to be the next best thing since Super Smash Bros. Melee: a four-player compatible brawl fest that incorporates all of Joe's signature moves.
Sounds good, right? There's just one little problem: it's not.
The concept sounds fantastic on paper, but the truth is that Joe's entry into the genre of the 3D fighter does not have a Hollywood ending. The game arrives on Nintendo's console with a fun presentation and a number of intriguing fight ideas, but most of them get lost in a disorienting mess of nearly indiscernible brawling madness. What's left is a game that borders on being enjoyable when played either alone or with a second person, but becomes almost unplayable with three or more.
Lights, Camera, and Action!
Red Hot Rumble is an interesting entity in that it has been designed for both GameCube and -- oddly enough -- Sony PSP. The home console version hits this year and the portable build early next. It's very likely because the title has been developed with (on the low-end) a handheld in mind that it delivers a fairly straightforward fighting presentation. A new movie is being made and the characters from the Viewtiful Joe universe are vying for -- at the very least -- a cameo. Since so many superhero big shots are clamoring for a role, Captain Blue decides that the only fair to way to conclude the predicament is to let the characters battle for the coveted positions. This is the setup for the fighting that follows, and while the idea figures nicely with other Joe games, the overall delivery is a wee bit lackluster. Many of the story developments are presented via blasé dialogue boxes and there are very few actual cinematics to immerse players. This is mildly disappointing given that style and delivery have always played major roles in the VJ franchise. But even so, we realize this all takes a distant backseat to the actual fight scenarios.
When we first played Red Hot Rumble, we jumped directly into a four-player battle and we were floored. Not because the experience was outstanding, but because none of us could figure out what the hell was going on. Although we tried to follow our on-screen characters, each of us lost sight of our fighter almost immediately into the match. There was just so much going on, including animated backgrounds, exploding foreground objects, particles shooting in every direction, and characters zooming all about the screen, that it was damned near impossible to take it all in without becoming disoriented.
We called over some more editors and asked them to observe the gameplay environment. We were secretly hoping that somehow we were collectively missing an integral element that made sense of the fights. But alas, nobody we asked to watch us play could ascertain what in the world was unfolding on-screen. And still we persisted, hoping to find that elusive, but monumentally important ingredient that magically brought everything together. After many hours of battles, we gave up. As a three or four-player fighter, Red Hot Rumble falls well short of Smash Bros. greatness. It is, in fact, an action-packed mess of nearly indiscernible fighting madness. And it's frankly not fun in the least. We would go so far as to call it an intensely psychedelic waste of time and energy. This unfortunate truth is all the more disappointing because Red Hot Rumble does actually have all the makings of a solid fighter. First and foremost, a strong cast of likeable characters. The title features such recognizable franchise stars as Joe himself, Blade Master Alastor, Capture Blue and Captain Blue Jr., Sexy Sylvia, Sprocket and Emperor Jet Black. A host of visually varied and occasionally interactive levels complements the cast. Some of the stages even take place on moving objects, such as a flying biplane, which is a nice touch.
But more importantly, the fight mechanics themselves have a lot of potential. Moving a character about the screen is a breeze and developer Clover Studio has even thought of some of the Smash Bros. basics. For instance, pressing down on the control stick and the action button will cause one's fighter to drop between platforms, where they can continue brawling below. Performing punches, kicks and combos is as easy as tapping the attack or special attack buttons and pressing into different directions. In a tip of the hat to previous Joe games, the fighters can even battle in mid-air, dishing out powerful and stylistic moves that ravish their opponents. And executing these moves is usually an entertaining and satisfying undertaking. On top of everything else, Joe and friends can use their collective VFX powers for dazzling results, such as slowing time, speeding up time, performing showboating zooms and even spitting out damaging sound effects. All of these play into battles seamlessly.
And true enough, there are times, particularly when playing alone or even with a second gamer, that Red Hot Rumble shows a hint of its full potential. The action is not so intense and out of control that it's impossible to gauge what is happening on-screen and therefore gamers can slow it down a little bit, dish out their moves, throw down some special attacks, dabble with the VFX powers, and generally try to have a good time. It's during these moments that the game is at its best and it's primarily because of these situations that we can at least bother to halfheartedly recommend the fighter to some really, truly, unbreakably diehard VJ fans.
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