It goes without saying that Capcom's fabled "Fantastic Five" for the GameCube didn't quite have the impact that its fan base had hoped for. Originally heralded as one of the most powerful reasons to own a Nintendo console in 2003, the highly touted lineup ultimately fell short of expectations. It all began, of course, with the heavily stylized but under-developed futuristic actioner Product Number 3
; and was quickly followed by the sudden cancellation of the promising Kid Icarus
wannabe, Dead Phoenix
. The endless delay and lack of actual gameplay information regarding the bizarre but intriguing Killer 7
game didn't help much either, while the release of the amazing-looking Resident Evil 4
isn't going to happen until early 2005.
But all this waiting and disappointment wasn't a complete waste of time, as Studio 4's title least likely to be the masterpiece actually turned out to be just that. Originally considered to be the smallest project of Capcom's quintet, the 2D/3D hybrid known as Viewtiful Joe surprised everyone last year with its combination of original gameplay and over the top presentation. Bizarre, humorous, and retro without the rust, the entertaining superhero epic gave birth to several new catchphrases and buzzwords (Henshin A-Go-Go anyone?) while powerfully proving to naysayers that the 'little purple system that could' still had some life left in it.
Perhaps more amazing than the quality of the game itself, however, was the fact that Capcom decided to forego Viewtiful Joe's GameCube exclusivity and decided to bring it to PlayStation 2 as well. Though it was always rumored to do so not too long after the Cube version was initially released, no one really believed that the title would defect to another system until officials confirmed it for us earlier this spring. And to make matters even more interesting, the game's new development house Clover Studio would be including a PlayStation 2-exclusive character: Dante from Devil May Cry.
So here we are at the end of a summer that's been consistent with its higher quality compared to previous years, with the PlayStation 2 iteration of Viewtiful Joe remaining as one of the final titles left before the beginning of the fall season. Players who have already experienced Viewtiful Joe on the GameCube already know exactly what that means for newbie PS2 owners; but at the risk of sounding too cliched or cheesy when letting them in on the secret, let us just say this: what a way to go!
Life is Viewtiful
Our adventure begins innocently enough when film buff and all around good guy Joe spends the day at a movie theater with his girlfriend Silvia. Catching a special showing of one of their favorite old-school flicks, the pair is suddenly interrupted from their make-out session when a giant robot on the movie screen reaches out and nabs Joe's woman. Quickly sucked into the movie world himself and guided by his longtime silver screen idol Captain Blue, Joe has to master the powers of his V-Watch and become the world's greatest superhero in order to save Silvia from an unknown fate.
Now for first time gamers who have never seen Viewtiful Joe before, it will definitely be hard to pinpoint exactly what kind of game it is. And to be truthful, for those of us that have already played it, it's still a bit difficult to figure out. We suppose that at its core, though, that Viewtiful Joe is all about recapturing the same old-school magic that powered Capcom's previous 8 and 16-bit hits like Mega Man, Duck Tales, and Ghosts 'N Goblins. But instead of just taking that formula and slapping some advanced parallax and lighting effects on it, Capcom has gone an extra mile by blending traditional 2D and 3D mechanics for a unique and interesting experience.
PlayStation One fans may see some similarities between Viewtiful Joe and the system's first-generation action/platformers Pandemonium and Spider. But where those games succeeded only marginally in blending the two-dimensional control scheme with three-dimensional environments, Joe takes the practice to an all-new level. As instead of relying heavily on using the 3D backgrounds as nothing more than eye candy, Viewtiful Joe's designers have incorporated its stage depth into gameplay. The most important evidence of this are Joe's various superpowers that allow him to interact with the environment instead of just running through it. But that's just scratching the surface of what he can really do. Because what he's capable of is really quite intimidating.
A True Action Hero
In the beginning, Joe has the typical punch and kick attacks found in just about every fighting game and beat 'em up since the beginning of time. Relying on a simple tap-tap mechanic and easy to learn combo system, Joe's proficiency in the martial arts is almost enough to kick mucho bad guy ass with little help. But where the game really opens up and becomes unique, however, is with all the various supplemental powers and abilities that he has at his disposal. So while our hero may be able to dodge, duck, punch, and kick without a specialty in sight, using the advanced techniques will provide far more rewards.
And by advanced techniques, we mean it. Known as the VFX Powers, these abilities allow Joe to perform maneuvers commonly associated with controlling a DVD player. Slow, Mach Speed, and Zoom are the three primary powers in question; with each one of them providing invaluable help in areas you'd least suspect. The Slow ability, for instance, is probably the most useful and is terrific for avoiding enemy bullets, strikes, and projectiles. Even more functional, though, is Slow's effect on propellers and platforms -- as it slows them down enough to allow players to access areas they wouldn't normally be able to, or approach an area that was previously too dangerous.
The Mach Speed ability is pretty important too, as it will move propeller-powered platforms higher than they'd normally reach. Additionally, this technique also enables Joe to throw lightning quick combinations with his fists and feet (terrific against boss characters) and catch fire so that he can set enemies aflame. He can even create multiple versions of himself by going fast enough to reach previously unattainable goodie boxes. Of course, the Zoom feature is equally impressive with its ability to make Joe much bigger than his usual self and makes punches, kicks, and other attacks a lot more powerful. Moreover, Joe will also be able to perform jumping dive bombs and super dash attacks that takes out just about anything in front of him. He can even mix powers and use Slow or Mach Speed at the same time as Zoom for a myriad of different results.
Even better is that when his VFX powers are combined with his other available attacks (voomerangs, slide maneuvers, shocking pink bombs, etc) Joe can be quite a formidable opponent. In fact, using all of these abilities together is one of Joe's most appealing aspects; as user creativity, experimentation, and tenacity are all rewarded regardless of which difficulty level they're playing on. What's more, is that the proper use of these skills are the only way in which players can solve puzzles and progress to the next part of certain stages. This type of symbiotic relationship between gameplay mechanics and stage design creates a definite rhythm and harmony not seen in most other videogames; and it just goes to prove that there's a reason and purpose for everything.
You'll need that kind of mechanical accessibility too. Because above anything else, Viewtiful Joe is incredibly challenging. Easily among the most difficult games of the last couple of years (Jak II and Stuntman, we're looking at you), Clover's port will test your reflexes time and time again. Trying the game on Adult Mode your first time through is absolute suicide, and finding ways to cope with the swarms of different enemies on the higher levels is even more insane. But truthfully, it's just this type of challenge that a combat system that's this diverse and playable really needs in order to make it fun. And fun is what it is
Rock On and Power Up!
Viewtiful Joe's appeal doesn't stop there; however, as it also offers a whole lot more than just an incredibly flexible combat engine. Players will also be able to build their character so that he can become more and more powerful as the game goes on. Implementing the Shocking Pinks and Voomerangs we mentioned earlier can only be done through their purchase at the Viewtiful Shop; with other cool add-ons like health hearts, extra lives, and turbo chargers available to the financially stable player.
Being able to afford these items is all part of the strategy, though; as gamers can only earn the currency they need to pay for them by performing outlandish combos and using crazy moves on enemies. The cool thing is, that the more insane and complicated an attack may be, the more 'Viewtifuls' players will earn to spend in the shop. So not only does this add yet another layer to the great overlapping relationship in regards to the gameplay, it gives gamers better rewards for performing better on the battlefield.
But being able to perform crazy maneuvers and combinations come at a price. As players must keep their eye on their VFX gauge to make sure they can pull them off. And while most games always have some kind of special meter or magic gauge that players have to watch to prevent the abuse of special powers, Viewtiful Joe's is balanced in a way that makes sense. Plus, players are never truly crippled when their gauge runs empty -- because, while they'll transform back into Joe's average guy form rather than that of a superhero, they'll still be able to keep punching, kicking, and jumping so that they can kill foes and keep the hectic action moving along on its steady pace.
Supplementing that action quite nicely is another one of Joe's strongest aspects; it's style and visual presentation. Truthfully unlike anything else we've ever seen, the game's over-embellished black lines, bright and flashy colors, strangely designed characters, and pseudo cel-shaded look combine for one appealing amalgam of retro creativity. Of particular note are the peculiar-looking enemy creatures that range from speedy weirdoes in top hats and humanoid bat-things to mechanical rocket-powered cyborgs and creepy one-eye robots. Amazingly, Viewtiful Joe looks just as good as it plays.
Devil May Cry Baby, Yeah!
Already the star of a pair of PlayStation 2 titles with another one on the way, Devil May Cry's Dante is also about to appear in Atlus' upcoming techno-RPG Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. And with a resume like that we suppose it's no big surprise that Dante has the honor of being in Viewtiful Joe as well. In fact, he joins a whole slew of hidden bonus characters that players receive for achieving specific milestones in their conquering of the game.
Playing very similarly to fellow hidden character Alastor (which, not coincidentally, is the name of Dante's sword in Devil May Cry), Dante adds a whole new dynamic to the Viewtiful Joe adventure. Able to use both his sword and duel pistols against whatever gets in his way, the demon hunting badass from Sparda's loins is in many ways more fun to play than Joe himself. Granted, his superior long-range abilities and slightly faster sword movements make the game a little bit easier than it would be normally, but who cares? You'll need all the help you can get. Plus, Dante's a great incentive for frequent Viewtiful Joe players that want to experience the whole trip over again. Capcom has even included a easier 'Sweet Mode' difficulty setting only previously available in the Japanese GameCube's specialty release, Viewtiful Joe Revival. But be warned, this mode is best left for sissies and GameShark users only.
Despite the game's vast challenges, terrific art style, and deep gameplay mechanics, Viewtiful Joe still has a few shortcomings that keep it from achieving perfection. Of course, the most obvious of these inadequacies are the same ones that we had with the GameCube version -- that is, the lack of several diverse and boss characters and its somewhat incoherent storyline. And while we really didn't expect those particular aspects to be addressed in this version (it is only a slightly enhanced port after all) that still doesn't change the fact that they're legitimate issues... small ones that they may be.
Additionally, as fun, unique, and addictive as Viewtiful Joe is, it doesn't really offer the kind of varied longevity that your typical Triple A titles normally do. So while our GameCube colleagues felt that the seven to ten hour completion time for each playable was more than adequate, we sort of wished that there were just a few more stages to choose from. Sure it's cool that you can play through the game multiple times on multiple difficulty settings with multiple characters, but in this day and age of massive action-based projects, seven episodes still feels a nit light.
As for the differences between the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions technologically, there are a few -- specifically in terms of slowdown and transparency. Later levels, in particular, boast occasional chugs in the action that weren't present in Nintendo's effort. While several objects that enjoyed translucent statuses in the GCN rendition were solidified to cut down on used resources. Another little difference we noticed is that it appears the PS2 version doesn't support progressive scan like the Cube game did. Though, it is possible that pro-scan support could be in there as a hidden command that we just haven't figured out yet. Finally for you completists out there, the PlayStation 2 manual is slightly thinner and printed in Black and White, while the Cube game's manual was thicker and in full color.
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