Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have a Viewtiful Day in Your Neighborhood

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me: One minute, I’m sitting in a movie theater with a girl, and the next, she’s getting sucked into the screen and I have to go in to save her. That’s why I was so excited to play Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe for the GameCube, because this is exactly what happens to the game’s main character. I feel your pain, Joe. I feel your pain.

Though it’s excellent all around, where Viewtiful Joe really excels is gameplay. Joe’s world is in vibrant 2D, something old-school gamers (like me) welcome with open arms. The player jumps right into the fray without 67 hours of examining the surroundings, like in many 3D action games.

Viewtiful Joe plays like Streets of Rage or Final Fight on crack. Hoards of enemies fly out of nowhere and it’s up to Joe to beat them into submission with his feet and fists. As the game progresses, Joe gains extra powers that allow him to manipulate time. He can slow it down, allowing him to dodge bullets like in the first “Matrix” movie, speed it up to attack so fast that his arms and legs burst into flames, or zoom in on the enemy to do super powerful attacks. This ain’t not gimmick – it’s truly the crux of the gameplay, because Joe’s mastery of time is essential to defeating the game. Really, beating people senseless in slow-mo never gets old.

Viewtiful Joe’s stylish graphics are a treat for those of use who long for the good ol’ days of simple 2D righteousness. The game looks and feels like a cross between a comic book and an old monster flick, with vibrant colors and cheesy-yet-endearing character designs. While our hero begins the game as just another schmoe, he’s soon transformed into Viewtiful Joe, a red-clad, power ranger-like superhero. Anytime Viewtiful Joe reverts back to just an average Joe, the game returns to a grainy, old film stock look. This, in addition to excellent character animations and scrolling backgrounds, make the game a joy to watch.

Capcom did the best possible job assigning a button layout to Viewtiful Joe as they could, but the weird design of the ‘Cube-troller sometimes gets in the way. For example, the punch and kick buttons are too close to each other and there are separate buttons for jumping and dodging, so for the first half hour or so of play, it’s easy to confuse the two. But after a little time, you’ll get used to it and be busting heads like there’s no tomorrow.

Viewtiful Joe is a great effort from Capcom. The later stages are tough as nails and as frustrating as being the only liberal in Texas, but anyone with a GameCube who appreciates good old fashioned action should give Viewtiful Joe a gogo.

(It should be noted that this game was also released for the PlayStation 2, but I haven’t played that version and therefore can’t speak to its quality. But I’m guessing the controls are a wee bit better.)

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