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Videogame Review: VIEWTIFUL JOE, July 31, 2003
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Sep 21 2003, 04:55 PM
Post #1





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GameCube Review: VIEWTIFUL JOE



Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom (Production Studio 4)

Out: Now (Jap), October 14th (US)






Note: While cel-shaded games like this and Kinnikuman look great on a TV, the graphical style does NOT lend itself well to screen grabs. Couple this with Joe's wild graphical effects and some of these shots may look a little blocky and/or blurred, but trust me - they're smooth as silk on a big TV.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/joecover.jpg)




“For the growth of the gaming industry.

For GameCube.

These words describe our initial thoughts. In an industry where you create to amuse and entertain, do you sense a crisis about the industry’s continuing regression of excitement and new simulation?”





The games industry has seen astronomical growth in recent times, to the point where it is regularly more lucrative than both the film and music industry. More people than ever are playing video games, and they have truly been accepted by mainstream pop culture in a way that pro wrestling never will – it is no longer “uncool” to be a gamer.



This, however, is a very mixed blessing.



With gaming now such a big money business, the commercial and financial imperatives have taken over. When Sony laid out a six million pound budget to develop The Getaway, the games industry made the final step away from games made by gamers, for gamers, and towards gaming as part of the extended “entertainment industry”, corrupted by the same evils as feature films: businessmen, not gamers, deciding the fate of the industry, developing only the most vanilla, run-of-the-mill, lowest-common-denominator titles bereft of originality that appeal to the widest audience and generate the greatest profit. Gone were the days of hardcore coders programming in their bedrooms to create masterpieces of playability. The Pete Molyneauxs, The Bitmap Brothers, or Rare – legendary coders that started out programming in bedrooms – are no longer in charge of the games industry. That power is now wielded by greedy publishers who drive helpless developers to produce soulless, license-based drivel and hollow sequels.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/gorgeous_2.jpg)
Viewtiful Joe: simply... um, viewtiful.






It is surprising, then, that it was Capcom – a company that has traditionally been criticised for relying on endless spin-offs of its successful titles (Street Fighter 2, Resident Evil, Mega Man) – that actually had the sack to stand up and publicly admit that games have becomes boring and stale. In a message on their website, they blamed the games developers themselves for allowing the creative implosion to take place, for the very reasons outlined above.



“We believe that the regression of excitement is solely the fault and responsibility of we creators. By the same token, we believe it is also our mission and responsibility to create something that is ‘worth seeing’ for the user.”



Capcom accepted that developers had become complacent, that steps needed to be taken to remedy the problem – and that it would be Capcom who would start the ball rolling. They announced a line-up of 5 titles exclusively for the Nintendo GameCube (the console with arguably the most hardcore, innovativity-conscious user base) that would shun mass appeal in favour of taking the necessary creative steps to makes games ‘about games’ again: P.N.03 (Project Number 03), Viewtiful Joe, Killer 7, Dead Phoenix, and the eagerly-anticipated Resident Evil 4.



“In a market that has become prosaic with character dependant games and sequel games, we would like to take this opportunity to announce five new and exciting games for GameCube.”



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/mecha.jpg)
Sometimes movies come to life, like Last Action Hero. only good.





With Resident Evil creator Hiroki Kato heading up Capcom’s Production Studio 4, things were looking good for both exclusive-hungry GC owners, and a games industry desert thirsty for new ideas. However, the first of these titles, P.N.03, was met mixed reaction from gamers. While it was a welcome and original breath of fresh air, it wasn’t without its faults, and unfortunately it didn’t sell tremendously well. Had the gaming industry decayed to such a point that not only was creativity lacking, but not welcome in games? With low sales threatening Capcom’s vision of restoring originality to the next generation of games, they released Viewtiful Joe with more than a little uncertainty – indeed, Joe director Hideki Kamiya’s job was on the line if the title didn’t sell. Thankfully, everybody can let out a collective sigh of relief, because Joe is a blinding success in virtually viewtifully every way.



Welcome to the next generation.







THE KNOWLEDGE



Joe is a movie geek. He spends endless hours of his free time sat in empty movie theatres watching the campy old Godzilla-esque classics, his favourite of which are the incomparable Captain Blue flicks (who is an old guy in a blue bodysuit, not Captain Scarlet’s Mysteron-fighting marionette partner). The problem is, Joe loves these movies a little TOO much. In the opening cutscene we see Joe sitting in the theatre with his girlfriend who is desperately trying to put her tongue in his ear and her hand down his pants. Well, the intro doesn’t portray quite that, but you get the idea. The problem is, ol’ Joe is so engrossed in watching Captain Blue kick some ass that he shamelessly ignores his girlfriend’s advances.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/joe_sylvia.jpg)
Joe and Sylvia. Not funny, but true.





It’s at this point that you might find it a little hard to get behind our hero, but don’t worry – Joe soon shows his true colours.



In bizarre and typically cheesy fashion (much like the movies that Joe loves so much), the bad guy reaches out of the movie and swipes Joe’s gal from next to him and pulls her into the movie universe. VEEEEEEERY DELICIOOOOOOOOUS~! So Joe goes into the movie world to save her, although unfortunately the very normal, mortal, everyday Joe is ill-equipped to deal with the robot mummies, pink rubber ninjas and other inhabitants of the movie world. So who should step forward to train Joe in the ways of Destrucity? That’s right, Joe’s very own Obi Wan Kenobi is his idol, Captain Blue! With the good Captain teaching him the ways of movie monster ass-kicking, Joe soon becomes adept at every action movie fighting gimmick going – bullet time, wire-fu, special effects moves… and with these powers, Joe won’t stop until he rescues his girl!



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/joevsblue.jpg)
Blue teaches Joe to kick ass by kicking his ass.








GAMEPLAY




Joe’s premise sounds campy and cheesy, and it is. That’s where most of the fun comes from, actually. Joe looks like a Power Ranger, fights like Neo, and fights everything from Robot Cowboys to ED-209 attack copters.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/chopper.jpg)
Beat the shit out of helicopters.





What initially appears to be little more than a super-stylised version of Final Fight soon reveals its incredible depth. Joe is truly one of the most controllable, visceral videogame characters ever created. Really, visceral is the only way I can describe the way the game handles. You know how totally in control you felt taking Link into battle in Wind Waker, able to manipulate his every thrust and parry, knocking off enemies with absolute precision? Picture that in a unique, side-scrolling environment, add in bullet-time, super-speed and comic book fighting moves and you’ve got Viewtiful Joe. Most of you have played the demo on the Ninty demo disc, so you think you already know how much fun it is. Let me tell you – that feeling of “Holy shit, this game is fucking ace!” that you felt when you completed that demo? Seriously, multiply that rush by about five or six times and you’ve got it.



Joe might very well be the most precise, slick, tightly-controlled game ever created. Crashing through the levels at super-speed firing off hundreds of kicks and punches and racking up kill combos just feels absolutely… PERFECT. I have never felt so in control, so satisfied at controlling a video game character before. It’s visceral, what can I say? Every strike seems so hard, so tangible, every effect just leaps out of the screen. When Joe jumps, it feels so perfectly balanced; Joe has weight, buoyancy – he feels real. With a tap of the L button, you activate Joe’s bullet time feature. From here you can juggle enemies, perform outrageous cartwheel kicks and wire-fu techniques, but believe me, it’s more than just a neat combat gimmick. There are some instances where you’ll need to use bullet time not for fighting, but for solving puzzles or defeating adversaries. It’s hard to explain without spoiling a lot of the fun of exploring the game, but a good example (since it’s in the demo you’ll already have played) would be the way slowing down time affects the environment. Say, for instance, there’s a helicopter attacking you, but you can’t get high enough to blast it with kung-fu. Well, if you turn on bullet time, the chopper’s blades will spin slower and slower, and soon the chopper will start to lose altitude and fall into striking range.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/hitemup.jpg)
Henshin. Henshin-a-go-go. Henshin-a-go-go, baby!





THAT’S what’s so frigging great about Viewtiful Joe. It looks so simple, so two-dimensional and shallow, but the game has so many hidden depths. There are many such elements that flesh out Joe from a simple fighting game to, at times, almost a puzzle-game. There are frequent occasions where you will be standing there saying “what the hell do I do now?”, and you’ll need to fiddle about with each of your super powers, trying to interact with the background or bad guys in any way you can to try and solve the puzzle. This really is so much more than a cel-shaded Final Fight.



While it lasts, Joe is an incredible, unparalleled, enormously satisfying experience. While it lasts. You see, Joe isn’t the longest of games. What can I say? Capcom have truly achieved their goal of developing a fresh, innovative, radical new title, and perhaps a slightly shorter lifespan is the price we have to pay for that. Don’t get me wrong, the game isn’t pathetically short by any means (don’t worry, it’s not quite in Wario World territory). In fact, in a lot of ways, it will last you even longer than games like Zelda. For starters, this game is tough. MAN-SIZED TOUGH. I’m sure I’m not alone in the fact that I didn’t die once in Zelda. NOT ONCE – not fighting ships, not storming through dungeons, not once. But Joe? My friend, this is a man’s game. The very first boss in Joe is harder than ANY boss in Wind Waker, and you can quote me on that (it’s WAY harder than it was in the demo). You might blast through the first two difficulty levels fairly quickly, but if you want to get through the tougher unlockable settings, be prepared to invest some SERIOUS TIME mastering moves, combos, and every nuance of the game in order to survive – we’re talking near Ikaragua difficulty at times.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/wonderboy.jpg)
Viewtiful Joe, or Alex Kidd?





The game has huge replay value, for many reasons. Firstly, you really will want to play the game through again and again, just because it’s so much fun. I don’t just mean in the cop-out R-Type way, where reviewers used to say “die-hard gamers will want to rack up huge highscores!” kind of way, I mean that this game will literally sit on your shelf and beg you to play it again, even though you’ve beaten it a few times. Some of you will want to do that to rack up the huge highscores – Joe ranks your play at the end of every mini “progress point” of each level, and only through mastery of Joe’s moves, and hence combos, will you be able to rack up Viewtifuls and Perfects. Another reason you’ll want to play again and again is to unlock all the game’s extras. From unlockable movies to secret characters to new moves and power-ups, there’s plenty to spend your hard-earned points on, and it’ll take some time before you’ve bought everything.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/viewtiful.jpg)
If you're good, you'll be seeing this a lot.






This truly is one of the GameCube’s finest moments, alongside Zelda, Animal Crossing, Monkey Ball, Rogue Squadron and Eternal Darkness. It’s utterly unique, stylish, and original. I absolutely give Joe my highest recommendation – if you ever trust to one single thing I say, trust this: BUY VIEWTIFUL JOE. BUY IT NOW.








IMPORT?




Viewtiful Joe hits US stores on October 14th. By that time, it will have been available on import for FIVE MONTHS. So, should you wait for the official release, or go ahead and import this bad boy?



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/tutorial.jpg)
The tutorials are in Japanese, but they're not exactly hard to figure out.





I know a lot of people are wary of importing. Whether it’s fears that the game will somehow mysteriously break their GameCube, or that it will be unplayable because it’s all in Japanese or whatever – people generally aren’t keen to import. Well, let me tell you this: there is NO GODDAMN REASON why you shouldn’t head to your nearest e-tailer/retailer and buy this game right now. Whether you invest in an Action Replay or get your machine modified (there are hundreds of places that do it for you, but it’s so easy you can do it yourself), it’s just so easy to play Japanese games on US Cubes. And if you’re concerned about the language barrier, don’t be – this game is as Westernised as they come. Thanks largely to the American Movie flavour of the game, the whole thing is superbly voice acted entirely in English, with Japanese subtitles. The life bars and indicators are in English, as are the scores and notifications that flash onscreen. The only Japanese is found in the control guide and the game’s shop, but honestly everything is so self-explanatory that it doesn’t get in the way at all.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/shoppe.jpg)
The shop text is in Japanese, but it doesn't really hinder play.





It’s entirely up to you, but to me, why should you wait another three months to get something that’s already available now? Much like Soul Calibur 2, this game is completely playable and there’s no reason not to pick it up. There’s always a chance that Capcom will add some US-exclusive features, but none have been announced, so it’s really up to you whether you wait on the off-chance that they include an extra level, or you just buy the game now and get three months of extra entertainment out of this mofo.








GRAPHICS




Do I really need to go into detail about this? This is an amazing-looking game. Sure, cel-shading is getting more and more overused these days, but Joe – like everything else it does and incorporates – manages to use it as more than just a gimmick, and makes it an integral part of the experience.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/gorgeous.jpg)
More viewtiful action.





Joe is about the mood that the visuals set – like The Matrix, Joe is as much about style as it is about anything else. The animation is super slick – every frame is just dripping with expression. The game employs a Crash Bandicoot-esque interpretation of the world that isn’t quite 3D, but Joe moves and interacts with the backgrounds in such a way that they pan and zoom and move as if they were fully explorable 3D environments.



Of course, Joe’s Viewtiful abilities are where the graphics truly shine. In fact, it’s when Joe is deprived of his abilities that the graphics are arguably at their coolest. Y’see, Joe is trapped in a movie universe. When he’s powered-up, superhero Viewtiful Joe, the movie world is bright and vibrant; a DVD with a crystal clear transfer that would make Pixar blush. But when he is mortal, no-powers everyday scrub Joe, the movie world reflects his disempowered state; the picture will be grainy and crackly and drained of colour – like the damaged transfer of an old, beaten-up movie. This was an addition Capcom made after the demo was released, and hoo boy, is it a sweet one. The bullet-time, speed-up, zoom and all the other Viewtiful powers all look amazing too. The way the backgrounds fade while the foreground characters take on an ethereal, dreamy quality is out of this world.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/badtransfer.jpg)
When Joe's mortal, the film print is all scratched and blurry. SO DAMN COOL.





While it may not look it in still shots (but then again, neither did Zelda), Joe is simply an incredible game to look at. It’s no just tech demo visuals, it’s new and exciting tech demo visuals. If ILM were responsible for the graphics in a game, it would probably look something like this.








SOUND




One of the most amazing things about Joe is the quality of the voice acting. I mean this is truly Hollywood-quality speech. Like the graphics, the sound is incredibly stylised – there are Power Rangers-esque cackling villains, Joe’s overenthusiastic battle cries and exclamations (“Henshin-a-go-go, baby!”) and the dreamy, God-like voice of your mentor, Captain Blue. The voices are exceptionally well done, and this is an area where Joe is truly outstanding.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/indyjones.jpg)
Indiana Jones moment #1.





That isn’t to undermine the music either – from cheesy superhero scores to hip-hop and techno ditties, Joe is loaded with wacky, and zany, and haunting and thumping tunes of every description. You’ll be taking a whizz one day and find yourself humming to yourself under your breath, and you won’t know where that tune came from until you boot up and start cleaning house on some bad guys.



And again, the effects are equally impressive. While, as a fighting game, there are an abundance of thwacks and thwomps and hard knock chop-sockey effects, the way they’re employed is off-the-wall cool. Slow down time and the effects slow down too – bullets will audibly soar in slow-motion across the channels, warped and echoed from the bullet time. Chain together a mammoth string of combos and send enemies BOOMING across the screen with enough bass to knock the controller out of your hands.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/gambling.jpg)
Sometimes even super heroes play the slots.





Joe is as strong and unique in the audio department as it is in the graphical.








OVERALL




I think I’m all out of superlatives by now. I don’t know how many ways I can say “This is fucking great – buy it.” You should put this right at the very top of your must-have list – it’s an amazing beat-em-up that’s got so much more depth than a beat-em-up. It’s stylish and unique in every single respect – from graphical style to voice acting to the incredible and fine-tuned gameplay mechanics. It’s not the longest game in the world, but it’s just so replayable and the journey is absolutely incredible fun while it lasts. If I had the money, I would buy you all a copy – it’s THAT important to your experience as a GameCube owner. As it is, I ain’t buying you nothing, so go rob a nun or something and get your own.





Jay Spree



Read my archives, biatch.

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