A port with a view.
Game industry seasons are a bit backwards. Summer, usually the time of year when
crops are bountiful and bellies are full, is the equivalent of a long, freezing
Winter marked by barren fields and dwindling supplies.
During the waning moments of this slow-as-molasses season, herds of hungry gamers
subsist on the few hearty offerings that emerge from the wastes. As Winter
– or should I say, Summer – draws near, adolescent fanboys butt heads over
which promising games will be worth mating with, and the elusive Viewtiful
Joe pokes his head out of the ground in search of his port.
With the industry frozen until the pre-holiday thaw rolls around,
have to be blind to miss Capcom’s awesome port of Viewtiful
Joe to the PS2. You’d also have to be slightly foolish, as the PS2 port
offers the same great gameplay experience previously found only
on the Gamecube, and for a mere thirty dollars to boot.
For the most part, this is identical to the Gamecube version released last year. You play as Joe, a film buff who takes his girl Silvia out on a date to a Kung-Fu monster movie. Things seem to be going well until Silvia loses patience with the action in the movie and decides to start some of her own by jumping all over Joe. But Joe, far more interested in the film than in Silvia’s advances, fights her off just in time to see his hero, Captain Blue, vanquished by an evil foe who then reaches through the screen and steals his girl. Fortunately, Captain Blue teleports Joe into Movieland with the last vestiges of his ability and grants Joe the pink wristwatch of power. The wristwatch transforms you into a dashing red hero with a swirling scarf (for added flair), and off you go to crush the evil-doers and rescue your sweetheart.
The plot is quirky and entertaining, but the real power of this superhero is found in its terrific action gameplay. You begin the game with regular punches and kicks that can be wonderfully linked into long, satisfying combos on the ground and in the air, a double-jump and two dodges, but the key to Joe’s arsenal lies in his ability to manipulate time.
This starts with the most useful super-power, Slow Motion. By pressing and holding
L1, time slows down, enabling Joe to dodge attacks more easily, hit harder,
and slam foes into one another. He can also use it to slow down the spinning
rotors on the undersides of floating platforms, thus bringing them to his level,
as well as the helicopter blades on the backs of enemies, thus bringing them
into striking range.
Joe also gains a Mach Speed ability that allows him to move and attack at light speed when the R1 button is held, letting him operate so quickly that he can eventually catch fire and ignite his enemies. Likewise, he can trigger Mach Speed to use the wind to extinguish himself, as well as make the rotors on platforms spin faster, in turn propelling him to higher points.
Joe’s final power is the Zoom In. Tapping up on the R-stick makes the camera
zoom in on Joe and he gains a couple new moves and uber-powerful attacks. By
combining the Zoom with Slow-Mo, Joe can deal out some of the most brutal attacks
in the game.
of Joe’s fancier moves come at the cost of VFX power. Every time Joe uses a
power, his VFX gauge begins to diminish, and if the gauge empties Joe is transformed
back into his normal self. But in a matter of time the gauge will recharge to
a certain point and Joe will turn back into a hero. To add some depth, Joe can
buy upgrades between levels that grant new moves, a longer life bar, and a higher
VFX regeneration rate with “Viewtifuls’ (read: coins) he collects during his
What this all boils down to is one of the most engaging combat systems ever. Simply dominating an enemy with a regular punch/kick chain is very satisfying, but the kinetic fun flies off the charts when you start implementing the VFX powers in interesting ways. You can start out punching and kicking, and then accelerate into Mach Speed. After you’ve dealt with most of the enemies on screen, you can Slow-Mo and Zoom In for an epic finishing move. Although your options may seem limited at first, Viewtiful
Joe actually allows you to control the pacing and dramatic emphasis of your battles, and the result is pure gameplay gold.
Of course, with great powers come great obstacles. You’ll be faced with a score of imaginative puzzles requiring creative use of the VFX powers to solve, as well as a host of nasty enemies and hard-hitting bosses. In one instance, Joe is faced with a high wall, a speeding bus, and a ramp. In order to clear the wall Joe must jump on the bus, ride it through the air, and then leap off before the bus plummets into a canyon. Thanks to the up-close perspective, cinematic Slo-Mo and off-kilter perspective the camera assumes, this episode redefines eye candy.
Joe will also deal with a slew of dynamic enemies, but they don’t simply get harder as the game progresses. Rather, it’s the combination of enemies that really determines the difficulty. While the basic units are pretty easy and the ranged cowboy units aren’t bad if you’re fighting them alone, the game will throw four foot-soldiers, a cowboy and two airborne bombers at you at once, leading to an insane fistfight requiring heavy use of Joe’s incredible powers and some highly dexterous thumbs.
Fortunately, Joe can dispatch any given enemy in a variety of ways. For example, the cowboy enemies are dodgy and quick, so you can try to chase them with Mach Speed and slowly whittle away their health. Alternately, you can slow down time right as they shoot and actually punch their bullets back at them. Or you can Mach Speed to catch them, Slow-Mo, then Zoom In and deliver a couple mortal punches. And this is just one enemy with one set of characteristics.
This is really what makes Viewtiful Joe such a great game ” it manages to provide gamers with a new, revolutionary combat system in the context of one of the most outdated, archaic forms: the side-scrolling action platformer. What a blast.
Speaking of which, Viewtiful
Joe is the aesthetic equivalent of a daisy-cutter bomb; it blows everything else away. Every graphical nuance has been taken into account here: animation, color, perspective, visual tempo and hit detection. The framerate during play is always rock solid; the only hiccups are reserved for some of the cut-scenes. It’s stylish and functional, a tough combination to beat.
Great graphics are nothing without great sounds, and Viewtiful
Joe doesn’t disappoint.
Flamboyant ultra-moves are accentuated by psychedelic visuals and blaring, triumphant
kung-fu movie sounds. In fact, to discuss the sounds and visuals separately
is a mistake in Viewtiful Joe‘s case, as both are inseparable parts of this
presentational tour de force.
In an addition exclusive to the PS2 version of Viewtiful
Joe, Devil May Cry‘s Dante has been
included as an unlockable character. Although Dante plays identically to Joe,
he has his own intro, plot line, and unique conversations with bosses. While
this certainly doesn’t qualify as a reason to grab the PS2 version if you already
have the Gamecube version, it’s nice that Capcom attempted to integrate Dante
into the game beyond just making him a skin.
While not a particularly long game, Viewtiful Joe is divided
into well-paced episodes and comes with three difficulty settings: Sweet, Kids,
and Adults. That’s
one more than the Gamecube version, clearly a response to gripes about
the outrageous difficulty. As a result, Viewtiful
Joe for the PS2 is an action game that gamers of every age should be
able to enjoy.
There might be equally enticing prospects on the horizon, but there is nothing cooler out for the PS2 right now. Viewtiful
Joe is a singular game of incredible craftsmanship and provides a unique experience that no fan of the action genre should miss. Enjoy the view.