Living in Japan has its perks. You have access to a very convenient public transportation system, get treated with the utmost courtesy (even at the local AM/PM) and get to play Japanese developed video games months before they are released anywhere else. The most recent game I’ve managed to get my grubby hands on here in the Land of the Rising Sun is Capcom’s quirky cel-shaded action title, Viewtiful Joe.
The demo I got to play was fairly short and not terribly challenging, but I was able to become familiar with the title’s unique gameplay and do plenty of butt kicking in the process. The demo starts out in a tutorial mode and explains how to use the control stick to jump and duck under enemy attacks. You can stay in this mode as long as you wish, beating up an endless stream of baddies while coming to grips with the controls, but I was ready to go in about thirty seconds and exited out of the tutorial with a quick click of the Z button.
After leaving the tutorial, which took place against a plain black backdrop, you are thrown into an actual level with a beautiful outdoor background that appears to be a combination of cel-shaded polygons and hand drawn sprites. As I began to run forward I immediately noticed the 2.5D nature of Viewtiful Joe’s gameplay. By 2.5D I mean that the game takes place in a 3D world, but the main character (Joe) travels through it on a linear path.
I was soon accosted by more of the robo-baddies that were in the tutorial, so I used a few well-timed dodges followed by some stylish punch/kick combos to eliminate the threat. Doing combos in the game is quite easy, as all you have to do is repeatedly press the X button (punch), the Y button (kick) or a combination of both. Pressing the A button causes to Joe to jump and some slick looking combos can be performed while in midair. I was very impressed with the tightness of Viewtiful Joe’s gameplay and how responsive the game was to your commands.
Each level in Viewtiful Joe appears to be broken up into many smaller sections. After you complete one of these mini-sections, which sometimes only consists of a handful of baddies and about twenty seconds of gameplay, you are shown a screen that breaks down how well you did (ie – how ‘stylishly’ you performed your butt kicking and how many items you collected) and gives you a grade accordingly. The only grades I saw were A for ‘Awesome!’ and B for ‘Baaaaaaad’ (as in good).
I continued to move on through the level, collecting movie reels (though I’m still not sure of their purpose), beating up enemies and marveling at how Joe seamlessly twists and turns through the gorgeous 3D environment. Soon I was treated to a cut scene of a blue spandex-wearing, potbellied superhero challenging me (with English voice acting) to a fight. Using the same dodge and strike techniques that worked against the robo-baddies, I made quick work of him and was soon in another cut scene. He tells me that I have now unlocked the power to transform into a superhero, and an explosion of light suddenly envelops Joe and he emerges as a red spandex-wearing superhero (thankfully minus the potbelly).
The demo now continues and I am given an explanation on how to pull off Joe’s newfound superhero moves in another quick tutorial. Our hero Joe can now perform a nifty double jump and the L and R triggers can be used to slow down or speed up time respectively. The slow down feature causes everything on-screen to move at a crawl and is great when trying to avoid multiple enemies, while at the same time allowing you to unleash some super powerful strikes. When the R trigger is pressed to activate the speed up special, the entire screen turns blurry and Joe can pull off some awesome combinations at breakneck speeds. While you are using either of these special attacks, an on-screen meter is depleted and when it runs out Joe is forced to revert back to his regular self. Not to worry though, cause the meter regenerates rather quickly and when it fills up completely you transform back into your powerful superhero alter ego.
By the time the demo had finished I had the chance to use these new powers for things such as slowing down background hazards to make advancing easier (like suits of armor that swing axes) or slowing down a slot machine to open a locked door. Capcom promises that Joe’s superhero powers will be used in many unique ways that will keep the gameplay fresh and exciting and, judging from the demo, I can safely say that they are absolutely correct.
Viewtiful Joe is poised to be one of the most uniquely entertaining gameplay experiences of the year and is high atop my personal must-have list. The GameCube really needs some quality third party support at the moment, so it’s wonderful to see Capcom deliver an exclusive title that looks and plays so fabulously. Keep checking back to Thunderbolt for more info on this and other titles in Capcom’s Big 5 GameCube line-up.
Capcom is aiming for a September release for Viewtiful Joe in the US, with the Japanese release set to ship early next month. The game’s European release has yet to be announced.