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Viewtiful Joe

(Capcom; US: Jul 2007)

Slow Motion Rider

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a Sony guy since the first PlayStation arrived. Before that, there was really no question that Nintendo was the king company of home video game consoles. Sega tried hard, but their product was always lacking, and you didn’t have to do anything but do a side-by-side comparison of games released on both systems to see that this was the case. So for years, let’s say beginning with the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and running on through to the Super Nintendo, Sega was always standing in the shadows.


But when Sony arrived with the PSX, the entire game changed. For the first time ever, Nintendo was finally seen as a straggler, and its N64 system paling in comparison to Sony’s new console. Hey, I was a big fan from the get-go. Sony catered to more adult tastes with their games, while Nintendo seemed to still be aiming for the kiddie audience with the Mario franchise and the like. Bright colors and fun sounds versus the darker overtones and rocked-out soundtracks for many of Sony’s games. Thus it continued on through to the PlayStation 2. And poor Sega was only left to finally admit defeat, saying that their own Dreamcast system was the last console the company would produce, and would only focus on strictly making games for all the other systems in the future.


But not too long ago, I had the itch to buy a GameCube. I already owned a GameBoy Advance SP, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I always thought Nintendo was the king of portable gaming. But I wanted something else. And that something else was Animal Crossing, a real-time game only created for the GameCube. So when the local Costco was offering up the GC plus an extra controller and huge memory card for cheap, I finally bit. But this isn’t about Animal Crossing, which I did purchase and do highly enjoy, thereby justifying my bigger overall purchase.


Yet I couldn’t help but feel that Sony still had the better overall system. I guess I still do, and that’s OK. But recently I made this purchase of a game called Viewtiful Joe that reignited my interest in the GameCube again. Yes, it is an older title, and yes, I’m aware that it was recently issued for the PS2, but I think it’s significant that Nintendo got it first, seeing how excellent the game truly is, and how scattershot a record Nintendo has for the GameCube overall. If more games like Viewtiful Joe were available for the system, I’d say Nintendo would truly be a force to be reckoned with once again.


In this game, you play Joe, a fan of old martial arts/superhero flicks. During the opening scenes we find Joe with his girlfriend Silvia screening an old Captain Blue movie that Joe has been wanting to see for ages. Silvia would rather make out than watch the movie and proceeds to cause Joe to miss an important scene of Captain Blue being defeated. Soon, all hell breaks loose and Blue’s evil nemesis reaches through the screen and snags Silvia. Joe suddenly finds himself in the movie as well, with Captain Blue giving him new powers to save the day.


Perhaps you’ve seen this played out before in the movies. Viewtiful Joe is not unlike the silly Schwarzenegger bomb that was Last Action Hero in its premise. But look deeper, and you’ll find that it has a lot more in common with Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo in its fond retro fashion, combining the love of old movies with some of the best old school 3D/2D scrolling fighting gaming ever to be created. Obviously, the team at Capcom Production Studio 4 has its fingers on a strong pulse that will draw in gamers of all stripes.


Also to its credit, Viewtiful Joe is hands down the best cel-shaded style of game I’ve ever played. If you’re not familiar with this style, the cel-shading technique makes games look truly cartoony and “hand-drawn” instead of looking, well, “video gamey”. However, so many games that have been produced in this manner in the past (such as Auto Modelista) have favored style over substance, but any good gamer will tell you that it’s not the graphics that always make or break a game. That the cel-shading works so well in this title is just icing on the cake.


Beyond that, the coolest aspect of Viewtiful Joe is the ability to slow down, speed up, or zoom in on the action while the game is being played. I know it sounds odd, but going into one of these modes while Joe is kicking serious butt adds a surreal bit of elegance to the proceedings. And being able to switch through the three results in this kind of chaotic yet controlled ballet that has truly never been seen or utilized in such a smooth and eye-popping fashion as it is here.


It’s that innate need to really buckle down and control life, if you will, that pushes Viewtiful Joe and at least the fighting/action game genre into places that only perhaps The Sims have ventured. And with its comic-book style and larger than life characters mixed in with a rocking soundtrack, one gets the feeling that this is exactly the kind of stuff that film auteur Kevin Smith’s dreams are made of. The same kind of attention to detail and strange fanaticism that drives the subplots in movies like Clerks and Mallrats works in the backgrounds here. Maybe if Smith ever does work on a superhero-based movie, Viewtiful Joe could offer some fuel to his fires.


With a sequel on the horizon, the gaming world certainly can’t lose with a game like Viewtiful Joe. Only here’s hoping that the franchise doesn’t turn into the boring mess that other titles like Tomb Raider and its mass of sequels have become. The future remains to be seen.

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