Realistic games have about as much entertainment value as watching wet paint dry.
Multimedia: Viewtiful Joe 2
Platforms: GameCube (also PlayStation 2)
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Clover Studio
US release date: 2007-07
Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it.
-- Jack Wagner
Before the days of the PlayStation, games like Viewtiful Joe, would have been purchased by the masses. But this is the PlayStation era and the gaming market has vastly changed. It's now all about realism and 3D renderings, which has bought about a new way of playing games as well as completely new genres, but unfortunately at the expense of originality.
Now I'll happily admit that on more than one occasion realism was the word for me. You know realistic graphics, characters, gameplay, etc. Who wasn't amazed the first time they powered up Gran Turismo? The chance to handle real-life cars had never been done so well before, but I was bored stiff by GT2
The realism bug bit me again when Splinter Cell hit the Xbox. For ages I had been debating with friends about how unrealistic Metal Gear Solid is as a stealth game and I kept telling them that a game would appear that would highlight its weaknesses. By the time Splinter Cell arrived I was both amazed and vindicated. It was a truly original and well executed concept, and one of the few revolutionary games to arrive since Super Mario 64.
However I found myself losing interest towards the end and the sequel was utterly lackluster. My point is after years of playing realistic games across many different genres, I now found myself going back to play utterly unrealistic games. Why? Because I've come to the simple conclusion that realistic games have about as much entertainment value as watching wet paint dry.
So when a game of Viewtiful Joe 2's quality arrives in the mail, you can imagine the excitement that filled up inside me. I was like a young child all over again experiencing Super Mario Bros. for the first time. The original VJ reminded me that games can be fun again and the sequel reminded me just how much the industry needs more games like this.
The idea behind Viewtiful Joe was to bring gamers an old genre (2D beat-em-up) fully kicking and screaming into the 21st century so newer, younger gamers could enjoy what so many of us did two decades ago. Capcom achieved this and it was only a matter of time before a sequel was announced. In fact there should be at least one more entry in the VJ series, as the cutscenes in VJ and VJ2 have openly talked about the Joe's adventure being a trilogy. So we can expect VJ3 (soon hopefully) even though the sales figures don't really warrant a third entry.
The real question is just how does VJ2 compare to the original? While the first has the advantage of being a unique concept, the second has chosen to follow the safe route taken by its older brother. And that isn't a bad thing since the first was such a delight to play and the sequel is just as brilliant.
The cartoon-like graphics are one of the many reasons why casual gamers were put off by the original, and I'll even admit that Capcom made a peculiar choice when decided upon them. But it must be said that it's also one of the best looking games in a long while, maybe even more so than The Wind Waker. The animation, models, and special effects are simply sumptuous and come together to add even more personality to this already overly charming game.
Another reason why many gamers chose not to pick Joe up the first time round was the difficulty. On many occasions while playing VJ I threw my pad against the wall in sheer frustration at being killed and having to repeat a long section all over again. But with practice and a lot of patience I finished it and the sense of accomplishment was probably the highest I've felt since getting 96 stars on Super Mario World. Clover Studio have listened somewhat to the difficulty complaints of the first and have thrown in loads more save points and health pick-ups so the ride this time around is a lot less bumpier. The tension and urgency has been lost somewhat, but this is definitely an area of the game that needed to be fixed.
Now think when was the last time you picked up a game that actually had likeable characters? Sure there are there the iconic mascots of Mario, Link, Zelda, and Samus, as well as the prince from Sands of Time and Solid Snake, but in recent years how many have there been? I won't include Sonic and The Final Fantasy characters because if it were up to me they would have been strangled at birth. But in recent years Capcom has been continually giving us really likeable avatars, both male and surprisingly female. Think Dante from Devil May Cry or Samanosuke Akechi, Jacques and Michelle from Onimusha 3, and more recently Leon. S. Kennedy and Ashley Graham from Resident Evil 4. Joe and his girlfriend Silvia are the latest and each make playing VJ2 an even more special experience. Even the bad guys can raise a smile, whether they're just regular robots or the completely over the top hilarious bosses. (I could write for 100 pages on the bosses alone, but you're just going to have to discover the genius for yourself.)
Viewtiful Joe 2 may be just a mission pack, but so what? After all, so were Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Halo 2, and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, but that didn't stop people from buying them. Rest assured, buying Viewtiful Joe 2 will be one of the smartest investments you can make. It's an absolute classic with superb visuals, great characters, funky music, a humorous and unique plot, and an emphasis on gameplay that is hard to find in most other modern releases. But more importantly it's fun.