Video games

Viewtiful Joe: Video Game Review

For the past month or so I’ve been doing Let’s Play streams of Viewtiful Joe, a 2.5D character action game from Clover Studios. Now that I’ve beaten the game and the last edited installments have gone up, it’s time for me to give my thoughts on the game as a whole.

Viewtiful Joe puts the player in control of Joe, a film buff who is really into toksatsu-style superhero movies. When the hero Captain Blue is killed in the film, and Joe’s girlfriend Sylvia is kidnapped and pulled into the film, Joe chases after her, obtaining various visual effects superpowers that help him along his way.

There are a lot of things about this game that really works. The game uses the concept of a moderately budget science fiction film to basically fuel the game’s mechanics – Joe’s powers are based on camera effects and how they are narrative shorthand in film – over-cranking the camera to slow down the action and giving a higher sense of impact, under-cranking the camera to give a sense of increased speed, and doing a close up to similarly give an increased sense of impact.

These are reflected in Joe’s SFX powers – he can slow down the action to deal more damage, and dodge (or even deflect and redirect) projectile attacks), he can speed himself up to travel through levels or past obstacles better (and with an upgrade the afterimages of his movements can attack enemies in the background), and the camera can zoom in allowing him to do extra damage to enemies nearby, or allowing for screw jump and dive attacks.

Each of the game’s levels will require you to use these abilities not only to defeat enemies but also to get through various puzzles. And this is kind of where everything falls down, for a variety of reasons. The first problem is the camera. If you are moving along a level surface, movement is generally fine. However, when you end up moving dramatically up or down, the camera maintains its vertical position and tilts up or down based on your movement, only changing its vertical position if your route through the level is also vertical. This makes some elements of vertical platforming awkward. This also causes problems in a few boss fights where it becomes excessively difficult to leap out of some lower areas of the level.

Second, the game handles fire damage poorly. If Joe ends up in fire, he basically gets hit twice, the first on initial ignition (from flame blasts or lava), and then a second time at the end of an immunity period. The catch is that when the second incident happens, Joe will experience knockback. This causes problems with several areas which have precise platforming around flame and lava related obstacles, where touching lava can kill you through the death of a thousand cuts. You can put out the flame by activating the speed boost and then running – but in these precise platforming sequences (which are often also auto-scrollers), the ability to do that is effectively unavailable.

Third, with each level, your SFX game, both the potential SFX gauge and the maximum possible SFX gauge is reset, so you start each of the progressively difficult levels in a relatively worse place. From level 1 to level 2 its an annoyance. By the last level of the game, it’s a dramatic setback.

Overall, Viewtiful Joe is an incredibly fun game, and I had a lot of fun playing it for the stream, but if I wasn’t playing it in an emulator where I could have used save scumming to mitigate issues with camera angles, checkpointing, and limited numbers of lives, I probably would have given up on this game.

If you’re planning on picking up Viewtiful Joe, if you’re not getting it from your Friendly Local Indy Game Store, it’s also available on eBay for cheaper than on Amazon – and buying anything through that link helps to support the site.