'Deserve’s got nothin to do with it' grumbles a gruff Clint Eastwood in the 1992 western film Unforgiven, spoken just before he takes aim down the barrel of his shotgun and fires, the implication being Gene Hackman's head was the target. But afterward, unlike Gene’s head, the message is intact. We are not owed any debt from the universe, and what we think we deserve is a construct we invented or have been sold. Yet in 2002, the universe - or Capcom - grants a man, leading a team of savvy computer people, a chance to deliver something I feel the public ought to have.
Today I will say that we did not deserve Viewtiful Joe, a game released on Gamecube in 2003 and I was lucky that both the console and the game graced itself within reaching distance for me. Funny story actually it goes that the game was nearby for a long time before I picked it up. It's a tough game even on Easy and young me would rather have played Super Monkey Ball because nature is unkind. So the day a hair first broke through the surface of my chest was the day I realised this game was waiting for me. I then added extra cushions to the little armchair I played games on back then.
I want you to think of the last game that made you feel like a lone hero, no real weapon, only your fists and you stylishly timed jumping to carry you forward. Picture one of those cartoon rubbery heroes who will keep bouncing back up no matter how many times harder they get hit. Be it Bugs Bunny, Wilie Coyote, Kenny or the anime hero of your respective age group. That tireless force of nature describes some of the boss battles you'll be fighting in this game. But it is also how you may come to think about the hero Joe, although Joe may die under your control. Here that may happen alot.
Joe becomes Viewtiful with the help of a V-watch given to him by Captain Blue who we witness get defeated in the intro cutscene which is shown on a cinema screen. Dude-bro movie fan Joe yells out from the audience, while Sylvia, Joe’s lady friend, is uninterested in the movie until she does become interested which appears to be what triggers the villain onscreen reaching out to kidnap her, no doubt teaching her some respect for talking in the movie. You’re either onboard or not by now. After further merging of realities, Joe jumps into the world of the movie onscreen to go after her. You can see the story paved out ahead for you, what you see at first is everything the game is like throughout but I doubt you have been through anything like what the game has in store.
A good thing happened when I played this, I was exposed to 2.5D along with moves & combos graded with comical styled labels. Easy mode on Devil May Cry had allowed me to ignore such game functions. Patterns made from followup hits that lead to more points and more exploding enemy carcasses. The enemies were straight out of my schoolboy notebook doodles, or how I imagined I would one day draw. The game has an active time slowdown mechanic that Kamiya would employ again later and even better in Bayonetta. The slow whack of when Joe smacks an enemy under the chin and goes into a furious fist jab that disintegrates those metal enemy minions, it was sweet.
You have limited slowmo in the game and you don't have to use it since it's just a mode but you'll use normal speed on switches and the weakest enemies. If you just press slowmo and don't do anything Joe just stands in a weird flexing pose. When it depletes then your power disappears and you are just left with regular Joe who quickly regenerates his Viewtiful mode and bounces back into action. It’s a more forgiving Ghosts n’ Goblins structure.
Above image included for evidence.
The game has a little bit of insanity in it and the madness of its Japan cinematic-land gambling gangsters that it just launches like an avalanche against is infectuous leaving you punching your way to the levels end, it was a glorious time.
It later turns out all of these dastardly bad guys want out of the movie world and into the real one and Joe is the only one pummelling them back inside the film reels. The game even take shot at making you feel sorry for these bad guys, doomed to their chaotic world and fate as a punching bag full of coins. In a world where people write about the depth of No More Heroes episodic encounters, this game felt like ahead of that little niche curve.
Now a fair criticism is that the game relies too much on jabbing enemies repeatedly in order to get that layered health bar down and down until empty. For every enemy and boss this gets repetitive and to that I say.... what of it? I burned myself out on Sega Beat’em Ups to not mind a little chipping, at least here I can see the health. There's also how much you will get tired of the corny HUD from repeated dying and retrying along with the health system making every hit count.
This game delivers in value I think, toward the end it has some crazy silly twists which perfectly fulfils its Saturday morning cartoonish tone. Then when the game is wrapped up you can play the whole game through as Joe's girlfriend which is better than it sounds and then there's the higher difficulty mode which is a $^#!@&¢∞%"!! and I couldn't even finish Hard mode because I'm no purist of this genre so there's people out there who could enjoy this much more than me! Never fear, my blog is here to right these misdeeds of the world.
While still a game, this movie you play through takes place firmly in movie-land. There are projector reels scrolling vertically when the level begins, there is a projector countdown including sound effects, When you die in this game, a production directors voice yells out 'Cut! Cut! Cut!', looking for unique game over screens this one does stick out in memory. When you pause the same voice, much calmer, asks 'Is it number one or number 2?' Carrying through with the idea that this is a movie in small delightful ways without ever forgetting that this is a game.
The sound effect of a slow powerful punch rattles the screen as well as the enemies head. You can do a cartwheel spinning attack that sends them spinning off in the direction they came. Joe even poses and there is clapping heard when it goes right, graded high or not. The game took steps to make the feel seem real of those mighty whollops that Joe’s fists deliver onto breakable bodies. Sounds that had for too long been given weight using large blocky onomatopoeia on the world of the page. This is a game influenced by comics, brought to life and motion using movies but enjoyed through video games and it wants you to enjoy being a part of them all.
It's nice to play a comic book game that revels earnestly in the setting and tropes, the kind of game you wanted because the real comic book heroes got shredded in the machine that converts pages to video games.
There are clockwork gangster styled villains badly in need of getting knuckle pounded around their office, dopplegangers with more moves than you do, shoot 'em up stages and a host of gang leaders ranging from jetpacks to a huge bat. There's a boss that's a shark, there's a boss that’s rhino with an axe, there's a boss that's a kingpin inspired by Capcom bosses, there a big robot boss you fight while you- well, I'll not give it away. This game made every victory feel earned.
I could see the levels being the falling point, you have a city, an underwater lair, a misty stone temple lair, a sort of underground pipe cave, a submarine before ending up in a space station. You have visited these stages before and you will know if these settings tickle you by now. I enjoy games with levels, it breaks things up for you with a different enemy, element and nemesis for each world/act. You also can gauge how long one level will take you.
I played the sequel but it did not grab me as much so I never bought or tried the DS game but it certainly looked fun and was well reviewed.
Like the rest of Clover Studio games, they appear to be lost in that weird limbo of inbetween where we can replay them and if Nintendo gazes their way they re-measure the dollars/yen potential before losing interest. So then we get the odd Steam re-release with new textures and it's fine and we all go about our lives. All of what I could find in the reports about development is wide credit for the team who managed to pull this magical rollercoster together, which is something I am happy to add to.
Kamiya and producer Inaba reunited for the more recent Wonderful 101 which has a similar artstyle but Kamiya doesn't appear to do the same thing twice. Maybe tweet him and ask.
There was also an anime series produced from the game which I did not know about until I Wiki’d this game for writing this. The TV series censored Joe’s named plane called ‘Six-machine’ because of what it sounded like.
I do not know what 'Tokusatsu' is but Viewtiful Joe seems to take great influence from it so I am forever grateful. For too long I probably just called this style of media ‘Japanese power rangers’ since I get exhausted just reading the Wiki history's first paragraph. I’m sure someday I’ll end up watching an Ultraman or the movie ‘Warning from Space (1965) and it will be time for a new face pop culture to turn my way.
Henshin to-go-go baby!