Viewtiful Joe was released on the Nintendo Gamecube in 2003 as part of Capcom’s partnership with the Big N. The incredibly ambitious “Capcom 5” lineup of games saw limited exclusivity on the Gamecube, and produced some of the most incredible action games of all time, among them Viewtiful JoeThe incredibly ambitious “Capcom 5” lineup of games saw limited exclusivity on the Gamecube, and produced some of the most incredible action games of all time, among them Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil 4, and the recently spotlighted Killer 7. Although all three titles were later ported to numerous other consoles, Gamecube owners were privileged with the first editions of these stellar titles. (Note: The last of the “Capcom 4” was the commercially and critically tepid P.N.O3, though it, too, is an underrated title, and shares many of the same talented developers.)
Viewtiful Joe, beyond its immaculate gameplay, also serves as a gaming cornerstone, as it further cemented the partnership of two Capcom masterminds, Hideki Kamiya and Atsushi Inaba. These two visionary designers are behind some of the greatest games ever, namely the Resident Evil series, Devil May Cry series, Bayonetta, Okami, Vanquish, God Hand, and others. These two maestros formed the incomparable Platinum Games studio in 2006, and most recently produced the over-the-top actioner, Metal Gear Solid: Revengence.
Some of Viewtiful Joe’s DNA is in Bayonetta, showcased in their reliance on quick action and dodging. The non-prescriptive combat, which Joe also shares with Bayonetta, was similarly groundbreaking upon Joe’s 2003 release. No matter your experience with Capcom or Kamiya, Viewtiful Joe is just as fun today as it was years ago. There is attitude and style to spare, as personality and passionate detail pervade every scene of Viewtiful Joe. There is attitude and style to spare, as personality and passionate detail pervade every scene of Viewtiful Joe.
The story in Joe is light but clever, and fans of videogames and cinema will get a kick out of subtle and not-so-subtle nods to other fictions. Joe is a cinephile who is pulled into the movie world by his favorite screen hero, the aged Captain Blue. After villains abduct his girlfriend, Joe is imbued with a Power Rangers-esque power up watch that transforms him into Viewtiful Joe. With these powers, Joe goes on a challenging adventure to restore balance to the movie world and save his girl.
Joe’s super powers allow him to run circles around his foes, or simply slow time to a crawl and wreak havoc on dumbstruck enemies. Joe can “Zoom” in on the action, too, amplifying his punches and kicks. With the “Mach Speed” ability, he can duplicate, triplicate, and quadruplicate himself to combat simultaneous attacks With the “Mach Speed” ability, he can duplicate, triplicate, and quadruplicate himself to combat simultaneous attacks, even setting his enemies and himself alight after prolonged use. Because all of your powers share a depleting (though rechargeable) meter, there is a delicate balance to maintaining your flow in combat, while not exhausting your powers. When the meter completely empties, Joe loses his Viewtiful form and abilities until the meter refills (and he’ll take double damage from enemies!).
The enemy and boss design is bold and impeccably animated. It’s remarkable that Viewtiful Joe is over ten years old, as the animation is still stunningly detailed and nuanced. You’ll face hordes of robotic foes, styled to suit each particular level, like underwater snorkel-wearing foes, or robots in silly naval uniforms. Old school gamers will immediately have their icy exteriors melted when they see Viewtiful Joe’s charming character design, who, himself, evokes Mega Man’s brother and sometimes-nemesis, Proto Man. On the Gamecube version, when Joe dribbles his Shocking Pink bombs, he whistles the Super Mario Bros. theme song. Gamers will delight in discovering cool touches like these throughout Joe’s sizable and replayable story.
Viewtiful Joe’s combat is sublime. There is a great, satisfying smack as your fists connect with your enemies’ faces. They wince and grimace and cringe as you unleash red-hot hell. It’s also fun (and necessary) to utilize your special powers simultaneously; for example, pairing Slow and Zoom for maximum damage output. Joe’s combat has a similar grace and depth to Bayonetta, and the loving care and details lavished into the environments, enemy design, and animation is standout. Joe’s combat has a similar grace and depth to Bayonetta, and the loving care and details lavished into the environments, enemy design, and animation is standout. The bosses are eccentrically styled monsters that range from an ornery rhinoceros biker, to dynamite-laden shark men, to evil shadow-selfs, and other splendid designs.
Because of the game’s 4th-wall breaking theme, Joe’s levels and combat unfold in front of an audience. When you decimate foes and take little damage, the audience erupts with cheers and you’ll be showered with Viewtifuls (read: experience points). If you take a beating, the audience with let you know their dissatisfaction with jeers and hollers. To add insult to injury, when you die and run out of continues, the scenery fades out and the ubiquitous “director” will shout, “Cut! Cut! Cut!” at Joe’s lifeless body.
In between stages, you’ll have the option to use Viewtifuls, to refill your health, buy extra lives, or level up your abilities. You can spend your points on new Viewtiful FX combos, which allow even more combat combinations of your powers. For example, a crucial, though difficult power allows you to negate enemy damage by using the Zoom power right before Joe takes a tumble, and if successfully executed, freezes time and cues riotous audience applause as Joe bounds back into the air with expected flourish.
There’s no way around discussing Joe’s brutal difficulty, even on the mockingly named “Kid” difficulty. In fact, Viewtiful Joe received a re-release in Japan that added an even easier, “Sweet” difficulty mode after gamers’ outcry over the unforgiving challenge. You will die innumerable times (your save file will thoughtfully keep track of your every failure), though that is mostly by the retro-style design of the levels and gameplay. Joe is never unfair, and harkens back to the trial-and-error, painful/rewarding level of difficulty of the original Mega Man titles. Joe is never unfair, and harkens back to the trial-and-error, painful/rewarding level of difficulty of the original Mega Man titles.
The upcoming Platinum Games’ Wii U exclusive, The Wonderful 101, looks to channel the same fun energy and appeal as Viewtiful Joe. Even the art style and character design is similar. Given the shared developers and their astounding pedigree, you can’t help but think that The Wonderful 101 will deliver similar levels gaming bliss and awe. Colorful, imaginative, and challenging, Viewtiful Joe is uncommonly great and one of the best action games ever pressed onto polycarbonate.