Rating: T (Teen)
Developer: CloverStudio Co., Ltd.
Just in case you couldn’t get enough of the cel-shaded hero’s antics, good ol’ Joe is back in Viewtiful Joe 2, this time available on both the Gamecube and Playstation 2.
The last game had our hero fighting his way through Movieland to save his girlfriend Silvia. The sequel expands the plot into the ol’ “save the world” cliché, fighting the good fight against the evil Black Emperor. Not that this is a bad thing; it’s an action game, fer crissake, so you don’t want to be buried under plot nuances and subtle mind games. Stick with Japanese RPGs for those…here, it’s straight-to-the-point action! You’ll be running through movie worlds inspired by Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and plenty more. But most importantly? Silvia’s actually a playable character this time around, and she’s quite the asskicker. More on that in a minute.
The graphics really haven’t changed much since the first VJ game. Everything is still cel-shaded, and Joe, Silvia, and their foes animate with fluidity and grace. Well, as much grace as superheroes have, anyway. Joe looks like a Quick Man ripoff, and Silvia looks like a cheerleader from Mars. They act like the Incredibles, though, so expect plenty of over-the-top fights and special attacks. The cel-shading looks fantastic, and you’ve still got the “movie reel” letterboxing to remind you that you really are playing inside a film. Some of the detail gets lost during overblown fights, but you’ll be too busy trying to stay alive to worry about picking out how many polygons are rendering Silvia’s rack.
If you thought the soundtrack to the first game was wonky, then wait’ll you hear this. The songs are even more “memorable” this time around, if you want to call it that. Remixes are all over the place, which will please VJ fans. Oh, and the cheesy dialogue is still here, complete with plenty of overacting. C’mon, if it were serious, it wouldn’t be a Viewtiful Joe game, now would it?
VJ2 controls much like its predecessor, which in turn is very similar to other beat-’em-up sidescrollers. You’ll fight your way through levels, racking up combos and hopefully earning Viewtifuls, which you can use later to purchase more moves and combos. And yes, you’ve still got your classic VFX Powers: Mach Speed, VFX Slow, and Zoom In. But, just to make things interesting, there’s a new power thrown into the mix: Replay. Silvia uses this handy skill to multiply her actions threefold; for example, attack and enemy and use Replay, and that attack will hit the enemy three times in succession. This is required to solve some of the more annoying puzzles in the game, but watch out…if you use Replay at the wrong time, an enemy can hit you three times in a row!
Speaking of Silvia…she really is the perfect addition to this game. Rather than using her fists to solve problems like her boyfriend Joe, she opts for kung fu kicks at close range, and using laser pistols to deal with enemies further away. Once she gets her hands on two pistols, she’ll wipe out foes John Woo style (minus the doves). Her attacks are slightly less powerful than Joe’s, but her speed and Replay ability more than make up for it.
Characters can be switched on the fly using “V-Touch.” This is critically important, as many puzzles in the game need both characters to solve. In fact, you’ll often find yourself bouncing back and forth between Joe and Silvia on a constant basis. The aforementioned puzzles are much more difficult and complex than the first game; casual beat-’em-up fans may be put off by this.
Using Joe and Silvia’s unique powers, strengths, and weaknesses are what really makes this game shine. For example, if you’re facing an electrical enemy, you’re better off using Silvia, as Joe gets electrocuted far too easily. If it’s flames you’re dealing with, switch to Joe so Silvia won’t get torched. Often, you’ll be facing both at the same time, so be prepared for some fast switching!
Finally…remember the Six Machine, that cool transforming vehicle from the first game? It’s back in VJ2, and you’ll be using it a lot more. In fact, sometimes Joe and Silvia will team up to use the thing, dishing out massive damage to onscreen foes.
While there’s nowhere near the amount of unlockables that others games have, VJ2 is worth replaying just to try to earn more Viewtifuls and buy more and more special moves. Still, it’s rather lackluster replayability compared to most other titles, and considering the difficulty, it really depends on how masochistic you are.
This game’s not for the faint of heart. While not a hair-ripping deathride like Ikaruga or R-Type Final, it’s still not an easy trip. Newbies to the series may scream in frustration as a result, but old-school action fans will find plenty to love here. I mean, come on, Contra wasn’t easy back in the day (unless you use the ol’ 30 lives cheat, and you know you did). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we need more difficult games these days. VJ2 delivers on all counts.
As usual, this game suffers from “sequel-itis,” more so than most other titles. The graphics, sound, and basic gameplay are virtually unchanged. The few alterations, however, do fundamentally separate VJ2 from its predecessor, which really saves the game from boring sequel limbo. The adventure’s bigger and better than before, making VJ2 a standout title.
VJ2 is like a bad habit. No matter how mad you get at it, you’ll keep coming back time after time just to try and complete that elusive level or beat that damnable boss. Action game diehards will go nuts over it, but casuals may get tired of the difficulty and pass on the game in favor of something a bit easier.
Action? Check. Weird puzzles? Check. Comic book-style superheroes? Check. Movie references galore? Check. As you can see, VJ2 appeals to a relatively diverse crowd…of geeks, that is. VJ2 isn’t a game for the “realistic” action crowd, but come on…most games aren’t that realistic anyway. I’ll take a superhero over some “grim and gritty” loser with a Glock any day. I bet Joe could kick Neo’s pansy ass.
I should mention that I played this game while recovering from the Thanksgiving onslaught. Days after the colossal meal itself, I was still feeling the effects, so VJ2 was like an acid trip. (Not that I’d know what that’s actually like, but I’ve played Rez before.) For the action fan in all of us, VJ2 is a no-brainer. All it needs is more ninjas!