Beat 'em ups come in all shapes and sizes, but generally speaking, they'll have you move from one side of the screen to the other, smacking anything the steps in your way. Back in the day, you were probably fighting on the streets, but as video games have aged and grown, so has the beat 'em up evolved into this and that, broadening its horizons, offering players varied experiences.
There are perhaps none so stylish as Viewtiful Joe, whose action hero star is so cinematic that the very notion of being on camera and showing off for the fans seems to be at the heart of the game.
Fifteen years ago, I couldn't tell you what kind of game it was at all. I only knew of this game as being cartoony. Looks like it's time for quiet on the set. Camera's ready?
I am familiar with Viewtiful Joe as a funny looking, out of proportion superhero, but I've no idea who he is as a character. What does he get up to? Who is his nemesis? Whereabouts does he fight crime? Does he even fight crime?
Released on both the PS2 and GameCube, I'm emulating the GameCube version to find out, and his origin story begins right at the start. How handy.
Joe and his girlfriend, Silvia, are watching a movie. Captain Blue isn't having the best of times, and Silvia is doing her best to distract Joe from the screen. Before he can really start to moan about not being able to see the movie because of her interruptions, however, the villain reaches out of the screen and grabs Silvia, taking her to Movieland.
With a rather convenient crash, Captain Blue's mech (which is clearly red...) lands in the cinema before scooping up Joe and chasing after the villain. Getting into the movies is as easy as that.
Once in there, though, we're fending for ourselves in a forest somewhere. We could do with a tutorial, so it's lucky that one pops up and tells us how to dodge and dish out some punishment to these guys.
Joe is locked to a single plane, so the up and down buttons serve as high and low dodges, with a jump button alongside a punch and a kick. It doesn't look like he would be, but Joe is surprisingly spritely, attacking with such speed and grace that a move is often over before you're even aware you pressed the button.
Seeing an animation is one of the difficulties. Seeing anything is the other. The cel-shaded style looks nice in places, but there's a dirty film grain filter over the entire screen, which doesn't play too well with what's going on.
I can understand how it adds to the look of the game, but I am as distracted by it as I am pleased with the attention to detail. Luckily, though, as I say we're locked to a single plane, so it's not like we're lost regarding where to go or anything. Just keep pushing right and punching that which needs hitting.
As we round a corner, Captain Blue himself descends from the sky to test our newfound martial arts prowess. He's getting on a bit now and is relatively easily defeated. Not that I got any useful screenshots of that.
As a reward for my efforts, he tells me/allows me, to transform using my wrist thingy into the one and only Viewtiful Joe, the spandex-clad powerhouse Joe probably imagines himself being regularly.
Further Fun Times
With that, comes the ability to slow down time itself, and it is perhaps the most fluid representation of slow-motion that has ever been committed to a video game. Max Payne has nothing on Viewtiful Joe, put it that way.
Pressing the left shoulder button starts draining the meter, allowing you to pull off devastating attacks by targetting enemies at their most vulnerable. I'm not sure how it works, I was just punching and kicking when a giant pink target appeared, but it was working, and it was wonderful.
The game had suddenly sprung into life, and while I still wasn't sure what I was really doing, and was yet to grasp the fine art of dodging, I was having a good time. At one point, a mini-boss showed up, which obviously meant that I needed to pull off some stylish slo-mo moves. Viewtiful!
It was a bit of a bummer to be told I was Crappy, but it was probably somewhat accurate. I pushed through into the next stage and was looking forward to what was coming up next.
Oh. A swift death at the hands of a deformed cowboy skeleton, or something? Unexpected, sure. Neat touch with all the film lingo, though. Guess I'll just try again.
I... uh... haven't quite made it very far past this part yet. I don't think I've quite got the hang of anything Viewtiful Joe has tasked me with doing, especially dodging. I can slow down time quite well, but ironically can't actually time my slowing down of time very well, so I so down at all the wrong moments, and turn back into average Joe having run out of juice. It doesn't take long to leap back into costume, but it's not how I ought to be tackling a deformed cowboy skeleton.
I was playing on the Adults mode, which I assume was in regards to difficulty. Maybe I'll try the Kids mode sometime. Reading up on it, it does have its difficulty spikes, but I'm going to chalk this first one up to incompetence, more than outright difficulty.
It's impressive how well it plays, though. I believe there is a mechanic to speed yourself up as well, which I can only imagine is as visual a treat as the slow-motion is. It really is something to see in motion, because stills just don't do it justice.
That's probably why I wasn't interested or even aware of Viewtiful Joe all those years ago. It was too different, it stood out too much, it was too unfamiliar. Fast forward a decade and a half, and I see first hand that none of this is an excuse to not play a game.
In a world where there is literally not enough time to get round to all the games you might possibly be interested in, finding a small, wacky one that grabs your attention, if only for twenty minutes, can be pretty cool.
I'll probably try Viewtiful Joe again sometime if only to see a little bit more of what I missed, before moving on to yet another game on this 1001 list that I have very little knowledge of.
Yeah. That sounds good. Let's call it a wrap.
In a fact I still struggle to believe, the working title for this game was 'Red Hot Man', but it was soon changed due to copyright issues with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You've gotta be pulling my leg, Wikipedia...
Viewtiful Joe, developed by Capcom Production Studio 4, first released in 2003.
Version played: GameCube, 2003, via emulation.