It's coming up to Christmas and that god awful chirpy music is already being piped out of every speaker in the land. Children everywhere are committing their very best penmanship for Santa to impress upon him the life or death importance of their particular gift request. And what should be on your list, readers? Well I suggest it goes something like this, "Dear Santa, for Christmas I would like Viewtiful Joe... pleeease", because Viewtiful Joe is an inspiration.
There you are, a regular Joe, out on a date at the cinema with your girlfriend, Silvia. You're watching your favourite hero Captain Blue thwart the forces of evil once more, but suddenly the two of you are pulled into the world of movies. Its up to you to rescue Silvia and along the way save all of mankind as we know it from the dastardly clutches of the movie villains. If it all sounds clichéd it is, and purposefully so. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the plot will pilot its way through a host of movie inspired levels and villains from the likes of Jaws, Godzilla and Star Wars. It is brilliantly referential and injected with humour at every turn. And as you leap around from platform to platform, beating up tutu wearing robots with your viewtiful moves, you'll soon start wondering how it came to be that such old school game play could be infused with this much originality and depth.
What sets this game apart from the usual platforming titles are the special FX moves that you can use. You can slow down time, use mach speed, and eventually zoom into the action. Far from being nothing but graphical effects they each offer different moves that you can use, be it for literally dodging bullets or getting extra powerful attacks. These powers not only effect the fighting but also contribute to the minor puzzle elements that you encounter. You'll need to speed up or slow down time in order to make your way through various parts of the level. For instance there are hovering platforms with propellers underneath. By slowing down time the propellers no longer spin fast enough to keep the platform in the air and it will fall; conversely by speeding up time the platform will rise.
These skills would probably overwhelm most gamers were it not for the careful way in which they are introduced. Over the course of the first few levels you'll learn how the VFX meter works and how to dodge attacks to gain extra combo points. The VFX meter drains whenever you use your special abilities and should it empty you'll revert back to a regular Joe again. This is also accompanied with a neat effect whereby the screen imitates the dust and scratches of an old film reel. At the end of each level you'll be given a rating and there is also the chance of upgrading a few of your abilities like health. This relatively minor RPG aspect caps-off an already impressive, deep, game.
If there is a down side it must certainly be the infrequency of the save points. The game has seven chapters and isn't especially long. But it can be quite hard at times and forcing the player to continue or lose their progress is a faux pas in my book. (Capcom - four bosses in a row and no save? You fucking sadists.) And as for the difficulty, well for old school fanatics who have cut their teeth on Ikaruga, this is a cakewalk in comparison. The rest of you will just have to keep a stiff upper lip.
This is an incredibly well put together title and one that GameCube owners would be wise to check out. Though there are a bunch of features that can be unlocked, namely different characters, its replay value is questionable. There is no multiplayer (that's what Double Dash is for) to speak of and once you've been through it once you will have encountered the enemies and even the bosses more than once. It's worth persevering to the end for an awesome end sequence that washes away any feelings of frustration and exasperation. Even if (unlike the puppy) it's not for life, Viewtiful Joe stands out in the crowded Christmas marketplace. The GameCube may still not be the biggest and baddest console on the block, but someone at Nintendo must have been a very good boy to deserve this.