Viewtifully Revives and Evolves a Genre
Viewtiful Joe takes classics such as Final Fight and Double Dragon and gives them a whole new spin with a solid gameplay mechanics and over the top art style and story.
The premise and execution is comedy gold: some schmuck that is addicted to action movies is pulled into Movie Land... Pursuing his girlfriend's kidnapper, of course. The whole game is full of throwback references, goofy dialogue sequences, and quirky action characters. The story is a "throw away" in the spirit of the genre, but I enjoyed the fact that it was as intentionally bizarre and as funny as it could be without going out of control.
The core gameplay is key to making VJ an awesome experience. While it has the essential punch/kick/jump combinations of classic Beat Em Up's of yore, VJ perfectly complements the action movie premise with a slow motion / hyperspeed time control mechanic and a "zoom in" function that simulates a big hit in a film and provides a couple of additional moves with extra damage. The mechanics and combat are very tight. Combined with the cartoony art style, the whole game becomes a fun, fast paced treat for the senses without going into overload. There are also a number of puzzles requiring the player to use all of the different combat mechanics to hit switches and so forth. These keep it interesting and break up the waves and waves of enemies to be destroyed.
Also keeping in the classic spirit, the game is TOUGH. I was always on "Adult" difficulty and never tried the easier "kids," but it was overall very challenging, especially by modern standards. If you let down your guard even during early levels, you'll get pummeled by normal enemies. The logical puzzles proved pretty rough at times as well. They were really the only element of the game that seemed a little cheap / annoying at times, and I did reference a FAQ once or twice to keep the progress moving. The bosses and mini bosses were the real highlight of the game though; they were all great characters, and the combat dynamics were punishing but fair enough to provide a nice deep sense of video game accomplishment.
It's tough to emphasize what a success VJ was. The developers really scored well enough on their goals to make this a 5/5 game, which is really rare for me. Aside from a few minor tweaks to the puzzle mechanics or a more obvious clue that certain combinations deal out much better damage than others, there really was nothing that could be done to improve this game. The style, combat, and bizarre story experience are a peak in the side-scrolling beat em up genre. The cherry on top for me was the "after the final credits" random J-pop music video starring Joe and all of the kooky characters in the game. I didn't make that up, it's actually there. The sequence would provide a great backdrop for your mind-altering drug of choice. So to wrap it up: VJ is a classic, and deserves to be played, whether you're going through the highlights of the Cube, exploring the nuances SS/BEU genre, or just wanting an updated version of the essence that makes video gaming great, this is a great one.