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Written : 11/19/05

I stated in my hulk review that I'm a huge fan of superheroes. Most people are gonna go and think comic books right as soon as I mention the word "superhero", but not all of our heroes originate in the pages of comic books. Indeed, it is the starting point of very many of the most popular ones, but there is at least one superhero whom I am a keen fan of that found his roots in a video game.

Viewtiful Joe debuted only a scant few years ago, and while his coming was less anticipated than say, the next Zelda game, he earned himself a rather large fanbase very quickly. After only 2 years, Joe has seen 4 games over four systems (both home console and handheld) as well as his very own animated series. The games are notorious for being extremely difficult, and that, compared with their unique visual style make them a nice change from the increasingly stagnant pool of video games currently being served up.

Joe's backstory is a little off-the-wall, but really, how many superhero origin stories aren't? It all started when Joe and his girlfriend Siliva went to see a movie starring Captain Blue, Joe's idol. While Silvia was busy trying to get Joe to pay more attention to her than the movie, Blue was defeated and the movie's villain came right out of the screen and took Silvia away into the far reaches of Movie Land! Joe does what any good hero would do and follows her in (not necessarily by choice, however), and meets the fallen Captain Blue. After a few basic tests, Blue awards Joe with the V-Watch, which allows him to transform into the mighty Viewtiful Joe, who can harness the awesome powers of VFX! And such is the beginning of our story.

Two adventures later, we land smack in the middle of the brand-new fighting game - Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble! The story is what some would call "filler" in between the main chapters of the series. It begins when Captain Blue decides to retire and go from actor to director. The only issue is that he has no successor. However will he choose a hero to fill his shoes? After much thought and some suggestion from his assistant Sprocket, Blue decides to hold a competition that will decide the new hero.

The game is, for the sake of categorization, a fighting game. I, however, would find it more appropriate to call it a competitive action game. See, while there are always at least two players present, you're rarely actually out to defeat the other player physically. No, this game is actually cut into "movies" (levels), which are then separated into "scenes" (stages), which are composed of so many missions. The goal is always to end up with more points than your opponents(s), but how you get there is quite varied. While a couple missions do require you to beat the stuffing our of your enemy, most of them require you to defeat minor enemies, collect stuff, avoid bombs, or defeat boss characters. I'll go into this a little more in-depth later.

First off is what everyone really wants to know: how many characters are there? You may be a little disappointed to learn that the initial roster consists of only six playable heroes, but there are many more to be unlocked throughout the course of the game. The characters you start out with are Viewtiful Joe, Silvia, Captain Blue, the impeccably cool Alastor, Joe's dad Jet Black, and sidekick Captain Blue Junior. They're a nicely mixed bunch, and the main unlockable characters just add to that greatness. However, Capcom kinda pulled a Super Smash Bros. Melee with some of the unlockable heroes, and six of them are basically "clone" characters. If you've played SSBM enough, you'll have a good idea what I mean. If not, then you're out of luck, because I'm not explaining it any further.

There are two main game modes in Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble. The first of those is the commonly less-valued Story Mode. Obviously, it involves the story which I explained earlier, with the hero competition and all. You progress not in regular stages, but rather in different movies, each separated into four scenes. The first three scenes are regular competition scenes, and the last one is a boss fight. Before each scene, there's some dialogue between characters about the movie and the game's story as a whole. There are a few good one-liners in there, but overall it's merely to put the "story" in "story mode".

Anyhow, every scene is played out in somewhere around three to five different missions. Each mission takes place on a different playfield and requires you to complete a set objective. Sometimes it's a simple objective like "Collect the gems" or "Break the flower pots", but some are harder, forcing you to secure and hold onto a flag or take out a mini-boss. Of course, there are more objectives than that. I was just giving some examples. At the end of every mission, your results are tallied, and the winner gets a nice big points bonus. The thing about story mode is that most of the time, your points don't matter at all. At the beginning of every scene, you're given a "sub-mission" which is what determines if you press on or have to retry. These sub-missions are stuff like "Don't fall (get KO'd) twice", "Stay ahead of your opponent [in points]" or "Finish with 4000V (points)". So for instance, of you get the "Don't fall twice" sub-mission, you can fail all the missions and finish the scene with zero points, and as long as you don't get KO'd twice, you'll get to move on to the next scene.

Boss fights work generally the same way, but the difference is that there are no missions. The only objective is to lay the smack down on the boss as fast and efficiently as possible. I didn't note it before, but during boss and mini-boss missions, your mission score (which dictates who wins the mission) is calculated by how much damage you do to the boss. After that, the one who landed the final blow will also receive a nice heaping bonus, which can easily change the winner of the match. The nicest part about the bosses is that five out of seven are original enemies who weren't featured in the previous games. Seeing the ones that didn't make it would have been nice, but original content is just as good, if not better.

The other mode is what most people buy fighting games for: the Battle Mode. It's run in a very similar fashion as the Story Mode, only you choose the characters and locations. Each Battle Mode stage is a scene from the Story Mode, and you can eventually play every scene once you've beaten the main part of the story. What that means is that you're still out to complete objectives, not to pummel each other. Of course there's no rule that says you can't. The only real difference is that there is no sub-mission. In this mode, it's always the player who has the most points at the end who wins. There are, of course some things that I hadn't mentioned before. Firstly is that points are doled out in coin form. Hitting enemies and winning missions is the basic way to earn coins/points. If you do go after your opponent directly, you'll smack coins out of him, which you'll then take for yourself. If you take it one step further and actually drain his life bar or knock him off the edge, you'll knock loose a much larger amount of coins, which (I think) is determined by the handicap set before the match. It's similar to the coin matches in SSBM, but not entirely the same.

Another major point that you may be wondering about by now if you know anything about the Viewtiful Joe series is VFX. While you'll never have complete control over VFX powers like you do in the adventure games, they do play a prominent role in RHR. VFX orbs are randomly dropped onto the battlefield, and the first to pick one up will find himself with a small orb floating behind him. You can stock a multitude of orbs for later use or just to keep them from your opponents, but beware, a swift kick to the skull (or just taking damage at all) will knock those precious VFX orbs loose, at which point they'll be fair game again. The powers go a little something like this:

Slow: The whole world goes slow for a while. The whole world, except you, of course. This is a good opportunity to smack up your enemies or collect any stray coins, gems, or orbs that may be laying around. Sometimes you may even need slow to defeat a certain type of enemy...

Mach Speed: Your character will be encased in a fireball and gain a good amount of speed. While this is in effect, you'll also be able to run anywhere you like, in any direction you like. It's like you're able to defy any sort of laws nature wants to throw at you. The fireball also ensures that anything you come into contact with will get burned up good.

Zoom: It's not what it used to be, but it'll do. This game's version of Zoom super-sizes your character and, well, you get the picture. Being ten times the size of everyone else will also augment both your strength and defense to levels you could have only dreamed of otherwise. Technically, it also does wonders for your attack range.

Sound Effects: A totally new VFX power, Sound Effects gives you a decent ranged attack. There are four charge levels to it, and once you let go, a bunch of comic book onomatopoeias will go flying in several directions. The unique thing about this VFX power is that it changes a bit depending on which character uses it and whether they're on the ground or in the air.

There is one last VFX effect, but it's not so much a power as the others. The VFX Hole is a black hole that, when thrown, will suck up all the players and put them in an entirely new competition. This competition is kinda like Wario Ware in that it starts, happens, and ends in a span of only a couple seconds. There are five different VFX Hole games in all. The first has you mashing the face buttons as fast as you can. Two others are slightly different games that put your timing skills to the test. Another challenge has you twirling both the control stick and the C stick as fast as possible, and the last is a Viewtiful Joe style quick-draw game. The loser (or losers, as some games form teams if there are 3 or 4 players) will be booted out of the hole, briefly stunned, and lose a huge amount of coins.

The controls are pretty simple. Possibly even simpler than those of SSBM. The only downside is that it doesn't leave a lot of variety on attacks. Y and B are your regular attack buttons, though unlike other games, they execute the same set of attacks. Of course, the attack is changed depending on which way your pressing the control stick. The X button controls your special attacks, and this is another touchy area. Some characters, like Joe, have six special attacks, but most are limited to two or three, like Captain Blue and Silvia. A lot of the time, this issue lessens the usefulness of the character greatly, particularly in the case of Captain Blue, as none of his special attacks are particularly useful. He's like the RHR equivalent of Pichu, except even worse. The rest of the controls have L and R using VFX powers, and A as jump. You can switch around the A and B functions, but other than that, there's no control customization option. It's not like you'd really need it though.

The visuals are exactly where the other Viewtiful Joe games stand. They're beautifully cel-shaded to look like a comic book, and take advantage of both 3D and 2D animation. The single difference between RHR and the previous games is that the cutscenes (which are very infrequent in this game) are all animated. The intro movie is especially cool, and the game includes a great "collage" (I don't know what the real term is) movie showcasing the animated series, which is set to a pretty good song by SaGa (the group who did the anime themes) called Spirit Awake. Sadly, I cannot find this song anywhere on the internet. And that leads me into my next point: the audio. Along with the axed cutscenes (which were replaced by simple dialogue), there is a lot less voice acting in RHR. On the upside, it's still as spectacular as it's been all along. The battle cries might get a bit repetitive if you abuse your special attacks, but they're still of excellent quality. The music is also what you'd expect if you'd played the previous games. It's pretty standard stuff with a couple stand-out tunes over the course of the game. I hadn't noticed if any of it has been reused, but I wouldn't bet against it. The only qualm I have with the music is that they didn't use Brighter Side (anime theme) for the intro movie, but the generic track they put in there isn't too bad in its own right.

Lastly, how is the gameplay? If you ask most casual gamers who expected an outright fighting game, you're gonna hear bad reviews. In fact, even a lot of devoted VJ fans were put off at first and had to grow into it. I, however, read a few reviews beforehand and knew what was coming, so I'm not having such a hard time coping with the original play style. I'll admit that I do long for some actual fighting every once in a while, but it generally passes pretty quickly, mostly due to the lightning-fast pace of the game. There's so much going on at once here that you don't have time to worry about small details like your thoughts. It's easily the most frantic game ever created, and to boot, it's even got the trademark Viewtiful Joe difficulty. While it may not be as frustrating as the regular games, Captain Blue Junior is horribly cheap, and some of the later movies have some insanely tough victory requirements.

Overall, the game is good. It's not something I'd get fanatical about, but I do quite enjoy it. A lot of people have a huge issue with the VFX hole, but I think it's awesome. The graphics and sound haven't come very far, but then again, they didn't need to. There's really nothing wrong with the game, but if you're looking for a fighting game, you might want to look elsewhere. Although I've made a handful of comparisons to Super Smash Bros. Melee over the course of the article, you really can't compare the two directly. Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble is not a fighting game. Not in the traditional sense, anyhow. It's just as I said at the start, a competitive action game. In the end, while my VJ fanboyism would love to give this game the highest mark ever recorded, the best I can do without being too biased is a B++. For the most part, I have to say rent it first, but if you've got a lot of faith and people to play with (four player games are just nuts), go ahead and pick it up right away. Plenty of fun to be had if you're looking for something completely out of the ordinary.

~Ryan
E-Mail: Mr_Hotshot64v2[at]hotmail[dot]com

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Note:(it's obvious, but for the sake of good jounalism) all pics stolen from Planetgamecube.com.