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Capcom’s ‘Viewtiful Joe’ falls flat on PSP

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, April 4, 2006

One of the latest in Capcom’s line of games slated for the PSP, “Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble” is by far the weakest entry in the series. While not a horrible game, it is firmly entrenched in the shadows of its brothers.

That’s a shame, because the “Viewtiful Joe” license is one ripe for decent spin-offs and sequels. Essentially a satire on famous Hollywood and Japanese movies, “Viewtiful Joe” the franchise hits several common notes and themes to humorous effect.

The franchise begins with Joe and his girlfriend getting pulled into a movie in a theater. There, he runs into his hero Captain Blue, and acquires the power to go viewtiful. The power, and the main draw of the game, is the ability of the player to distort time as if he held the remote for the movie. The player can rewind, fast-forward or record his own movements, creating a virtual duplicate, all in real-time. All this goes towards slowing time down, undoing mistakes or doubling the damage the player does.

Needless to say, this created some interesting puzzles within the first two games of the franchise. Since time itself could be manipulated, it forced players to think creatively to solve problems. Rotor blades on a helicopter could be slowed by slowing time, causing the machine to fall under gravity’s influence.

This is where “Red Hot Rumble” falls flat. Essentially a party game like “Super Smash Brothers,” this entry into the franchise retains the time manipulation elements without fully exploring them. The main emphasis is on completing simple mini-games and short trials. Very rarely do the time elements play anything beyond an insignificant role within the game, leaving gamers to wonder why it was titled “Viewtiful Joe.” The game would have been just as strong if it had been an original title without the franchise tie-in.

However, the game is not devoid of merit. There is a wealth of unlockables, including quite a few hidden characters. Movies can be earned, as well as new levels and mini-games.

The gameplay itself isn’t too bad, despite its flaws. It’s a frantic, fast-paced experience with up to four fighters roaming a multi-tiered playing field. It gets so frantic that it becomes easy to lose the characters in the chaos however, which can lead to several cheap deaths. The attacks are easy to do, with special moves mapped to a single button.

The mini-games are varied, but most of them fall flat. Most of them are games of dexterity and visual comprehension. Unfortunately, they cannot be turned off and are completely tied with playing the game. They even occur in the middle of matches, throwing off the flow of the fight. The fights are fun, however, even with the frantic action.

But the characters are unbalanced, some obviously more powerful than others. This hurts the game when it comes to playing with friends, as player favorites will quickly arise from the super-powered characters. Similar games, such as “Super Smash Brothers,” do a better job of balancing characters and as a result earn longer shelf lives in gamer libraries.

The PSP release of this title is marked with some exclusive content and characters. Dante, from the critically acclaimed “Devil May Cry” series, is a playable character and plays a key role in the story that unfolds. He is also one of the most powerful and first-attained characters.

“Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble” is a straight mediocre title. Some people may have fun with it, but it’s a disappointment when comparing it to its predecessors.