Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Viewtiful Joe Review

Released to critical fanfare, but middling sales back in 2003, Viewtiful Joe has been in my backlog of GameCube games for a while. Finally having gotten a chance to play through and beat it, I am now going to tell you why if you haven't already played this game (and you probably haven't), you really should. You ready? Henshin a go-go, baby! (I...can't believe I just typed that.)


It may have one of the lamest puns - ever - in its title, but don't let that turn you off. Viewtiful Joe is quite possibly one of the most original and fun games from the GameCube days. The plot of Viewtiful Joe involves Joe, an average movie fanatic, literally getting pulled into a superhero movie after the old hero of the movie, Captain Blue, is defeated. Becoming the film's new hero, he has to not only rescue his girlfriend, Silvia, but he also has to stop a mysterious gang called the "Jadow" from carrying out their evil plot, whatever that may be. The game is extremely cheesy and over-the-top, but intentionally so. It's meant to be an affectionate parody of both American and Japanese superhero films and comics. As such, we see things like Joe donning a red jumpsuit and striking poses whilst spouting catchphrases such as "Henshin a go-go baby!" or "Henshin a bye-bye!" (or something else involving the word "henshin") and a cast of hammy and ridiculous villains such as Hulk Davidson, the axe-weilding, green rhinoceros biker who somehow owns a hotel or Gran Bruce, a shark that, for whatever reason, wears a scuba tank. Oh, and don't forget the giant freakin' robots.

Viewtiful Joe's cel-shaded art style still looks great even eight years after its release.

Gameplay-wise, Viewtiful Joe is mostly a side-scrolling beat-em-up with some puzzle solving and platforming elements. On the outside, the gameplay looks very simple. Joe's main attacks are a simple punch (Y button) and kick (X button), and up and down on the control stick are used to dodge enemy attacks. There are a few extra moves that can be learned, but there are no flashy combo moves or anything like that. However, this is where we get to one of the things that sets Viewtiful Joe apart from other beat-em-ups: the VFX powers. Thanks to the game taking place inside of a movie, Joe can use video effects to his advantage. These video effects include slowing down the action, speeding UP the action, and making the camera zoom in on him. However, note that your use of the VFX powers is not unlimited. In the HUD, under your health, is the VFX gauge. It decreases the longer you use a VFX power, and if it fully depletes, Joe reverts back to his normal, not superpowered self, at which point he can take more damage from enemy attacks. The VFX gauge replenishes on its own, though, and it can be increased a little bit each time you collect 50 film reel pickups (although it reverts back to the original amount each time a new episode of the game starts).

Each VFX power has different effects during gameplay. For instance, holding down the L button to slow down time will make your attacks stronger, allowing you to break through enemy barriers or knock away disoriented enemies (you can disorient enemies by dodging their attacks). If you knock away a disoriented enemy, you will be able to knock away any nearby enemies, allowing you to get tons of Viewtifuls (which are converted into V-Points that can be spent on upgrades at the in-game store, and Viewtifuls are also accumulated by stringing together attacks, dodging enemy attacks and completing in-game challenges with a high rank). When in slow motion, Joe will also automatically dodge certain attacks at the expense of some of the VFX gauge. Slow motion also has varying effects on the environment, such as making explosions larger (useful for attacking enemies and blowing open certain walls) and grounding otherwise unreachable enemies or floating platforms. Holding down the R button to go into "Mach Speed" mode allows Joe to attack enemies with lightning-fast flurries of punches and kicks, which will cause afterimages to attack other enemies and even set Joe on fire, allowing him to burn other enemies. The Mach Speed move also has effects on the environment, such as causing floating platforms to rise even higher or making water run faster, raising the water level. The final VFX power causes the camera to zoom in on Joe. While the camera is like this, Joe can no longer string together punches and kicks, but his punches become far stronger and his kick becomes a spinning kick that can attack several enemies at once. Jumping while the camera is zoomed in causes Joe to do a spinning attack upwards, and if you zoom in while in the air, Joe will do a ground pound, damaging all nearby enemies. This power can be used along with one of the others to have different effects.

VFX powers aren't just used during combat. You will often find yourself using them to solve puzzles as well. For the most part, puzzles in the game are pretty quick and straightforward so as not to break up the fast-paced action. There will be very few times when you will be outright stumped as to what to do. However, puzzles are still fun and keep the game from getting repetitive, and often make clever use of your abilities.

Quite possibly the best thing about the game, however, is its difficulty, particularly how it handles it. Viewtiful Joe is a very hard game. The first episode is easy enough, but the difficulty really picks up and steadily increases after that, with the game becoming extremely hard by the end. It's not too forgiving, either; following the first episode, health pickups won't be all that common, and if you get a game over, it's back to the start of the area for you. That said, Viewtiful Joe is pretty much the definition of "fair". The game's enemies are challenging, but you never feel overwhelmed, and you can usually avoid their attacks if you're careful enough. Also, before the start of an episode, at an episode's mid-point, and before a boss, you are allowed to trade in V-Points, collected in the form of coins and also by accumulating Viewtifuls in combat, for upgrades. If you get a game over, you keep all the V-Points you collected before you got a game over and you are sent back to the store, allowing you to buy upgrades that might make your life easier the next time through. Bosses in the game are a similar case. They all have attack patterns and fairly simplistic ways of beating them, but it's not always easy to figure it out. Even when you DO figure it out, they're still not quite easy, as you have to be careful about dodging their attacks lest you get owned, and thanks to the ever present threat of combo breakers, you have to know when to STOP attacking. In short, Viewtiful Joe is one of the few games where having a high difficulty level actually adds to the experience rather than takes away from it. If you die - and you WILL die - it's YOUR fault, and that's something I always love to see in a video game.

As for flaws, there aren't that many, but they are there. My main problem with the game is that, while you are able to save before and at the mid-point of each new episode, you can't save before the bosses. Not only is this a bit pointless, but bosses generally take quite a long time to defeat. If I want to take a break, I should be able to take a freaking break! The only other flaw in the game may or may not bother you. I personally found the fourth episode of the game to be a bit tedious. For one thing, it's a lot slower than the others, which, to me, felt like it was breaking the game's otherwise fast pace. It also features some mildly confusing level design and a couple of annoying puzzles, and the second area of it felt like it was dragging on a bit. It's not a bad or unfun episode, but it definitely felt like the low point of the game for me. These flaws don't make the game any less worth your time, but they still deserve mentioning.


Even at its lowest points, Viewtiful Joe is a dang good time. Featuring unique gameplay and a difficulty level that will kick your butt but remains fair throughout, it was one of the best games on the GameCube and it's still one of the most fun games you could be playing on a Nintendo console right now. If you're looking for a good challenge, or if you're a fan of beat-em-ups or just action games in general, Viewtiful Joe is the game for you. With that said, henshin a-bye-bye! (...Did I seriously type that? AGAIN?!)

Score: 9/10

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D Review

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out for the Nintendo 64 to immense fanfare back in 1998, and it is still considered one of the greatest games of all time. Though I didn't get to experience until 2004, I very much loved it, and I still consider it one of my favorite games of all time. Needless to say, many people were eager to experience it again when a remake of it was announced for the 3DS. It came out a month ago, and I myself picked it up along with my own 3DS. Setting aside all hype and nostalgia, what does the 3DS version offer that's new and how well has the game aged? The answers to both questions are in this review.

I'll begin my review by going over the changes Ocarina of Time 3D makes to the N64 version. Probably the most immediately noticeable improvement made in the 3DS version of Ocarina of Time is the graphics. The graphics have been mostly redone, featuring new, better character models for Link, most enemies and other major characters; 3-D models for pick-ups found in the field rather than 2-D sprites; and a bright, colorful and outright beautiful art style. The only thing in the game that looks dated are the models for minor NPCs, which, for the most part, look like they came straight from a thirteen-year-old Nintendo 64 game. Another thing that hasn't changed at all is the MIDI soundtrack, which is probably the remake's greatest weakness. It's still by all standards a great and memorable soundtrack, but a fully orchestrated version was definitely called for.

That's not even getting into the use of the 3-D effect. In my review of Rayman 3D, I mentioned that turning the 3-D on did little to make the game's horribly dated visuals look any better, and admittedly, I feared that this meant the 3DS' supposed 3-D capabilities wouldn't offer much overall. Fortunately, Ocarina of Time 3D has thoroughly proven me wrong. Playing the game with the 3-D feature on allows you to see the depth of the world, bringing the game to life in a way that playing without it simply cannot. It's especially noticeable during the cutscenes. There's some ghosting here and there, but it still looks amazing and greatly enhances the visual experience and presentation.

Several changes have been made aside from the visuals as well. Most notably, menu navigation and interface have been highly improved thanks to the use of the touch screen. In the 3DS version, you have five slots to ready items for use rather than three. One of them is set aside specifically for the Ocarina, meaning that you won't have to bother rummaging through menus to get it out, two allow you to use items with the X and Y buttons, and there are two more slots that you use the touch screen for. Using the touch screen may sound impractical for some items, but once you get used to it, it works great. Menu navigation is also far faster now, allowing you to switch between items and weapons in much less time than in the original version. Combine that with the fact that the iron boots can now be assigned to one of five said slots, and (on that note) it has, in fact, been redesigned to make it less confusing, and the once notoriously tedious Water Temple is now just as fun as any other dungeon in the game.

One more change has been made to the controls. When using items controlled in first-person, such as the hookshot or bow, you are now given the option of using either the control pad or the 3DS itself to aim them (thanks to the 3DS' built-in gyroscope). Though using the gyroscope may sound gimmicky, it's noticeably more smooth and precise than when aiming with the control stick, and once you've done it for a while, you'll never be able to go back to using the control stick again.

The only other notable changes made to the 3DS remake are that the Master Quest version of the game is unlocked after you beat the normal version, and there is also a boss rush mode (playable by sleeping in Link's childhood bed in the past after a certain point in the game). Ocarina of Time Master Quest was originally a bonus game that you could get if you preordered The Wind Waker, and in it, the dungeon designs were changed to be more difficult. It was nice, but in the 3DS version of the game, not only are the dungeon designs remixed, but the game has been completely mirrored and Link now takes double damage. Combined with the new dungeon designs, it makes for a more interesting, far more difficult experience.

As for the game itself, it's aged amazingly well. One thing that it got a lot of praise for when it first came out is how lengthy it was. While by today's standards, it's not exactly "long", it's by no means a short game either. Most gamers will take about 20-30 hours to complete it on their first try, and that's not even counting the sheer number of side quests in the game. In fact, this shorter length can, in some ways, be considered an advantage over later Zeldas. Not only does it allow the game to have more replayability, but pacing and plot progression are pretty much flawless. There's always a sense of progression and the game never feels like it's dragging on. The game also never relies on padding to extend its length, not at any point devolving into mandatory fetch quests - something that Wind Waker and Twilight Princess are extremely guilty of - and providing a field that holds no shortage of secrets but is small enough that it's easy to navigate if you just want to speed through the game, something that those who weren't fans of Wind Waker's sailing will consider a godsend. But why speed through the game when there are so many optional quests to do? From finding all the Heart Containers to getting the Biggoron's Sword to killing all 100 Gold Skulltullas, Ocarina of Time continues to impress thirteen years later with the amount of worthwhile side quests it holds.

Combat in the game can best be described as simple, yet satisfying. Though Link's moveset is more limited than in later games in the series, sword combat is still fun and the targeting system works great. And you can't talk about combat without talking about bosses, and while later 3-D Zeldas (for the most part) had better bosses in my opinion, the game's ten main bosses are still great and a lot of fun to fight, each having their own strategies for defeating them. My favorite boss would probably have to be Barinade from the third dungeon.

Speaking of the dungeons, each of the game's eleven dungeons are just as beautifully designed as they were thirteen years ago. Each dungeon features its own unique mechanics and clever puzzles. The Master Quest version of the game provides interesting and extremely clever redesigns of said dungeons, and often puts to better use mechanics and items that weren't used so much in the original version, such as the time blocks and fire arrows. They also live up to the promise of being more difficult. Trust me, if you've not played it before, you will need to use a guide at some points.


It's really amazing to look at Ocarina of Time and see just how well it's aged. Thirteen years after its release and it's still one of the best games out there, and thanks to the changes made to the remake it's even better on 3DS. The only things about the game that are "dated" are purely aesthetic, and even then, it's mostly just the sound quality of the music. In a perfect world, all of our old favorites would be like this: timeless masterpieces that can be played and enjoyed by all generations of gamers; games that we could one day show to our kids, and that they would love as much as we did. But alas, standards for playtime and gameplay change as gaming technology progresses, and games that were once amazing may one day end up being considered bland and average. It's still a possibility that Ocarina of Time could one day be considered dated, if its sword combat becomes too simplistic or 20-30 hours eventually becomes too short for a game to be worth full price, but considering how well it still holds up after thirteen years, that day obviously isn't coming anytime soon. Though Skyward Sword may change this after it comes out, later Zeldas may have done some things better, but as it stands, Ocarina of Time is the only one to have done everything else perfectly. If you haven't played this game, well, you should be ashamed of yourself, and get this game as soon as possible! The 3DS version is the definitive version, but the original version is still great, so you should pick it up whether you own or are planning to own a 3DS or not.

One thing simply has to be said though: It's kind of sad that the best game on 3DS right now is a remake of an old game. I'm sorry, but it just is.

Score: 10/10