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Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble Package Art

Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble

Midway through the original Viewtiful Joe, there's a level where Joe must destroy a mini-boss tank that endlessly spews minions to challenge him until the tank itself is defeated. At this point in the game, Joe has obtained all his VFX (visual effects) powers, and I had so much fun hitting slow-mo, zooming in, posing, and beating goon after goon that I deliberately let the tank remain undefeated just so I could beat up the same little guys over and over again in only slightly different ways. With as engaging and addictive a fighting mechanic as that, not to mention a massive amount of artistic style, Viewtiful Joe seems naturally inclined, nay, destined, to cross genres into a platformer-beat-em-up title.

Now we have the results of Capcom's valid and noble effort in Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble. Unfortunately, Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. remains the undisputed king of this genre, with Capcom's PowerStone series tightly ranked right after it. The intent and wonderful imagination of the Viewtiful Joe team is stamped all over this new title, but it's just too crazy for its own good.


The visual style book is already written for the Viewtiful Joe universe: the only thing to add in new franchise entries are new characters or settings. Red Hot Rumble settles for plumbing the archives of the first two action platformers in the series, so expect to see familiar faces and even levels for fighting stages. Due to the boxed-in nature of most battle arenas, much of the background parallaxing that made the sidescrollers captivating isn't as present here, but there are layers of background imagery in some arenas, and some of the mini-games feature dramatic camera angles to mix things up.

Since the characters are all pretty much derived from the previous two GameCube titles, there's not much new here to see other than color palette changes of combatants prior to starting a battle. Animation and special effects are as smooth as before, and the character designs have yet to grow stale. Yet the visual highlight of the entire title has to be the hand-drawn cartoon intro, full of VJ-styled humor and clichéd yet requisite fighting game poses. The game's menus, on the other hand, are surprisingly boxy, drab, and uninspiring for a series that normally has so much visual pop.


Every character, good or evil, has something to say during the fights and hearing each character's version of "Suh-loooooowwww!" is amusing. Otherwise, there's not much noteworthy in the game's audio; Red Hot Rumble sounds just like a Viewtiful Joe game whether musically or sound effects-wise. For the story mode, Capcom decided to just use text dialogue for characters' interaction, which is a bit surprising considering the narrow scope and short, disjointed scripts that set up each level.


Simply, there's just too much going on. Each character has his or her own standard and special attacks, and said attacks can be slightly tweaked depending on which direction the analog stick is tilted or if the character is in the air. VFX power-ups randomly drop on to the stage, allowing any character to also enact Slow Mo, Mach Speed, Zoom, and Sound Effects. Yet in spite of these technical, simple consistencies, characters are unbalanced either in attack strength or general movement. Vampire bat Charles the Third can fly thanks to his wings, but often at unpredictable times, while other characters will float down at different speeds during jumps. Some combatants cover ground faster than they fall, others don't, and these small variations make for widely inconsistent gameplay experiences from character to character.

If the game were just about mano-e-mano fighting on a simple platform, perhaps this would be easy to excuse, but stages are littered with many other objectives, objects, and/or enemies, which generally just ensures mass chaos. Throw in a camera that often has to pan to accommodate arenas just barely larger than the screen, or zooms in whenever a player enacts the zoom VFX, and there's just no way to keep track or get a hold of it all. There hasn't been a better game to demand frantic button mashing, but even from that angle no one can feel satisfied since it's unclear what's going on at any given time.


Now, imagine the above pros and cons, and multiply that by four human-controlled characters. The graphics engine and sound don't take a hit from more characters-- the game's code is more than up to the challenge-- but Red Hot Rumble is most digestible and approachable when only two characters are on the screen simply because of the amount of things going on. Adding in players number three and/or four does amp up the zany action, but only to a higher degree of confusion. Everyone will be entranced by the chaos and colors on the screen at first, but after ten minutes of feeling disoriented and without a victory based on chance, most will probably want to move on.


What's most disappointing about Red Hot Rumble is that the developers' hearts are in the right place. They love this world, they continue to recreate it wonderfully, and they know the primary ingredients are style, cheesy humor, and over-the-top action. The sheer creativity in some stage objectives-- all very Joe-flavored-- demonstrate great ideas and initiative, and are immediately engaging and appropriate at the start, but disappointing in the follow through. You'll sincerely want to accomplish goals, unlock characters, and share the experience with friends, but the game's got so much on its spinning plate there's no way to grow reasonably accustomed to any one aspect, and it's far too frenetic to be pick-up-and-play friendly. There is a lot to unlock, and the entrancing world of Joe's begs you to stick it through, but frustration and being overwhelmed win out in the end.

final score 6.5/10

Staff Avatar M. Noah Ward
Staff Profile | Email
"Death narrowly avoided, thanks to another friendly NPC."

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