Boxed Away – A Viewtiful Joe Retrospective
For a company with such an impeccably rich back catalogue, Nintendo is often surprisingly hesitant to delve into it. Sure, the classic titles from the NES and SNES library have received 347 ports to every system imaginable, and the N64 has seen a respectable rehash of its most renowned hits, but one system seems to be regularly left to the annals of history – the Nintendo GameCube.
Enter – Boxed Away, a GameCube retrospective series.
To pay respect to the purple lunchbox, I am periodically going to be looking back at a different GameCube game, focusing on titles that have never received a port or remaster to more recent consoles. The GameCube library has countless forgotten masterpieces, as well as plenty of oddities and hidden gems, and unless it featured Zelda it’s probably still stuck there. Heck, even Mario’s only outing still took almost two decades to get another look.
It’s unclear when or if we will ever see GameCube games released via Nintendo Switch online, some type of Virtual Console or maybe even a Mini-Classic release, so in the meantime, we’re going to talk about them until Nintendo remembers they exist.
They just don’t make them like this anymore.
Viewtiful Joe is a quintessential example of a product of its time. It is a game that caters heavily to the stylings and sensibilities of the year of its release (that would be 2003), and I can see precisely why it appealed to 13-year-old me at the time. Here we have your average Joe (heh), who looks like he just came from a Nu-Metal fan convention, venturing beyond the silver screen to become a superhero in a world filled with bold colours, larger than life characters, and an endless assortment of movie cliches and tropes. It’s over the top, it’s ridiculous, and the sense of humour screams early noughties attempts at “edgy”.
But I’ll tell you what. I still love it as a 31-year-old. I don’t know if that says more about the game or me but let me have this.
Ok, let’s back up for a little bit. Viewtiful Joe was part of the infamous “Capcom 5”, a collaboration between Nintendo and Capcom for five games to be developed exclusively for the GameCube. Of these, only P.N.0.3. would hold up to the title (we’ll tackle that game in this article series sometime in the future), with Dead Phoenix getting the axe mid-development, and Viewtiful Joe joining Killer 7 and Resident Evil 4 in getting ports to other systems further down the line.
Viewtiful Joe itself was developed by Team Viewtiful within Capcom Production Studio 4, who would later form the criminally short-lived Clover Studios (with many of the key personnel going on to form Platinum Games). What began as a staff learning project within the team soon ballooned into a full-blown release and was overseen by prolific names such as director Hideki Kamiya and producer Atsushi Inaba. So, you know, there was some serious talent involved, who would go on to work on classics such as Okami, Vanquish,
Star-Fox Zero Mad World and Bayonetta.
It’s pretty safe to say that there is a strong pedigree under the hood here for a top-notch action game, and they delivered in spades. Shortly after the opening cut scene shows Joe’s date Silvia being captured and taken into the silver screen on their movie date night, Joe rushes in after her and is quickly bestowed with superhero powers by veteran superhero Captain Blue. With his newly acquired V-watch equipped, he turns into the titular hero, complete with red spandex suit and oversized helmet.
The nods here to old-school Japanese Tokusatsu movies and television shows, along with American takes such as Power Rangers as well as more modern American superheroes, are immediately evident, with a sincere reverence for the game’s influences worn proudly on its sleeve. A striking art style featuring rich, bold colours and super-thick black outlines further leans into its fantastical and comic-style origins. The whole adventure also takes advantage of the fact it is occurring inside a movie. Movie reel graphics border the screen during superpowers, the director yells cut if you die, and the image will revert to an old-timey grainy effect if you run out of superhero power. Combined with some fresh-for-the-time fourth wall breaks, it makes for a game that still oozes charm and charisma, even if it isn’t quite so unique today as it was 18 years ago.
Does the gameplay hold up? Absolutely. This is a love letter to classic beat-em-ups that were considered retro back when this came out. As Joe you’ll venture through all manner of side-scrolling movie-trope-laden levels, laying waste to a variety of bad guys. There’s no shortage of call-backs to classic games of the genre, including floaty jumping, health-restoring food waiting in boxes, and coins to collect to unlock new abilities. You’ll run, double jump and use your reflexes to dodge incoming hits and pummel enemies.
Helping you do this are your VFX powers, which you can utilise by draining the recharging VFX gauge at the top of the screen. The most useful of these is undoubtably Slow Motion, which allows you to easily evade income attacks, drastically increase your attack power, and automatically dodge enemy hits in exchange for a big chunk of the bar. There’s also Mach Speed, which can help to quickly lay waste to feeble foes. Lastly, we have Zoom In, which brings the action in close, powering up normal attacks and granting access to new ones. These abilities are also used for some simple puzzle solving, which are nothing too challenging but helps to nicely break up the constant pummelling.
Each level is broken up into mini sections that will be familiar to anyone who has played Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, with a ranking awarded at each endpoint based on speed, damage and just how darn stylish you were doing it. To maximise scores, you’ll want to chain big combos, avoiding attacks at the last second to stagger your enemies and rack up huge damage quickly. Once you know what you’re doing, there’s a graceful flow to combat that makes it a real joy to play, but it can be punishingly difficult if you’re not careful.
The highlight must be the boss battles, which task you with using both your skills and your noggin to think about how your VFX powers might be used to your advantage. For example, a barrage of bullets from a helicopter isn’t so threatening if you slow down time to the point that its rotor blades don’t spin fast enough to keep it afloat. Then you can go in and lay down some punches and kicks until it cracks. Later boss battles introduce a colourful assortment of quirky characters that are more interesting than a helicopter. These whacky big baddies are undeniably cheesy but still provide some good laughs. Figuring out each one’s weakness, surviving the encounter and then seeing them get their comeuppance remains satisfying through to the end credits.
Sadly, despite the ending of the well-received sequel Viewtiful Joe 2 teasing a third instalment, it never came to be. The series saw a spinoff on the Nintendo DS, as well as a Smash Bros-style multiplayer fighter, but these were pumped out within 2 years of the original game to both a tepid critical and commercial reception. Outside of a cameo in Marvel vs Capcom 3, the franchise has been dead ever since. The closest we ever came to a revival was in the form of The Wonderful 101, which drew some styling inspirations from Joe and was made by Platinum Games including a lot of key staff members from the Viewtiful Joe era.
Viewtiful Joe is a game that only takes a glance to immediately be able to guess when it was made. Maybe a revival today wouldn’t work on its own merits without the nostalgic charm of the original to bolster its appeal, but for me, the charm is still well and truly present. It’s a challenging, rewarding, old-school beat-em-up that I think would still find a loving audience today. Surely that’s worth a port or a remaster if nothing else. We know Capcom does love a good remake, so here’s hoping this average Joe one day can make a return to both our screen and that of his in-game movie world.
Do you have a suggestion of a GameCube game you’d like to see us look back at next? Drop a comment and let us know!