- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Here’s a look at some multimedia software that undoubtedly will create new fans for a dude named Viewtiful Joe.

First, for those unfamiliar with the superheroic exploits of Movieland’s pint-size teen, a DVD is available covering the beginning of his career through his adventures, which are being chronicled in a cartoon on the Kids WB network.

Viewtiful Joe: Volume One (from Geneon for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $19.99) offers three episodes introducing viewers to Joe and his sweetheart, Silvia.

While the pair are watching a movie featuring Joe’s favorite superhero, Captain Blue, Silvia gets sucked into the screen and kidnapped by a motorcycle-riding rhino. Joe must team up with his paunchy, middle-aged idol to save her. When the good Captain gives Joe a V-Watch, which enables him to change into a red-spandex-garbed superhero, Viewtiful Joe is born.

With no memorable extras, the DVD does little to expand on the legend of the franchise, though it does deliver slick animation that looks as if it was ripped from the video games — how’s that for a switch? The producers also miss a golden marketing opportunity by not including any playable levels of the games from Capcom’sthree-year-old franchise.

Once comfortable with Joe’s origins, owners of Nintendo’s multifunctional hand-held gaming system are in for a treat with the dual-screen adventure of Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble (from Capcom for the Nintendo DS, rated T: for cartoon violence, $39.99).

Capcom takes advantage of possibilities provided by the DS and the powers of its character to deliver an engrossing, side-scrolling experience for the single player.

When Captain Blue’s latest movie is stolen by a sinister army called the Madow, Joe gets the chance to don his spandex and flowing cape and, with the help of his sister Jasmine, once again become a hero.

The stylish, cel-shaded animation and action look amazingly strong on the hand-held system, and the top screen of the DS automatically zooms in to highlight the hero during his predicaments.

Besides the standard features known to the Joe franchise, such as executing his lightning-fast martial-arts moves, collecting V-coins and munching on a cheeseburger to regain health, the DS version extends his famed VFX powers to new levels.

He still can slow time to unleash more powerful attacks, but activating his Scratch power demands that the player move a finger along the DS’ touch-sensitive bottom screen to shake up the scene and drop debris onto enemies or knock over items to clear an area and continue to progress.

Additionally, the VFX Split maneuver has the player break the screen into a top and bottom area that then can be moved into position to complete a task. For example, an impenetrable newsstand can be split in half by moving over the top so Joe can jump in to retrieve a goodie.

My favorite VFX trick, Slide, has the player pull the top screen down into the bottom screen to give him a close-up and more power to defeat a thug. The action even allows him to spin objects and finger-tap enemies into extinction.

Finally, not as impressive but great for parties, Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble (from Capcom for the Nintendo DS, rated T: for cartoon violence, $39.99) gives up to four players the chance to battle one another as characters from the game and cartoon series.

This cacophony of chaos removes all of the subtle charm witnessed in Joe’s previous adventures and instead delivers a confusing, brutally quick assault on the senses as players beat one another and enemies into submission to get the chance to star in Captain Blue’s latest action movie.

Players choose from Joe, Silvia, Blade Master Alastor, Captain Blue, Charles the Third and other characters, some from the animated television show. Armed with their own powers, they face off in active and interactive environments such as on top of a flying biplane to complete challenges including defeating the most enemies or collecting the most coins.

Orbs occasionally appear to suck players into minigames that have them further test their dexterity in finger-twisting, button-mashing contests.

Despite the heavy-duty action, I found it nearly impossible to keep track of my character on-screen when in four-player battles (life was easier in the story mode versus a single foe) and only the largest of television screens will allow the title to shine.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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