Sunday, September 28, 2014

Level Up: Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble

Another year has rolled by for us, and now we celebrate with our look at the Viewtiful Joe series. As I said when I first chose Viewtiful Joe to replace Earthworm Jim, this series actually has a lot of similarities with it, which gets us to the 3rd game. In both cases it’s a black-sheep, departure from the main series based more on their respective TV shows (yeah, there was a Viewtiful Joe TV show. If you didn’t know about it I’m not surprised). But while Earthworm Jim 3D was just an attempt at going 3 dimensional, Viewtiful Joe’s equivalent is a party game. Let’s get right into Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble for the Nintendo GameCube.
It’s really hard to know where to place Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble in terms of the other games. It would be easiest to say that it happens after all of them, but that doesn’t quite add up. See, unlike Earthworm Jim 3D, which was just inspired by the TV show, Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble is based directly on it. This means you get characters like Captain Blue Jr. and Sprocket that I have no idea who they are.
Regardless, the plot of the game is that Captain Blue is announcing his retirement and is need of a successor in his films. As the director can’t decide who should take his place, it is left to a contest between the regular Viewtiful Joe staff (and yes, this include Captain Blue competing. I guess he thinks that if he wins, no one deserves to take his place?). More than any other Viewtiful Joe game, this plot confuses me. While with the others, we’re inside a movie world, this game makes it quite clear that they are filming a movie. So while I get it could be that the director is filming multiple people at the same time to see who gets the best audience reaction, the fact that he’s chosen some people would mean he’s already narrowed his choice. Also, while I understand that there is SOME improv that could be involved, there still needs to be a script, and that would heavily influence all the events. And the tasks that you’re asked to do would make for a really weird movie. I get this is just a party game and that I’m probably missing things by not knowing anything about the cartoon, but it still doesn’t seem right.
Each section does try to have its little episodic lessons and eventually there’s another plot that rises and takes over, making for a “let’s not fight and just be friends” BS no one really wins ending. All of it is lame.
Saying that this game is a party game might give you the wrong impression, as it is desperately trying to be Super Smash Bros at the same time. This is a 2D game where you can fight (albeit with health bars) and has simple controls for your attacks. The main difference being that the point of each round isn’t always to fight and dying is often only a penalty at most.
As I’ve said, the game is divided in section called “movies”. Each movie has a certain number of “acts” within them, with a goal to win and an instant lose condition. Those acts are composed of many mini games. The game is so compartmentalised, I think it was trying to be a Russian nesting doll…
Instead of fighting, you get these quick missions like “collect gems!” “grab the flag!” or “pick the right side!” All very simple stuff, but it gives the game a rushed kind of feel. Now, I don’t mean that because it’s a mini-game collection, I enjoy WarioWare and I think the pacing in that game is perfect. But the problem is that the games in Viewtiful Joe Red hot Rumble don’t work with how the game is laid out with the fighting controls. It gives you just enough time to get used to them and then yanks the rug from under your feet with a brand new game with a brand new goal.
Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble actually comes out to be one of the weakest times I’ve ever had to introduce *Capcom time*. The story is confusing and pointless and the game play can be annoying at times. I do admit, both of them aren’t terrible, and there is some fun to be had with the game once you get used to the sensory overload of all the rushing. But I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, a game that you have to force yourself to get used to kind of works against itself in that regard. The best thing about this game is that it was most commonly available in a cheap bundle with Viewtiful Joe 2. I give Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble 5.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Level Up: Diddy Kong Racing

The Mario Kart series is something to be admired. No offense to all of those who like the other types of racing games, but before Super Mario Kart came out in 1992, a lot of them seemed rather boring and too realistic. Mario Kart changed that with wacky weapons galore, more emphasis on the racer and not the car and just simply the fun that comes with Mario. It wasn’t long before it not only took off as a series, but was also getting copied left and right. Which is why I don’t feel guilty copying my intro from Mario Kart: Double Dash for this game. Here’s Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64.
Calling Diddy Kong Racing a Mario Kart copy might not be accurate to its true origins (especially since it was published by Nintendo). As weird as it seems this game might have had its origins in an RTS game that Rareware started to develop but was quickly scrapped. Some of the aspects of the game, which was caveman themed, were reused for a racing game that was originally called “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”. This was going to be based around a Disney World type amusement park where you could go in different sections with themes. This idea of themed worlds did stick and it might explain why the first world is a pre-historic level. Eventually this project was given a few more titles, and was even supposed to be a sequel to Rare’s NES game R.C. Pro-AM at one point. Apparently it was Shigeru Miyamoto that suggested Diddy Kong. Despite some initial resistance, this idea stuck in order for Nintendo to strengthen the Donkey Kong brand and allow Rareware to create some new characters for future series.
The adventure concept of the game is likely the defining feature. It’s actually less like Mario Kart and more like Super Mario 64. The game has a map for you to drive around, and doors for races that are locked until you earn a certain amount of balloons. Most of the balloons are earned by completing races, but there are others that you can find while adventuring around, giving this game a completionist aspect to it too.
The second most defining feature is that there are multiple vehicles to race in. You can choose to race in cars, airplanes or hovercrafts on most stages. They all control very differently, and they do a good job to put a new spin on the tracks. You can adventure around in them too.
Speaking of adventuring, in each world there is a key to find to unlock a bonus mini-game. These are sometimes a mission, like collecting or stealing certain items from your opponent, or battles where you try to hit your opponent without getting hit yourself. These, like the rest of the game, take a game play element that seems limiting at first, but offers a creative spin to it.
Even putting all that aside, Diddy Kong Racing finds a way to mix up the basic races. After completing a set of tracks, you are allowed to race the world boss, which is a much different 1 on 1 race that feels like a racing battle. After you beat him, the previous tracks are changed to silver coin challenges: race around the track collecting silver coins found throughout and still win. After that, there’s another boss challenge for a piece of an amulet that you need to face the final boss.
And this is still without mentioning the items, tracks, racers and other typical stuff that varies among racing games. That shows how far that the makers went to in order to make this game unique.
While it’s easy to write off Diddy Kong Racing as a Mario Kart clone for babies on first impressions, it is so much more than that. This continues Rareware’s trend of not inventing a certain game play style, but perfecting it as I believe this game to be a better single player experience than most Mario Kart games. Beyond simply being a creative use of an already existing game play style,  this game helped introduce the Kritters used for the Donkey Kong 64, Banjo (of Banjo-Kazooie), Conker the Squirrel. I don’t know how many more ways I can say this game is great: turning racing into an adventure was simply inspired. There’s a reason why this game was eventually remade for the DS too. I give Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64 10 levels out of 10.