Although the general visual style is the same as before, the environments and backdrops seem more interesting and varied this time around. Being loosely based on various generic film-sets, akin to Kung Fu Chaos, there's a nicely refined blend of contrasting levels - from a Jurassic type park to a temple of doom. It also underlines the western influence in what is inherently a very Japanese game. The artwork takes obvious influence from the larger world of manga, but in bringing it to life, it does feel more like an American cartoon than a Japanese anime. There's something of the old school Batman TV series' 'Sock', 'Blam' and 'Ka-pow' about Viewtiful Joe 2 and it's part of what makes the game feel so bubbly. Every element of the presentation is massively overstated, particularly the voice acting [think over-confident Banzai, and you?re on the right lines] and it all feeds into making Viewtiful Joe 2 a deliciously original game.
At its heart is a bizarre cocktail of inspirations. Effectively, it's a video game that tells the story of a movie star via the medium of cartoon. It looks great, and the premise encourages the player to make it look greater: with various incentives to play in the slickest fashion possible, hopefully achieving that 'A'wesome grade at the end of each stage and having plenty of coins to spend on power-ups. The gameplay is strictly 2D, yet there's often a third dimension to the graphics. Joe himself seems like an American hero interpreted by Japanese artists for an international audience; and retro gaming values have been used to create a fresh, comparatively innovative game. Superficially, there's a kiddie friendly vibe, but the difficulty setting, even on Kids mode, could potentially reduce younger children to piles of quivering chicken-jelly. There's no swearing, no prostitutes and no drive bys, but arguably a small child exposed to VJ2 might require greater need for extensive trauma therapy later on in life than had they spent their formative years playing the GTA series. It?s pure difficulty on disc.
If you were lucky and skilled enough to complete the first VJ, you'll know what to expect. And with that kind of extensive training on your CV, VJ2 will become far more easily accessible. It's no harder than the original [thank the lord!] but it's still tougher than Mike Tyson soaked in vinegar and clad in concrete. And that's the principal reason why few people will be able to complete VJ2 is less than about 12-15 hours. Unlike most of this years' biggest games, its longevity is dependent on a punishingly tight learning curve rather than the sheer quantity of content.
Although that's not an inherently impressive thing, it's a welcome throwback to more traditional games. Whilst there are sporadic checkpoints at the end of each sub-stage where games can be saved, generally speaking, you'll be re-trying the same bits of level over and over again. Further into the game, you might have been playing for an hour or two, but your save point will be the same when you stop as it was when it started; and you still won?t have got past that mofo of an end-of-level boss.