There's no denying that VJ2 can become extremely frustrating for these reasons, but frankly, if it was any easier, it would have come under a lot of flak. After the first game raised the skill stakes, the sequel has to continue at the same sort of pace, else alienate its existing fan base. Indeed, for Viewtiful veterans, this sequel won't be so much of a problem. There are only a handful of new features that affect the controls and gameplay, aside from these fans will already know what's what. A quick tap of the shoulder button now swaps Joe for Silvia, or vice-versa, in a tag-team stylee - termed a 'Viewtiful Touch'; and with Sylvia in place, there are a few new moves: notably the VFX Replay. This triples the incidence of any action she undertakes: so a couple of laser shots will be replayed thrice, suddenly becoming a barrage of projectiles. And whilst Joe can play around with fire, Sylvia can play around with electricity.
This separation of abilities is crucial to Viewtiful Joe 2's most significant change: which is an increased emphasis on puzzles. Most of the action is still fairly derivative, and is not dissimilar to many older 2D scrolling beat 'em ups or platformers. You simply proceed from left to right, negotiating a few platforms and beating seven shades of cel out of anything that moves. Like the first game, the combat is surprisingly precise and consistently manic. Icons appear warning you of any imminent attack, giving you the chance to dodge in advance, and there's a variety of punch/kick attacks available at your disposal. The VFX powers are still central to the game, with 'Slow', 'Zoom' and 'Fast' all having effects on the nature [and stylish appearance] of your attacks. But these VFX powers are also used to negotiate many of the game's puzzles, which arguably pose significantly more substantial conundrums than in the previous iteration.
In many ways, this makes the difficulty setting feel more reasonable. Working out how to get past an obstacle by choosing the correct VFX skills and the correct character in the correct combination at the correct time, seems like a fairer challenge than having to beat a thousand enemies over a string of particularly small platforms. It also means that those tuned up to the hardest setting on the original may still find things to thwart their progress. It also helps the gameplay feel more generally well-balanced. At times the action is relentless, with seemingly far too many enemies to dispatch all at the same time. So when you're faced with one of the more oblique conundrums, the pondering and slight back-tracking that may be required can make for a welcome break. It's only a brief let-up though, like reading a single page of a novel in a frontline trench, and it means that when the action kicks back in, it kicks back even harder. You really can't let your guard down with this 'un.