Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Viewtiful Joe and the Art of the Moment

The time has come. Everything comes down to what you do know. Every action you make will have crucial consequences. One mistake and it could be over. This intensity, this excitement, this thrill ..... this is the "art of the moment".

Viewtiful Joe is a game with many, many unique elements, one of which is its level structure. Each level of VJ is separated by many "moments": areas of the stage where the player goes into battle with many enemies, a puzzle, an over-the-top platforming section, or a boss. It is these moments that make up the heart and soul of Viewtiful Joe. These moments aren't simply sections of gameplay, they are all superbly executed to create the essence of the moment. The best examples being how each moment begins and ends with style. Each "moment" begins with Silvia, your ultimate goal in the game, saying "Just go for it!", thus creating a situation where it feels like someone is really rooting you on, and it fills the player with confidence to enter the moment with fire in his/her heart. Then, each "moment" ends with a crowd applauding your performance, and the intensity of their applause depends upon how well you performed in the moment. Furthermore, during each "moment", the crowd responds to your actions with applause if you rack up a combo high enough; really get that combo up there and you'll not only get a rousing and thundering applause from the audience, but you'll also hear Sivia say "My Hero!". All of these factors are, in essence, simply stylish presentation elements to go along with the movie theme of the game that is Viewtiful Joe, but these presentation elements go a long way in crafting the "art of the moment".

It is the passion and superb execution behind the presentation elements of Viewtiful Joe coinciding with its unique level structure that create this new art style that goes beyond the simple aspect "levels" and "stages" that past 2D action games were composed of, to a unique type of execution that focuses on creating unique moments of action, platforming, and puzzle solving that all feel so satisfying to finish because of the tension and excitement created by these "moments". VJ has an incredible presentation, a great soundtrack, and fantastic gameplay, but instead of spreading out the the quality of these separate aspects of gameplay through long stages, Clover Studios opted to give us quality gaming in small and condensed "moments". This unique execution allows the player to savor the essence that is Viewtiful Joe many, many times throughout a stage. Instead getting applause at the end of the stage, you get applause for every "moment" of action that is thrown at you. The result is a rare satisfaction, where the satisfaction of the gameplay and presentation isn't something to appreciate at the end of a level or the end of the game, but rather many, many times throughout a single stage; all thanks to these little "moments" of varied gameplay. Why eat a meal in one bite when you can savor it over the course of many smaller bites? Viewtiful Joe is a game to be savored.

The "art of the moment" is not something found in many games; in fact, Viewtiful Joe's sequels and Bayonetta are the only other games I can think of that executed this particular art style. In Bayonetta, the style was well executed for the purpose of the scoring system, but I feel it pales in comparison to VJ's execution of the "art of the moment". The reason is due to presentation. VJ is presented as a movie, therefore its aesthetics work very well for it in its execution of "moments", but in Bayonetta, there is no applause and no 4th wall to be broken, only Bayonetta's comment on the player's grade. It just felt empty in comparison to VJ's execution. I can't help but think some other type of execution would have been better for Bayonetta.

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