Viewtiful Joe burst onto the gaming scene a few years back with a fresh look and immensely fun gameplay. The side-scrolling action game, which saw Joe bust out plenty of slick moves, became a must-have title for the GameCube. With Joe's popularity now warranting a Viewtiful Joe cartoon series (not that I've seen it on TV) it's no surprise that the franchise is being spun off into slightly new directions. Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble drops the platforming nature of the original games, in favour of Super Smash Bros. style fighting. While offering some fun, it's sadly not a patch on the games that made Joe famous.
Red Hot Rumble is a beat 'em up, but there is a story of sorts to link all the fighting together. Captain Blue has retired from Super Hero duties, and to fill his spare time he decides to direct a movie. Blue and his assistant hold an open audition for the lead role in the movie, and this being Viewtiful Joe, the movie is high on action. Pretty much every character from the two traditional Viewtiful Joe games turns up for a shot at the big time, and fights ensue on the extravagant film sets in order to impress the new director.
What this translates to is a series of battles, each with its own objective. At times you'll simply have to defeat more enemies than your rival, or collect more gems, but you'll also go up against bosses, with both characters trying to dish out the most damage. How well you perform at these challenges is shown by coins, with the prospective actor with the larger stash of coins winning that scene. Coins can also be collected as you run around the set, but some effort has been made to ensure you get involved in the fighting as well. Most of these caveats to victory aren't hard to pass, though, so coin collecting is still the way to go.
The game initially gives you a small choice of playable characters, but in the end you'll unlock more than 20 (if you include alternative forms). These include the likes of Joe, Sylvia and Hulk Davidson, as well as new characters such as Sprocket. Red Hot Rumble on the PSP is a port of the GameCube version, but it includes a few PSP-only extras. One of these extras is Dante, the main character from Capcom's Devil May Cry series on the PlayStation 2. The character roster as a whole is interesting, but sadly rather unbalanced. It seems that certain characters got all the good skill sets, while others were left rather weak in a number of areas. A fast, powerful character, playing against a slow, weak character, doesn't make for an entertaining game.
As expected, VFX powers return, allowing you to slow down time, move ultra fast, fire sound effects at your rivals, or become considerably larger than everyone else. On top of these moves, each character has a set of individual special moves. These can be modified using the analogue stick, but many of these moves make the characters even more unbalanced. When there are four characters on screen, numerous enemies, gems, pick-ups and coins all over the place, special moves being pulled off, and VFX powers being used, it's almost impossible to know what's going on. While it can look spectacular, the over-the-top nature of the action is actually the game's weak point, making battles rather frustrating.
At times you'll collect a super-VFX orb, which can be used to start a potentially match altering mini-game. Once activated you'll be sucked into a portal with the other characters, where you'll play a short mini-game. They're very simple and last only a few seconds, but failure to win can result in the loss of vital coins. While always important to win, their enjoyment soon wears off as there's simply not enough variety to the games. The lack of variety can be levelled at the game as a whole, as no matter the stage or the game mode, battles all tend to feel very much the same, even when playing against friends. Four players can even play using one UMD, but multiplayer matches seem so familiar to the single-player game that you won't get much play out of it.
In addition to the main mode, a set of challenges can be tackled in the Trial mode. These are generally scenarios that crop up during the main game, but set to a time limit. You'll have to kill a certain number of enemies in a tight time limit, collect a required number of coins, race to the top of a building, and so on. As an extra mode to tackle once you're done with the story mode, it's a nice addition, but not something that is all that different to what you've already been playing.
Visually, Viewtiful Joe games have always looked spectacular, and Red Hot Rumble on the PSP is no exception. As already mentioned, the sheer amount of chaos on-screen can be a little detrimental to the gameplay, but it looks great. The soundtrack isn't all that exciting, but character voices bring life to the cast, even if a few of their more regularly repeated sayings start to grate after a while.
A True Viewtiful Joe game on the PSP would have been great. A foray into the beat 'em up genre isn't exactly straying too far from Joe's roots, but the game hasn't been pulled off with the same high level of polish that the other Joe titles exude. Obsessive fans who haven't already picked up the GameCube version might want to take a look at Red Hot Rumble, simply for a few hours of pretty mindless fun, but the lasting impression won't be so positive. Joe should definitely stick to his roots in the future.