Viewty and the Beast

Monday, 28 February 2005 — 8:39pm | Film, Oscars, Video games

So, how did I do for predictions? Passing on the two Documentary awards leaves 22 categories, of which I managed to guess 15; curiously, I underestimated The Aviator in the technical categories, yet I incorrectly pegged it for Best Picture. In the eight “majors” (Picture, Director, acting and screenplays) I got everything but Picture and to some extent Supporting Actor, though I was definitely fence-sitting when it came to Owen and Freeman.

In retrospect, as much as I enjoyed Million Dollar Baby, I do stand disappointed that Scorsese and The Aviator did not take home the top two. Once again, the Academy went for the safe, perhaps even slightly compensatory choice. Honestly, what does Martin Scorsese have to do to win an Oscar? But then one thinks of the usual stable of examples – Howard Hawks, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock – and quite frankly, this is the Academy’s loss.

The best acceptance speech of the evening was, without question, Jorge Drexler singing after winning for “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” – a deserving winner.

Film clips were by and large absent, and nowhere was this more noticeable than in the Animated Short category. Chris Landreth had to accept his award in the aisle instead of onstage, and I wonder if some technical budgets were slashed this year. Speaking of which, it has come to my attention that the National Film Board has Ryan available on its website for viewing online. Take fifteen minutes out of your busy schedule and watch it.

And that closes the book on 2004, minus any straggling films I did not catch, of which the most notable is Hotel Rwanda. But given that March consists of exactly one and only one new release that strikes me as interesting – Robots – I have plenty of time.

I want to discuss Oscars of a different sort: the Rainbow Oscars that are the centrepiece of the wacky film-spoofing video game Viewtiful Joe 2. Well, not the Rainbow Oscars themselves, but what you need to do to get them; as with most video games, it involves the systematic defeating of what a Campbellian mythologist would call “threshold guardians” – in vulgar terms, bosses.

The original Viewtiful Joe was, in terms of a niche GameCube action title that was somehow enough of a sleeper hit to be named the best game of 2003 by USA Today, legendary in many ways. As a 2D side-scrolling anime-styled beat-em-up in a market favouring photorealistic 3D environments, it was a daring and unique blend of old-school values and modern technology. What really made it stand out, though, was its rogue’s gallery. If I were to name the most exhilirating, albeit frustrating boss battles of the past five years, Viewtiful Joe would claim at least three of them.

One of the toughest challenges in the original Joe was the sixth chapter of seven, “The Magnificent Five.” Basically, it was a slap in the face of anyone who might have emerged from the first few boss battles scathed, but self-satisfied. This chapter pitted you against the Raging Stones, tougher versions of the first four bosses in the game in back-to-back succession with no saving or powering up in between. Not only did you have to beat them all over again, you had to do it cleanly and without taking a whole lot of pain, or start from the very beginning. Then you were rewarded with a duel against none other than Fire Leo, a nine-foot flaming beast in a volcanic cavern, who had a tendency to dispose of you in about ten seconds until you figured out how to exploit his weakness, after which he would dispose of you in the more gracious span of two minutes. On the standard Adults difficulty, Fire Leo dragged me to the “Game Over” screen kicking and screaming no less than thirty times. He gave my delicate piano hands cramps.

Viewtiful Joe 2 is in many ways as great a game as the original, boasting a selection of bosses that have a lot more personality – the squid-like mad scientist Dr. Cranken, for example, or Fire Leo’s brother Frost Tiger, a cool-as-ice samurai who punctuates his entrance with lyric poetry in the style of Basho. (The exception to the rule is the rocket-powered Egyptian sphinx Flinty Stone, who spends half his showdown asleep.) It also has a similar sixth chapter where you fight your way through iterations of four earlier bosses that move faster and take a lot more punishment before yielding. The problem is that the sequel, unlike its predecessor, is merciful; you get a chance to save and heal between every battle, which turns the entire exercise into a purely temporal endurance test as opposed to an attritional one. This is Viewtiful Joe, for crying out loud! I expect to be punished. Every point of damage should strike terror in my heart.

I should note that this is one of the few irritations in an otherwise phenomenal game that was sadly ignored when it was released in November (thanks to the blitz of Halo 2, Metroid Prime: Echoes, Half-Life 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and World of Warcraft), but I do find it a concern when such a fast-paced game repeats itself for such a long stretch. Really, though, if you have a GameCube, there is absolutely no excuse to not have the two Viewtiful Joe titles in your collection.

Still to come: a preview of film in what looks to be a busy 2005, and Students’ Union election coverage in tandem with the campaign season kickoff this morning. Disappointingly, both Katz and Bazin pulled out, leaving the Presidential race as the only one of interest.

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