Capcom may be notorious for its sequels, but in 1999 it set up Production Studio 4 to focus on creating original titles. So far the fruits have been mixed, with the startling Viewtiful Joe and the flawed PN 03 preparing the way for this latest rainbow-coloured assault on the eyes. In singleplayer, that assault is as dazzling as it is brief, but Under The Skin is designed for company. The focus is firmly on twoplayer chaos, with the singleplayer mode acting as little more than a tutorial with bots.
You play as mischievous space invader Cosmi, charged with the task of creating Jeremy Beadle-style havoc on Earth. This jumpstarts a frantic cycle of stealing an earthling's appearance, unleashing T-Rexes and boxing gloves in order to scare coins from the locals' pockets, and then scarpering before the enraged crowd beats you into a more recognisably alien shape. But 'frantic' here is not videogame code for 'clumsy and shallow'. Thanks to the combo effects of items, there's surprising scope for cunning and strategy while dodging the custard pies and impromptu karaoke.
Combined with the presence of your opponents - up to the same tricks you are - you'll need to adapt your policy of hunting, fleeing and cooperating on the run as each level reveals its well-thought-out idiosyncrasies. Presented with the visual wit that was Joe's viewtiful hallmark, Under The Skin represents that rare achievement: a game whose aesthetics perfectly match the tone and style of its gameplay.
While all this jokeshop mayhem is entertaining enough, it's compromised by a whoopee cushion of a camera. It's erratic, and requires continual tweaking to keep it pointing in the same direction you are. It's not a fatal flaw, but one that constantly distracts in a game that requires your brain to turn on a dozen dimes a minute. Nitpicking aside, Under The Skin's unpretentious and innovative gameplay is like a bucket of water perched atop a doorframe: surprising at first, but highly refreshing. But the nature of all jokes, even the good ones, is that they wear thin sooner than you'd like.
Under the Skin is out now for PS2