Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: March 10, 2009
I'm sure by now you've heard all about MadWorld, the new title from Platinum Games that has hardcore gamers buzzing about the Wii. The title has been heavily hyped as the best reason for hardcore gamers to hang onto their Wiis rather than trading in the unit for a stack of Xbox 360 or PS3 games. So the question on everyone's minds is, can this title possibly live up to expectations and prove the doubters wrong, showcasing once and for all that the Wii is just as capable of mature content as any other console? The answer is an unequivocal yes, as MadWorld stands as not only the best hardcore game to show up on the Wii, but possibly one of the system's best titles, period.
The first thing that has to be mentioned when discussing MadWorld is the fact that it is utterly hilarious. What? You were expecting a discussion on violence and gore in this space? We'll get to that in good time, but you already knew that this game was violent; what you probably didn't know is that it's also damn funny.
The biggest dose of humor comes from the game's commentary team, consisting of stand-up comedian Greg Proops and actor John Di Maggio (AKA the voice of your old pal Bender from "Futurama"). Together, the two of them provide a running analysis of the action that is equal parts funny and filthy. The dialogue is crude and profanity-laden, but it's also some of the most hilarious I've ever heard. Occasionally, their in-level banter can get a bit repetitive while protagonist Jack is ripping through hordes of generic baddies, but all is forgiven when it comes time for a level intro or a boss fight. I have no idea how much of the script was written for them and how much was just ad-libbed in the studio, but the end result is something that you simply must hear for yourself. Here's a quick tip: The first thing you should do when you boot up the game is go into the settings and turn down the music and FX a bit so you can make sure to catch every glorious word out of these men's mouths.
The next critical asset to MadWorld is its stunning and captivating visual quality (shut up about the blood, we're getting there). Playing the game evokes memories of Okami and Viewtiful Joe, which isn't surprising, since Platinum Games used to be known as Clover Studios, the very development house behind those blockbuster titles. The team at Platinum is renowned for its ability to put together some of the most visually memorable games out there, and this outing is no exception. MadWorld's palette is completely black and white, with the only color splash being the crimson red of the blood that Jack spills. The closest comparison one can make is that the game looks a lot like the movie "Sin City," but with an even heavier graphic novel bent.
Also, don't let the lack of color fool you into thinking that the game is somehow graphically inferior or lacking in detail, as the stark contrast of colors means that this is likely one of the most detailed games to come out on the Wii. And if you don't believe that to be a high compliment considering the Wii's fairly underwhelming horsepower, then I'd also say that Madword could stand toe-to-toe with nearly other new-gen game on the market, once again proving that you don't necessarily need a ridiculous processor or tons of memory to make an impressive-looking game.
Another notable component in the title is its impressive story (I know you're mad that we haven't talked about the violence yet, and that pleases me). The title is a straight beat-'em-up, and as such, one would expect a mostly throwaway narrative that does little to explain why Jack would dare enter a life-or-death competition. At first, that is what you get, as the game explains that Verrigan City was overrun by terrorists who cut off all outside access and threatened citizens that they could either play in the kill-or-be-killed Deathwatch Games, or they could die from lethal virus the terrorists had already unleashed on the city. At first, Jack is presented as just another Killseeker, a contestant who merely enters the games in hopes of winning fame and fortune.
While most games in the genre would stop here, MadWorld continues to evolve its story line, adding twists and turns every couple of levels to keep players interested. The final tale of corruption, deceit and greed is a densely woven one, giving gamers a lot more to think about than other similar titles. Platinum once again defies conventions and shows us that not only can a game on any system, even in black-and-white, look great, but any game can also have a pretty impressive story line if something like that is a priority.
All right, let's finally get around to discussing MadWorld's most sensationalized aspect, the blood. I'll be very clear on one point: This game earns every inch of its M rating, and the amount of blood spilled and horrible injuries inflicted makes titles like No More Heroes look like child's play. Not only is Jack's objective to kill his opponents, but he must also do so in the most exotic and varied ways possible in order to earn enough points to unlock various challenges and the stage's boss battle. While Jack can easily dispatch foes with a flurry of punches and a quick swipe from the chainsaw attached to his prosthetic right arm, that's boring and won't garner much attention. Rather, the more interesting approach is to pin an enemy's arms against him by trapping him in a tire, impaling five road signs in his head and then repeatedly bashing him against a wall of spikes (lovingly referred to in the game as "rose bush") until he's good and dead. This is considered a mid-level combo, so you'll really have to let your inner sadist come out in order to get the highest scores.
Also dispersed throughout the levels are Bloodbath Challenges, short themed games that allow Jack to rack up points quickly. These events are particularly gory, with a round of golf seeing Jack use his foes' noggins as golf balls to whack through hoops, or a game of Money Shot, where our "hero" implants bottles of fizzy champagne into baddies' heads before sending them shooting off like rockets onto spikes strategically placed over the naughty bits of pin-up girls. The game's objective is obviously to titillate and overwhelm with gore, which it does at every turn.
The reason why MadWorld gets away with such violence is likely largely because it's presented in a humorous manner. Nothing Jack does could be feasibly achieved by a real human being, so his antics are less condemned than those of, say, Condemned or Manhunt, since those games present violence in a much more realistic way. Perhaps somewhere out there is a man with a chainsaw grafted onto his arm who can grab other grown men by their feet and toss them around like rag dolls, but if so, I say we let that guy do whatever he wants anyway because I sure don't want to be messing with him. The bottom line is that while MadWorld's violence is less realistic than that in many games, it is still there and it comes in spades. Blood is spilled liberally, and if you are the type who is turned off by gore or who doesn't purchase games featuring graphic violence, then you'll want to stay far, far away. For those who don't mind a great deal of sticky red liquid, the game is golden.
Perhaps the only shortcoming of MadWorld is its repetitive combat system, which is an issue in almost any beat-'em-up. While Jack has a fair arsenal of moves (controlled by the A and B buttons and a touch of very forgiving waggle), there just aren't that many combos to be found. Also, each level has its own environmental hazards that earn big points, so you may find yourself leading all your foes into one specific area of the map and dispatching them all in the exact same manner.
Thankfully, this potentially monotonous experience is offset by a couple of well-placed vehicle missions and boss fights that require a strong dose of tactics if you hope to continue life as anything other than a blood smear. Also, the title is fairly short (six to eight hours on normal difficulty), so you'll likely be done before boredom sets in. Don't think that it's over after the first time you play, though, as beating the game once unlocks two more weapons as well as a hard mode designed to challenge even the savviest veterans. Normally, I am not a fan of short games, but in MadWorld's case, the pacing is utterly perfect.
The only other nitpicky issue with the title is its clunky camera system, which has very limited manual control. Players can tap the C button to center the camera behind Jack or hold it for one second to lock onto a particular enemy, but there's no other way to orient it beyond those two options. Unfortunately, the control stick governs movement and the d-pad is assigned to weapon and health pick-ups, so there's just no room left for camera controls. It's rarely an issue, but Jack might occasionally find himself backed into a corner and you'll be unclear as to exactly what's going on. Of course, there's little that a nice chainsaw sweep can't fix, so it's not so bad.
I find small issues like this to pick on because in the end, there's very little not to love about MadWorld. This is exactly the game the mature, hardcore Wii crowd has been craving, and it's just too bad that Nintendo is too busy making the next Wii Play, Wii Fit or Wii Music to put more resources into projects like this. In any case, kudos should be paid to both Sega and Platinum Games, as they have teamed up to bring us a title that stands head and shoulders above the competition. Just don't hold your heads too high; that makes it too easy to lop them off with a chainsaw. If you happen to be a Wii owner over the age of 17 looking for a terrific hardcore title, this is the one. Go buy MadWorld right now.
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