You’ve heard me talk about MadWorld on the TSSZ News site for a while now but recently Sega were kind enough to send us a copy to review. I managed to steal it (Sorry Mike T, it’ll be in the post soon) and have played the hell out of it for the past two weeks. So is it worth the hype or is it style over substance as some TSSZ readers claim?
What you probably know already about MadWorld is that it’s an over the top brawler made by Platinum Games. The graphics are black and white giving the game a Sin City style look with the only other colour appearing being the red blood of your enemies as you eviscerate them in a number of humorous and over the top ways. What you probably didn’t bargain on is the game having a deep or engaging storyline but MadWorld is full of surprises.
You play as Jack, a mysterious hardman who enters the fray in Varrigan City. The city itself has been taken over by terrorists and cut off from the outside world. An organization called Deathwatch bribes the local populous to kill or be killed while also letting loose ‘Killseekers’; psychopaths with weapons more than happy to maim anyone who gets in their way. Jack appears on the radar of a sponsor known only as XIII (thirteen) after brutalizing an early favourite in the Deathwatch games. From here he literally carves his way up through the Deathwatch rankings but he’s really hiding an ulterior motive. The story is as over the top as the gameplay itself but it puts and interesting spin on the violence. Jack is actually a very likable psychopath with just enough ‘badass’ about him to stop him from sounding too arrogant. You can imagine Jack hanging out in bars with the Gears of War crew, drinking, beating them in arm wrestling matches, sharing their enthusiasm for chainsaws and swapping cleaning tips for removing troublesome blood stains.
Graphically the game holds up very well, especially for a Wii title. The black and white doesn’t obscure any detail and remains striking throughout while simultaneously hiding the limitations of the Wii hardware. There’s a little clipping in the cut scenes including a really early one that messes up Jacks awesome artificial hand but nothing that truly distracts your attention. The use of red for blood is a very smart trick for punctuating the violence that is caused. Sometimes it can all look like a twisted version of THQ’s De Blob but instead of giving colour to a monochrome world with paint you’re using enemies’ blood by the bucket load. The red stuff flies in all directions as people are sawed in half by jacks arm mounted chainsaw, physically ripped in half, thrown into a wall of spikes or any number of sick and twisted ways you can think of.
The gameplay is initially very simple and the early levels offer very little resistance. Masked goons with a verity of weapons are more likely to stand around, point and literally laugh at their friends receiving an extreme makeover of the bloody and permanent kind. It’s easy at first just to saw through enemies with your chainsaw which is a very effective weapon at the start of the game. It’s activated by holding the ‘B’ button on the back of the remote then performing a horizontal or vertical swipe to make Jack cut through his enemies either horizontally or vertically, all the while the Remote vibrating and a chainsaw sound coming from the mounted speaker. The ‘A’ button is responsible for dishing out a melee combo with Jacks fist and when enemies are weakened sufficiently you can perform an execution, performed with a Wii Remote gesture.
Executions are the order of the day as you won’t get very far just slicing up people with your chainsaw. The aim of each level is usually to reach a set number of points to earn a battle against that levels boss. You’re given a 30 minute time limit with which to archive the target score or else its game over. The time never really causes any real headaches though and is more just a device to get you to think about how best to rack up the points in the most efficient way. This method is usually to inflict as much pain on a singular enemy as possible before snuffing out his existence in one seriously bloody execution. So while you’ll get minimum points for killing someone outright you’ll get considerably more for throwing a tyre around an enemy, jabbing a few road signs through his head and skewering him into a wall of spikes a few times before permanently impaling him on them.
The sheer number of executions are mind boggling and the only way to rack up some serious combos is to think how best to inflict pain before the kill. Scores are boosted further if you can take out more than one person at once with an environmental execution or fulfil a mini objective; one level has a fountain full of spikes. Impale enemies on all the spikes and create a bloody fountain for a score boost. You’ll want to experience the many different executions anyway just to revel in the glorious violence and spectacle of it all.
This being a game show points can also mean prizes. A number of set points before a boss battle can offer new weapons being unlocked or new bloodbath challenges to take part in. The latter are a number of ingenious mini games that are a tongue in cheek take on a number of party games released for the Wii. All of them are introduced by the charismatic Black Barron who’s simultaneously the biggest pimp stereotype ever to grace a videogame and homage to South Park’s Kenny. The first Bloodbath Challenge is as simple as throwing enemies into a jet engine but later games involve such hilarious challenges as the Rocket Reamer, Man Darts, Man Golf and the Death Press, all personally demonstrated by the Black Barron himself. Each breaks up the action nicely and cranks up the brutality to 11 offering some massive high scoring opportunities and lots of guilty giggles.
The bosses themselves are mostly well designed and defiantly where the difficulty of the game lays. One word of advice is to learn how to dodge (done by waggling the Nunchuk) or else you’ll be feeling a lot of pain. Dodging is in fact one of the first things the game teaches you but its significance is understated greatly. Some bosses can take a vast amount of life off you if you don’t dodge quickly enough. Most are beaten in small QTE’s that involve you gesturing with the remote in the right directions or button mashing power games replaced with frantic Remote shaking. The payoff for beating a boss is an ever more imaginative death sequence. Some of them will have you cackling to yourself like an evil genius.
A few levels into the game I realized a few problems were beginning to rear their ugly head and they all revolve around the camera. It’s a problem magnified due to the Nunchuk and Remote control scheme. The game does a reasonable job of keeping up with Jack and it can also be manually centred behind him with a press of the ‘c’ button. Unfortunately it’s hard to track specific enemies around you because there’s no direct way to rotate the camera. Obviously this wouldn’t be a problem with a dual analogue stick setup but instead on the Wii you’re left to frantically keep turning Jack and pressing the ‘c’ button to face in the right direction. This is a problem when you’re trying to inflict maximum damage on a single foe but loose him as he stumbles off into a sea of similar looking Killseekers.
There is a lock on function but it’s only really useful in the boss fights where there is usually only a single enemy on screen. In fact the game doesn’t even explain about it to you until the first boss fight. Near a crowd the lock on feature is almost useless, just targeting any random goon rather than the one you’ve recently defiled and have more evil intentions for. There’s also no way to cycle through targets when it picks the wrong enemy and it takes a few seconds of holding down the ‘c’ button to activate at all. Nintendo addressed all these problems perfectly realizing the limitations of their control scheme back with The Legend of Zelda; Twilight Princess. They had a targeting system that instantly snapped onto a bad guy at the single press of a button and a way to cycle through the crowd. It seems a shame that years later this lesson hasn’t been learnt.
The audio quality in the game is superb. The songs that play through the level are all Rap and R&B with lyrics as over the top as the onscreen action. “Jack, Jack, he’s our psycho maniac” sings the chorus of one and the guitar riff at the start of a boss battle lets you know this guy means business. Voice acting is good but the real stars of the audio department are the Deathwatch commentators. Fortunately not the pair seen in the weekly trailers before the release, but rather Greg ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ Proops and John ‘Bender’ DiMaggio who totally get the games premise and commentate accordingly with plenty of profanity and dark humour. The only downside to their commentary is that some of it can get repeated quite a few times. It’s ok to hear certain lines a few times as the commentators are genuinely funny. Hearing them describe a new level or boss in their unique way is entertaining but most of what they talk about during gameplay is context specific. You’ll be bored about hearing how Jack is “high on life” after using a happy pill to replenish some life or how you can do “any f****d up thing you want” to an enemy who’s staggering. If you really hate them though there is an option to turn them off.
If you can work around the cameras limitations you’ll find that Platinum Games have crafted one of the better Wii games to be released in a long while. Its style doesn’t appeal to most owners of Nintendo’s family friendly console but that’s the point. It’s a rough and ready game that’s always been honest about the type of gamer it wants to attract. It’s not perfect and it’s not going to sell many Wii’s to hardcore gamers who don’t already own the system but if you were one of the few hooked early by the potential of the system and have been waiting for a good excuse to dust if off MadWorld is the game to buy. Let the general population play Wii Fit and agonize over how much weight they’ve lost this week. You’ll be having much more fun waving the Wii Remote while carving an enemy in two with a sick smile creeping across your lips. Isn’t that what games should be about?
This post was originally written by the author for TSSZ News.