US: Mar 2009
There are many (myself included) who have high hopes for Platinum Games, the development studio started up by some of Japan’s best game developers such as Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame, Atsushi Inaba (God Hand and Okami) and Hideki Kamiya, (Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe) to name a few. Originally they all plied their trade for Clover Studios, an independent company funded by Capcom. This relationship gave birth to some of the most critically acclaimed and unique games of the last decade. Sadly for all involved, a number of these games (like Viewtiful Joe,, Okami, and Clover’s last game God Hand) became cult hits at best. Despite strong review scores, Capcom decided enough was enough and dissolved the studio. Some claimed that key development talent had jumped ship leaving Clover without some of its biggest names, some blamed poor sales figures, some blamed a lack of marketing, and some just blamed it on the boogie. Either way, the aforementioned talent formed Platinum Games and began work on four new games with the Wii’s new best friend for life, Sega. The first game off the production line is the uber violent MadWorld.
MadWorld has been shrouded in controversy from day one, upsetting moralists, conservatives, and Rupert Murdoch owned “news’ outlets.” All of whom believe that they’re in charge of the Wii’s line-up and are concerned that all the little kiddyz will get hold of it and turn into homicidal psychopaths and gun-toting maniacs. Who knows? Maybe they’ll go really nuts and end up as FOX news viewers or readers of The Sun.
MadWorld is undoubtedly the most explicitly violent game on the face of the Earth. Its striking black, white, and red palette, aping Frank Millers Sin City and its ever flowing streams of blood and its constant drop of the F-bomb as well as other expletives means for me at least that its OTT nature is well, hilarious, not harmful. If anything, this may finally put people off reality TV, though I’m sure Murdoch and Co. would hate that, as they may actually have to report on real news!
The plot goes that all round, badass, grizzly bear man, barrel chested gorilla man, roaring wild boar eating man, and all around man’s man, Jack (which is surely the default brute name in video games), has entered Varrigan City, an island which has had all external ties to the outside world severed by a group of evil-doers known as the ‘’The Organizers.’’ This group has decided to amuse themselves by turning the city into a stage for a really, really, really, violent reality TV show, Death Watch. It’s Jacks job to go in—all chainsaws firing—save the day, and unravel what is an interesting plot, whose influences include existing films, such as Hostel and The Truman Show, as well as novels such as Stephen King’s The Running Man. The game’s commentary on society’s and (more to the point) man’s lust for blood is effectively told and actually makes you care about what’s going on around you. It will make you consider how the rich minorities control the everyman masses and to spill the blood of a pauper means nothing as long as the millionaires get their kicks. No, the narrative is not up to Grand Theft Auto IV level of writing. But for a video game to be about anything other than bald space marines, U.S. Soldiers, spiky-haired emo teenagers saving humanity from aliens or Nazis or dwarfs or sorcerers is a welcome break in its own right.
Jack is hardly your goodie-goodie protagonist either (he does have a chainsaw attached to his arm after all). Instead, he is more a vigilante who has no pretence about being a hero. He just wants to kill, kill, kill, and get a laugh out of it as well. Mirroring the riches desire for blood sport, the writers have shown that Jack is no saint, but in a mad world (for lack of a better term) no one is perfect.
The unusual plot (for games at least) is coupled with quite possibly the most outrageous commentary ever. If the vile vernacular of the grunts that you beat down issn’t bad enough, the announcers voiced by Greg Proops and John DiMaggio will have you in stitches. Imagine Dodgeball only 1,000 times worse. Such dialogue, though, suits the aesthetic and makes you wish that all real sports were voiced by these guys. Yes, it’s a bit frat boy, but so what? It’s so tongue in cheek to get offended would be akin to hating Sarah Palin. Yes, it’s a bit stupid, a little silly, maybe even annoying, but funny nonetheless. The humour is very No More Heroes. If you got the joke in that game, then you’re sure to get this. If you didn’t, you need help.
The audio further builds on this manic attitude with a fast, gritty, dark rap soundtrack. Nothing is a more fitting accompaniment to MadWorld‘s carnage, than a genre of music steeped in violence and brutality. Rap music has nearly always been about anarchy. Any other musical choice, simply put, wouldn’t be able to convey the perverse nature of the game as spectacularly as it does.
The graphics have earned much praise since MadWorld‘s unveiling. As mentioned earlier, the use of only three colours (four if you count the yellow used for the comic book sound effect pop-ups) makes Platinum Games debut visually unlike any other. To say that it’s a stunner is an understatement. Light years ahead artistically of nearly every other game on the market, its refreshing comic visuals and minimalist palette and all round stylishness will ensure that 10, 20, even 30 years from now, MadWorld will still be a stunner. It’s like seeing your first crush after years apart; she was hot back then and she’s even hotter today.
The best way to describe the gameplay would be as a 3-D roaming beat-em-up, akin to God Hand. But that would be to pigeon hole MadWorld and its accomplishments. The emphasis here is on earning points and it’s not about scoring a few hundred or even thousands. No, like everything else in the game, the point system has been exaggerated to the maximum. We’re talking millions here, folks. Each level then is not your usual straightforward a-b affair. Instead, you’re presented with a playground to roam around in and smash skulls. At the start, you’re told how many points you’re required to hit before a challenge unlocks, a new a weapon becomes available, or a new type of environmental kill is ready to be unveiled for your sadistic pleasure. It’s then up to you how to achieve those goals. You can go the whole button mashing route but that’ll only get you so far. More to the point, you’ll miss out on the main appeal, linking violence together.
For example, get a tire and trap an enemy inside, then get a signpost or two (or three) and jam them through his skull. When that’s done grab him, head butt him a few times (just to make sure he can’t get away!), and then put him out of his misery by repeatedly impaling him on the Rose Bush (a wall with nasty looking spikes on it) for maximum blood and laughter. Or, how about chopping a guy’s leg off, watching him desperately try and crawl on the floor to safety, only to stomp on his skull? If that doesn’t work for you, what about throwing a briefcase of cash, watching as all the deranged mercenaries surrounding you go after it, then throw an explosive barrel at them, and watch as their body parts go flying into orbit?
The game is filled with a generous amount of options for you to mix it up and be as creative as possible with dumpsters, trash bags, signposts, barrels, rows of chairs, toilets,. For those that go all out,, you really will be painting the town red. In between all the decapitating, mutilating, and tearing of bodies in two, you’ll be presented with special mini-games, Blood Bath Challenges. These range from Man Darts, Man Golf, Turbinator, (throwing as many foes as possible into an airplane turbine) and… erm… the Money Shot, which is as cheeky as one would expect in a game where the announcers are constantly talking about inserting things in their scrotums. These mini challenges are a pleasant (if that’s the right word to describe such fun) distraction from the main game and also places further emphasis on the game’s interest in simply trying to be as shocking as possible.
There are however some niggles, the camera is pretty poor. There’s no manual control of the camera with only the C button serving as a means of realigning the player’s viewpoint. This is fine in the more open areas, but, in the smaller, confined zones, it becomes a problem. While hardly a new issue to the genre, a little bit more thought in the level design considering the limitations of the camera would have been appreciated. As would a decent checkpoint system. The games is based on a fixed amount of life. Once you run out, you’re back to the start,. That wouldn’t be a problem if you’ve only spent five or ten minutes on a level but after 30 minutes or so it grates. It also makes you at times neglect the point based combos and go straight for simple kills just so you can reach the end level boss more quickly. There are also minor instances of slow down. Though not enough to affect the overall experience, such glitches really shouldn’t be there. Unintentionally though, some of these moments of slow down can add to the super stylized look of the game.
More pressing as a concern, however, is the motion controls, which are 90% accurate at best. All boss fights require some movement of the nunchuck and Wiimote (often in tandem) as does some of the fighting leading up to that final encounter. These actions work impeccably at times but other times not so well. It’s frustrating, especially when such moments lead to a death, and clearly Platinum Games would have benefited if Motion Plus was available to them.
My biggest gripe, however, is the length of the game. It took me just over three and half hours on my first play through and I—by no means—am a pro. The short length is offset by a multiplayer option as well as a hard mode, where the challenge of the game and its length is increased.
If anything MadWorld is actually better on a second play. You know the levels, what needs doing, and you can skip the cutscenes. The uninterrupted violence is far more immersive and motivates you to look for ever more bloody ways of bludgeoning these goons to death. Thus, though the game is not the unqualified success that I was hoping for, MadWorld gets many things right: awe inspiring visuals, a competently told story, a great script, solid voice acting and music, and a deep combat system that rewards imagination and skill. Platinum Games have thrown the rule book out the window; and they hope to make this into a series of games (who knows maybe we’ll actually see full blown versions of Man Darts and Man Golf?). For that to happen, though, you, dear reader, need to get your wallet out. It’s no good complaining about a dearth of great, original, core games on the Wii and then ignoring the ones that come along and are clearly trying to entertain. Unless you want all titles on the Wii to be about animals, babies, and fitness, then get out there and vote with your currency of choice. Just remember that any game that can piss off both the left and right wing without breaking a sweat needs to be in your collection.