Nintendo’s Wii, like all of the Japanese giant’s previous platforms, has made a name for itself as a kid’s console. Yes, the whole casual gamer thing has opened up the doors to a whole market of non-gaming game players, and the console is about as mainstream as it gets, packed with titles that appeal to the majority (if not the actual gaming demographic), but there’s no ignoring the bucket loads (or should that be shovelware loads?) of family-friendly titles available.
Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and we’re all for pleasant, and enjoyable family fun, but for more hardened gamers, it’s not all that interesting, and no amount of cooking, horse riding or Keith Chegwin quizzes are going to appeal. Sorry, Nintendo.
So, it was with equal amounts of shock and excitement that I met the announcement of MadWorld for the Wii. Not only is this a game coming from some of the now-defunct Clover Studios team, responsible for the excellent Okami, but it’s also one of the most violent, and downright hardcore games to stain the pure white image of the brand. MadWorld promises to be both unique, innovative, and more importantly, a gamer’s game, something the Wii is seriously lacking of late. Bring it on, I say.
MadWorld stars Jack, a rather intimidating bloke who just happens to have a mechanical arm with a chainsaw mounted into it (must be a Bruce Campbell fan).
Jack is sent, by a secret government agency, to infiltrate Varrigan City. This city has been overrun by a terrorist organisation known as ‘The Organizers’, who have isolated the urban area and have turned it into a Running Man-style game show. A virus was released into the populace, with the promise of an antidote to anyone who kills other inhabitants. Soon, the DeathWatch game show grows to epic proportions, with contestants, or ‘Killseekers’, vying for the number 1 ranked position. Jack is forced to enter, gaining sponsorship of the mysterious XIII in order to qualify.
Presented in a striking, and just downright cool black and white monotone comic book style, MadWorld is, at its heart, a 3D beat ‘em up, forcing you to fight an army of psychopaths and freaks to progress. This isn’t as simple as merely punching and kicking your way around town, though. Oh no.
While Jack can indeed use his hands and feet to great effect, it’s the environmental kills that form the meat of the combat. You see, MadWorld is violent. Very, very, very, very violent. And, in order to rack up enough points to unlock boss battles, and the way to the next stage, you have to kill in interesting and entertaining ways. So, simply punching a guy’s face in isn’t enough. However, shoving a tire around him, impaling him though the head with a signpost and then throwing him onto a spiked wall should give you a respectable score.
This bit of the old, ultra violence forms much of the game’s challenge and appeal. There are tons of environmental weapons, structures and other items around that can be combined to ludicrously over the top kills.
You can throw hapless foes into the path of a moving train (which also has spikes on it, as if several tonnes of 200MPH train wasn’t enough), shove them into flaming oil barrels, impale them, ass-first, onto vertical spiked poles, deep fry them, throw them into an automated sushi chopper and more, all the time able to combine elements to boost your score.
As well as the environmental weapons, Jack can also use more traditional arms, including spiked baseball bats, knives, and the never-fails-to-entertain spear, with which you can impale and carry up to three squirming foes at once.
Let’s not forget Jack’s own, built-in weapon, his chainsaw. This can be used with predictably violent results, and can chop foes clean in two, but you can only use it a couple of times, after which you need to wait for it to recharge.
As you beat foes to a pulp, you can finish them off hand-to-hand using one of Jack’s many finishing moves, including a hammer throw and neck breaker. These, as well as most of the other moves, all use the Wiimote and nunchuck’s motion controls. By moving the controllers in the directions shown on screen, you can easily perform all of the vicious moves Jack is able to dole out, making the game even more enjoyable, as there’s no need to memorize button combinations. Standard attacks consist of pressing the A button, while Jack’s chainsaw is unleashed by holding down the B trigger.
The game is split into several levels, each taking place in various areas of the city, and presided over by a boss character. To complete the levels you need to rack up enough points to unlock the boss. As well as unlocking the final showdown, you also unlock various other elements, including new areas to kill in, weapons, extra lives, and the many and varied Bloodbath Challenge mini-games.
Once opened up, you can head to a specified area of the level to partake in a violent mini-game, presented by the Black Baron, a stereotypical pimp character who always meets his end, South Park-style in each introduction at the hands of his buxom assistant.
These challenges, which usually involve killing foes in inventive ways, take many forms, including human darts, human fireworks, a giant press and even an event that sees you shaking up soda bottles, shoving them into your opponents’ mouths and then watching as the pressure build-up throws them through the air, to be impaled on a giant cut-out of a scantily clad lady’s nether-regions. It’s all fantastically cheap and vulgar stuff, but it works, and the presentation and comic styling offsets the masses of claret being thrown around (which shows as bright red against the game’s primarily monotone visuals).
While you go about your glorious rampage, your actions are commented on by two TV announcers, voiced by comedian Gregg Proops, and John DiMaggio, better known as the voice of Bender from Futurama and, of course, Marcus Fenix from Gears Of War. This commentary is just as vulgar as the proceedings, but again, fits in well, and galvanizes the whole game show element.
It’s not all straightforward combat, though, and there are a few deviations. In particular, you’ll get the chance to hop onto a beefed-up chopper motorcycle and do battle Mad Max-style, with other combatants at high speeds.
Then there are the boss fights. These are all impressive, and require different approaches, as each boss uses a range of powerful attacks. To get the edge here, you need perfect timing, to make Jack counterattack his foe, which usually leads to a motion-based QTE of sorts, which sees Jack inflict massive damage. The final, coup de grace kill moves here are, as you’d expect, so over the top that it’s just ridiculous, and while there’s always a ton of blood flowing, this is all cartoon violence, and so isn’t really shocking, just humorous.
That said, I can hear the barrage of complaint letters being sent to Sega and Nintendo right now, and no doubt any and every ‘ban violence in games’ gathering will use MadWorld as it’s next poster child. This is unfortunate, because as violent as the game is, it’s clearly unrealistic, OTT fun, and in no way matches the kind of potentially disturbing acts of violence seen in games like Manhunt.
There’s little in the way of problems to complain about here, at least nothing that takes too much away from the enjoyment. The game is on the short side, and most players will breeze through it quickly, but the action is so solid and enjoyable, that most will simply replay the game and get more out of it and to top their high scores.
The camera can be a little frustrating at times, especially as you grapple with the game’s sluggish lock-on feature in the midst of a chaotic battle or boss fight. A little work on this would have worked wonders, and would solve the game’s biggest problem of targeting.
It’s often difficult to actually target a single enemy, especially when you’re attempting to use an item on them, such as a signpost. Often you’ll be flailing around after missing your target, and are left wide open to attack. This is a shame, especially given the game’s otherwise, almost flawless presentation.
So many games of this kind are reduced to nothing more than basic, no-frills titles should you take away the gore and controversy, but thankfully, MadWorld is not such a game.
Yes, the violence is a big feature, but the gameplay underneath it all is still spot on, and thanks to the generally great controls, excellent presentation and interesting characters, MadWorld is just a great game, pure and simple. Add to that some multiplayer action, and you’ve got a long awaited reason for ‘real’ gamers to blow the dust of their Wii.