March 28, 2009

See Jack. See Jack run. See Jack shove a signpost through some mook’s skull. See Jack carve him in half with his arm-mounted chainsaw. Kill, Jack, kill!

In the opening to MadWorld, the island of Varrigan City is cut off from the rest of the world when all bridges leading to it are blown up, all communications and internet disabled, and its airspace defended with lethal force. A “chaser” known as Jack has been called in by the mayor to find someone trapped on the island, but Jack has other motives that will be revealed in time.

Which is all well and good, but MadWorld isn’t about the narrative. MadWorld is all about violence, served in great bloody shovel-loads. Unlike other M-rated slaughterfests, however, MadWorld isn’t necessarily glorifying carnage; if anything, the depiction of brutality in this game is so over-the-top that it becomes humorous. The “Deathwatch Games” that are taking place on the island are a form of entertainment for those who know about them (and bet on them), and the whole experience is treated like the ultimate extreme sport, complete with humorous play-by-play and color commentary. If you don’t want to listen to the at-times repetitive commentary (or, in my case, the hip-hop style soundtrack), you can adjust the individual volume channels for music, voice/sound, and commentary in the Options menu.

The “black market entertainment broadcast over closed-circuit lines” aspect of MadWorld’s concept is also a partial justification for the game’s unique aesthetic. With the exception of blood sprays and some comic book-style onomatopoeia effects, the entire game is done in black and white, reminiscent of the comic book movie adaptations of Sin City and The Spirit. This also helps to keep the focus on humorous carnage and off realistic violence. Surprisingly, this look is never really a hindrance, although it does make for some unexciting screenshots.

MadWorld’s beat-’em-up gameplay is also relatively simple, as is common on a Wii title. Your controls are simple and fairly intuitive (although having to double-tap the control stick to run is somewhat awkward), and motion detection is very responsive. The game uses gesture-based Quick-Time Elements fairly often, especially during boss fights, but they aren’t obstacles for anyone with average reflexes — although sometimes triggering them during boss fights can be a challenge. They actually feel quite natural as you get caught up in the action, with your gestures mimicking what Jack does on screen more often than not. While the basic moves you use to take down waves of mooks will eventually become repetitive, there is still plenty of variety available to mix things up.

At its core, MadWorld is a throwback to arcade-style games like Double Dragon or Final Fight. You earn points based on how you dispatch your opponents, and as you reach predetermined totals something on the level unlocks, whether it be an additional weapon or other power-up, a new environmental hazard, or access to the level’s boss. Each stage also contains a “Bloodbath Challenge”, which is a mini-game that challenges you to pick off enemies in various ways such as Man Darts, Man Golf, Death Press, and Rocket Rammer. As an added bonus for replayability, these mini-games are available for two-player play once you complete their respective stages. Further replay incentives include higher scores and a harder difficulty setting — I’ve heard that even the tutorial is lethal on “Hard”, so those of you looking for a challenge definitely want to check that out.

All of this replayability is good, since it won’t take you very long to plow through MadWorld; the in-game clock only saves when you are successful, so it will probably only record half of the 6-10 hours of play you actually put into the game. As mentioned, much of that time will also seem to be repetitive, including the commentary clips, but it never seems boring. Rather than overstay its welcome, MadWorld is over in about a dozen stages, a few of which are just one (epic) boss fight each.

Like No More Heroes and a (very) few other games before it, MadWorld proves that the Wii isn’t just for family-friendly mini-game collections and party games. Platinum Games (formerly Clover Studios, makers of Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Godhand) has once again united an unusual visual look to satisfying gameplay. While it obviously isn’t for every Wii owner (even ignoring the M rating that should theoretically exclude anyone under 17), those looking for some mindless mayhem and maturely immature content should eagerly add MadWorld to their Wii library.

ESRB: M for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language. But enough about the introductory level…
Plays like: most 3D beat ’em ups
Pros: “Sin City” aesthetics, gloriously over-the-top violence and mayhem
Cons: somewhat repetitive (especially commentary), inconvenient lock-on system

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.