Negligent parents and ambulance-chasing lawyers, your next target has arrived and it's a doozy. MadWorld, published by SEGA and developed by Platinum Games (formerly Clover Studios, best known for Okami and Viewtiful Joe) is so over-the-top violent and vulgar that by comparison the Grand Theft Auto series may as well be Mr. Rogers. In no other game, for example, can you grab hold of a leather-clad enemy and impale him anus first on a rusty spike, which penetrates his body and rips through his mouth in a bloody fountain on the other side. Uh-huh -- there's going to be some phone calls. But beneath the oceans of cinematically dismembered limbs, chainsaw-severed torsos and uncensored F-bombs, there waits a legitimately entertaining game supported by a compelling storyline, a breathtakingly bold style and some fun, engaging play mechanics to boot. MadWorld may ultimately not be for everyone -- its black and white presentation and unabashedly offensive content practically ensure that -- but those who do get it will absolutely love it. And for the record, I completely get it.
Just like Okami and Viewtiful Joe before it, MadWorld looks like a beautiful piece of moving art. Director Shigenori Nishikawa has admitted to comic book influences like Sin City and parallels could certainly be drawn to unique movies like Renaissance, both of which feature similar black and white presentations. The style itself is not original, but we've never seen it done like this in a videogame before and the end result is a stunning success. Platinum Games wanted to create a title so distinct that when people stumbled upon it, they wouldn't be able to turn away -- and love it or hate it, MadWorld's graphics catch and hold the eye. The side effect to this design choice is that ultra-stylized works are perfectly suited to Nintendo's underpowered console, which struggles to render realistic environments, but is amply armed where art is emphasized over technology.
Watch our full video review by clicking on the link above
I adore the look. Not just the refreshingly different monochromatic makeover -- a veritable middle finger to the countless games out there that steal and re-steal the same boring style; two middle fingers to the publishers whose marketing teams may as well be credited as co-designers -- but the art and technology that made it a reality. Every unique character and environment in MadWorld has been lovingly crafted and rendered, the results nothing short of marvelous. The designs of the locales, from the intentionally cliche Asia Town or a horrific castle overrun by zombies and torture devices to an alien bunker complete with big-eyed grays and gravity guns, are simply dazzling. Some of the boss characters are so awesome and menacing that you might instinctually prefer to turn and run just as soon as fight them. The animation is quick and fluid and the particle effects system is one of the best Wii has ever seen -- it needs to be since the game is flooded in blood.
The violence, which seeps into every nook and cranny of the title, runs so deeply that it is entangled in the very presentation. The black and white nature of the game is only compromised by the color red, which makes its presence known every time main character Jack, a ripped mystery man with a chainsaw for an arm, cuts an enemy in two, lops off a head, or pulls out someone's beating heart and crushes it. MadWorld is filthily brutal, never blinking in its quest to make mutilation funny. The concept might sound ridiculous, but the truth is that you will laugh as you battle your way through the grungy subways and Japanese dojos while shish-kabobbing enemies with long spears or blasting off their heads with golf clubs. It's all just so ludicrously overdone -- in the same way that Ash cutting off his own hand in Evil Dead 2 is -- that you can't help but giggle. And maybe that's why the game squeaked by with an M rating when Manhunt 2 -- in my opinion, the less violent game -- initially didn't.
I'm certainly glad it did because all of the blood and guts are a necessity here and the excessive gore is also your pay off for a job well done. MadWorld is by definition a beat-'em-up. Jack moves through areas and destroys any unlucky foe who crosses his path, but there are some welcomed twists on the old formula. For starters, the finishers, which are cinematic and rewarding ending moves that take out enemies once and for all. Wear a challenger down and you can exact one of these devastating maneuvers -- always stylized, gruesome and satisfying. Imagine breaking a foe's torso in half, slicing him to pieces with a katana, or using the chainsaw to cut him vertically from the groin up. Just watching the carnage unfold hurts. Platinum Games has also tied many of these finishers into environmental kills -- for example, a dumpster whose lid slams shut and slices enemies in two -- which smartly adds variety and an extra layer of dynamics and skill to the way you play.
There's great diversity, but as you explore the world you will still inevitably encounter repeat kills, which is disappointing. I couldn't tell you how many times I slammed an enemy into a rose bush during the course of the adventure, but it was definitely a lot. The murders themselves are so brutal and funny, not to mention beautifully rendered, however, that their eventual repetitiveness -- an unavoidable side effect of any beat-'em-up -- is a little easier to forgive. Additionally, the developer has created an assortment of kills exclusive to certain regions, some of them weapon-based and others environmental. You won't see the gravity gun until much later in the title and you won't be able to hurl enemies into a piranha-infested fish tank in any stage except the zombie courtyard, for example. Combined with some of the mini-challenges that await, you will never feel as though you're continuously doing the same thing, even if some of the actions repeat.
The aforementioned mini-challenges are peppered throughout the game and are not only humorously twisted, but engaging, and they also provide a welcomed change of pace from the traditional action. The Black Baron, a self-described pimp, introduces these violent games, all of them timed, and then you compete for points. In Man Darts, you pick up a spiked baseball bat and swing away, sending bloodied enemies soaring at a giant, nearby dartboard -- of course, you'll score more for bulls-eyes so aim well. The Rocket Reamer mini-game sends a blazing fast train down the tracks directly in your path; your job is to throw as many enemies as possible in its line of sight and then watch as the carnage unfolds. There are 10-plus of these so-called minis throughout the experience and they are all enjoyable for different reasons, their only shared trait the buckets of blood spilled in their names. Aside from the minis, there are a couple of gameplay-changing sequences in the game in which Jack must ride a motorcycle while fending off baddies. Although far from bad, these are the weakest scenes in the game, mostly because they lack genuine variety. You drive a lot and you chainsaw some thugs -- there's not much more to the experiences.
Click on the above link to watch our 15-minute full-level walkthrough
Platinum Games has utilized a very simple, but effective control scheme and as a result MadWorld is immediately playable. Jack himself is controlled tightly with the nunchuk's analog stick and pointer functionality is tossed to the side for a combat system that relies heavily on smart gestures. Not waggle, mind you, but simple gestures to effect many of the previously noted finishers. The hulking anti-hero throws vicious punches every time you tap the A button and B-Trigger pulls out his chainsaw, which can be swiped horizontally or vertically with your respective motions. Too often, action games overuse gestures or merely replace buttons with stupid waggle, but neither is true in MadWorld. The controls feel well thought out and responsive, as evidenced by the fact that Jack's primary action, punching, is mapped to a quick button press while his secondary function, the chainsaw, is motion-based. Why more developers don't understand something so simple as this repeatedly befuddles me. Finishers require only simple gestures -- up or down, left or right, and the results are gore-tastic. Nothing's complicated. Everything makes sense.
Well, almost everything. MadWorld's camera system could have benefitted from a little more fine-tuning. The camera is manually manipulated, but your options are limited. You're able to center Jack's point of view -- that's it. A rotational camera assigned to minus / plus or even to left / right on the D-Pad (ultimately utilized for weapon equip) would have much improved the situation. Instead, you will sometimes find yourself running toward the screen, turning around and tapping the camera button to re-center. It doesn't help that the same button is used for enemy locks -- a welcomed feature that I wish was likewise more fine-tuned. You have to hold the camera button for a second or two to gain a lock, which can be frustrating during an intense battle. None of these issues are insurmountable, but issues they remain.
The otherwise fluid controls are complemented by a good combo system that encourages creative kills. You earn points for every murder you make, but those numbers are multiplied when you string together extra vicious mutilations. For instance, you might trap an enemy in a tire, stab him several times with street signs and then slam him into a wall of spikes -- the entire act will earn you several times the point value you'd garner if you had simply butchered the foe with a chainsaw instead. This combo system plays heavily into the action and if you don't respect it, your quest will be more difficult. This is because new mini-challenges and boss fights will only open after you've amassed a certain number of points and, thus, if you always go for the easiest kills, you'll spend a lot more time killing foes than you would if you'd used your imagination.
The points system also carries over to the mini-challenges. If you perform poorly in a game of Man Golf, an ideal excursion for points, you will find yourself stranded afterward, only able to advance to the next trigger spot after you've battled hordes of enemies. I like the concept powering the combo system -- stringing together brutal kills for more points is a fantastic idea. However, it never runs very deep and usually comes back to the same three props: tires, street signs and rose bushes. Most of the combos are simple variations of these. There's still fun to be had in creating these wicked multipliers, and yet I simultaneously wish the system was more varied and dynamic, not to mention primed for competition. Given that there's no achievements or online leader boards, competitive gamers will never feel the compulsion to go for gold.
Any combo-based shortcomings, however, will be obliterated the second you encounter the game's first real boss. His name, ironically, is Little Edie, but he towers over Jack in a truly fabulous, cinematic cut-scene that triggers the battle to come. There's a wide array of boss characters in MadWorld and every last encounter is awesome, from the opening sequence to the final, gory death animation. The deeper you progress through the title, the less it clings to any sort of reality and the stranger the bosses become -- and I really enjoy this about the game; it doesn't even try to take itself seriously -- it's just a game. Werewolves, sure. Giant robots? Check. I won't spoil any more, but the face-offs are always engaging and intense, the designs of the baddies ridiculously amazing. The bosses all have their strengths and weaknesses and there's some good strategy to be had in finding those out. The only gripe I've got here lies with the progression and namely that the final showdown in Jack's quest seems slightly anticlimactic compared to some of the gargantuan, thrilling monsters and murderers you square against with before you get that far.
I've referenced some specific characters, weapons and locations to make some points in this review, but I've steered clear of general story spoilers because the tale powering MadWorld is deeper than I had originally suspected and I want you to discover it for yourself. You probably already know that Jack finds himself in Varrigan City's Death Watch, a disturbing game show in which contestants -- the area's inhabitants -- battle to the bitter end in a fight for survival. Everybody, including otherwise-innocent civilians, seems fit to take part in this nasty game because the mysterious terrorists who've taken over the city and erected Death Watch have also released a poison into the air and only those who fight are given the antidote. It's easy to shrug off a story in a beat-'em-up -- traditionally, they're not very good -- but bear in mind that Yasumi Matsuno of Final Fantasy fame penned the exposition in MadWorld. The end result is by no means exceptional, but the writing is strong, there are a number of twists and turns along the way, some cliches slashed, and it's all backed by excellent production values. The voice acting is also moody and believable.
Speaking of which, SEGA and Platinum Games contracted celebrity voice actors Greg Proops (Whose Line is It, Anyway?) and John Dimaggio (Bender from Futurama) to voice the two lewd and crude commentators who call all of the so-called plays Jack makes as he progresses through the ranks of Death Watch -- a great move. These guys are hilarious. Not only is the writing stellar -- some great jokes, all of them as vulgar as possible -- but the two share a flowing, smooth dynamic and their delivery is impeccable. They're not afraid to drop F-bombs or go back and forth about each other's wives, and the comedy always feels unrehearsed. The game is additionally backed by a superb hip-hop soundtrack comprised of 20 songs from various established and up-and-coming rap artists. The beats are exceptionally moody and catchy, adding great ambience to the game, but also providing tunes that will have you moving your feet as you slice and dice your way to victory. There are only two problems with the entire aural presentation, as far as I'm concerned. The first is that the announcers, vocal rap soundtrack and sound effects occasionally bleed together in a cacophony of sound -- usually when you've got your chainsaw buzzing. The much bigger issue is that much of voice work for the thuggish characters repeats way too often, which is annoying. If you make your way into a horde of enemies, every single one of them might say "I'm going to get you, motherfu$@#er!" within 30 seconds of each other. This oversight happens repeatedly throughout the game and is definitely a noticeable shortcoming.
If you judge the quality of a game based on how long it is, MadWorld might not be for you. The initial play-through only takes about five or six hours to complete, typical of a beat-'em-up. Of course, I would argue that you will have more fun in this five or six hours than you would in 20 with some lesser title. Regardless, though, there is reason to return to the experience, particularly if you are a completionist. First, you can play MadWorld on normal and hard modes. In too many games, the distinction is practically meaningless, but not so here. Consider that I died only a handful of times as I played through the game on normal mode. Now consider that I died a half dozen times as I attempted to play through the tutorial mode on hard difficulty. It's the real deal, as evidenced not only by the smarter AI for enemies, who suddenly dodge your attacks and laugh at you before fighting back, but also by the fact that you only have a single life when you start (as opposed to three) and that enemies inflict multiple amounts of damage with every punch. A couple of well-placed attacks and you're a goner. There's also weapon unlockables for completing the game on normal mode that can then be used when playing through on hard. And there are Death Watch game minis that become available after you have completed a stage once. There's definitely good replay value here, even if at first glance the content seems slim. And if the challenge of playing on hard isn't enough, Platinum Games has also included a two-player split-screen mode where you and a buddy can compete in the various mini-challenges, like Man Darts, from the single-player adventure. The split-screen mode sees a small framerate hit, but it is otherwise intact and still enjoyable, although I would have preferred an online cooperative option.
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