MadWorld (Wii) – Review

cover The folks behind MadWorld, Platinum Games, have a lot of previously impressive games under their belt: Okami, Viewtiful Joe, and GodHand, to name a few, so it should be no surprise that MadWorld aims to keep up that trend, falling back to the developers’ more fighting-game style approach.  Thankfully, this assumption proves correct, as MadWorld delivers what exactly is promised with an awesome presentation.  While the gameplay does somewhat flatline in the latter part of the game, and there’s some aspect to its shortness, the rest of the game is really well done.

Story: B+

MadWorld put you in charge of Jack, a hardened ex-marine that has a retractable chainsaw built onto one arm, seeking entry into the newly opened DeathWatch television game show where contestants attempt to be the last man standing for a large cash prize.  Three days prior, the DeathWatch was a large metropolis called Varrigan City, but thanks to the release of a virus with promise of a vaccine to those that would kill others, and someone with a lot of resources, the city was quickly transformed into the deadly game show, and Jack is searching for a VIP that was trapped in the city when this all started.  But the only way through is to act like a contestant, get sponsored and work his way through the ranked matched to get deeper into the city.  However, Jack’s initial mission is only just a starting point, as Jack as well as the DeathWatch game are more than what they seem as the game progresses.

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The story is not very deep but it does help to hold the interest to the game, and has a good twist and turns to make you want to keep playing.  The story is mostly told as cutscenes using a combination of in-game engine and kinetic comic-book style displays before and after certain levels (any attempt at story between levels would get in the way of killing).  Jack, as pretty much the only character with real development, is pretty complex and well characterized.

Gameplay: A

MadWorld is divided into a number of levels spanning 5 areas of the city; each area has 3 levels in it including one specific boss fight, all the other levels feature a time limit for you to score enough points by killing the drones on the level in order to open the boss fight and kill him or her, thus moving Jack up the DeathWatch ladder to eventually face the top-ranked player  Most of these are played out on small arenas on foot, but a few feature combat from the back of a motorcycle while driving along highways.  In these levels, reaching other point thresholds will unlock several features, including health items, weapons, new environmental ways of killing foes, mini-bosses, and a special BloodBath challenge.

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To score points, you control Jack to kill foes.  Simple kills, basically beating a foe up or slicing them in half with a chainsaw earn some points but you really score the points when you use the environment effectively as well as make your foe suffer multiple points of pain before finishing them off. For example, you can thrust a tire around an enemy, stab their head with a street sign, stuff a garbage can on them, set them on fire, throw another enemy into them, and the like, including multiples of these, before throwing the enemy against a “rose bush” of conveniently placed spikes.  Basically, each injury you do to the foe acts as a multiplier increase to the score, which help you get to the required points for each level. At times, if you wear down a foe, you’ll have an opportunity to use a Finisher on them, which requires typically one little Wiimote/Nunchuck action to complete.  There will also be need to use such actions to pull off the pain-inflicting moves, but these are shown on the screen when they become available.  The controls themselves to pull all this off are pretty straight-forward, and if anything, the only complaint is that the move to grab at a target seems very persnickety about how far or close you are to them, but otherwise they become second nature quickly.  The levels themselves are generally small (roughly the size of a city block) with lots of environmental killing devices awaiting their use as well as secret areas with more unique methods for dealing with foes.

Throughout most levels is the BloodBath challenge, which still will earn you points towards your level score, but also gives you bonus points for pulling off special killing tactics.  After being introduced humorously by the Black Baron (who ends up victim to the death-dealing machinations by his assistant) you have a limited amount of time to kill foes by a specific method.  This may be getting the foes to stand in front of a set of speeding trains to be run over, or to be targets for your spike bat to be struck against a giant dartboard.  These present a fun diversion from the rest of the level (as taking damage is usually very difficult to do during these.

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When you open a boss fight, you’re taken to a special part of the level.  While regular attacks with bosses will wear down their health, the main way that most bosses are defeated is to get them into a Finishing Move melee, requiring you to get close and pull off a specific motion with the controllers.  When you get into the Finishing Move (clearing indicated with anime-style battle panels quickly flashing on screen) you basically need to watch for a handful of quick time events to respond to the bosses moves, and either dazing the boss to wail on him or scoring big damage.  Each boss is finalized with a final Finishing move as well.  While quick time events can be a boon to a game, they are used well here; there’s enough timing to execute them, and because the game doesn’t use the motion sensing via the infrared sensors but instead the internal motion sensing, the moves only require small flicks appropriately for the event.  The one aspect of the game that is a bit annoying is that if you should die completely facing the boss (wearing away all the health from all the lives you bring into the boss) you have to restart the entire level over instead of starting the boss fight again.  For most of the bosses, at least at normal difficulty, this isn’t a problem but there was one boss on one level that felt really difficult to score points (e.g. it would take me 15 minutes or so to get the number needed to bring up the boss fight) that was also a more difficult boss (namely as he wasn’t the type you just wail on) that I had to redo the overall level 4 or so times before I was able to defeat the boss.

Once you beat a level, you can go back to try to improve your score, and there’s also a harder difficulty level for the game if you need that challenge.  A split-screen multiplayer mode is also available, where you all fight in the same arena trying to amass the most points.

The game is pretty damn fun.  Obviously, you need to recognize that the killing going on here is over-the-top comically and while this game does show brutal deaths, it helps that the overall presentation is so bizarre and comic-bookish that no one is going to mistake this as a “murder simulator”.  When you have that in mind, you can have a lot of fun, experimenting the most effective and efficient ways of dealing with the enemies of the game.  There’s enough variety in the way the levels provide you with means of killing that helps to avoid monotonous gameplay, save for the time you’re getting to the last few levels.  The controls are very well-polished – this isn’t a game where they just tacked motion-sensing on the end – and are very easy to pick up.  Even if you’re not great at normal fighting games, button-mashing will serve you well here.

Value/Replayability: B+

The full game is not really long, maybe 8 to 10 hours if not shorter if you’re a pro at the Street Fighter type variety.  But in terms of overall length, that feels about right – Jack doesn’t power up (nor does he have the need to do so), so there’s no new moves that he learns and while the enemies get more difficult, the same tactics work for most in the game.  The replay is there in the ability to go back to any level to try to better your time/score and to try it at the harder difficulty level.  I think if the game was any longer it would have become rather bland, so this was a decent choice here.

Graphics: A

It’s impossible to talk MadWorld without spending time on the graphics.  There’s clear influences of Frank Miller’s Sin City, as the entire game is pretty much rendered in three colors: black and white for characters and environments, yellow for onomatopoeia words that appear as in comic books, and copious and copious amounts of red for blood.  The black and white visuals are very difficult to describe just by relying on 2d screenshots, but they do work well for the game, thanks to the designers’ choices.  There’s enough (but not too much) detail that make it easy to help distinguish edges of features in front of other features, and while you might blink a few times when you start playing it to figure it out, it’s really really well done.  It also helps to “disguise” the fact that this game is running on the Wii, as the presentation looks just as good as any 720/1080p game for the 360 or PS3.  While the gameplay itself helps to lend to the idea that this is supposed to be a fun game that happens to use violence as a scoring mechanics, this is also aided by the choice to represent physical harm to foes as near-river-like amounts of bright red blood (in the same fashion as No More Heroes).  There’s no guts (well, one Finishing move has a heart, ripped out ala Temple of Doom style), and you don’t see these gapping wounds in the bodies.  It may look like it’s a very bloody game, but really it is all decoration and very satisfying.  (Be aware, this is still not a game for youngsters, this is only part of the reason).

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Audio: A-

While the main voice work for the game during cut-scenes is decent (some more than others, such as the Black Baron), where the game shines in audio is the hip-hop soundtrack (shades of Persona 3) that plays throughout the levels, and the work by the two announcers that are always there.  These two are voiced (in the North American and UK version) by Greg Proops and John DiMaggio.  Proops was on Who’s Line Is It Anyway? but more recently was the podrace sportscaster from Phantom Menace.  DiMaggio is (coincidentally?) the voice of Marcus Fenix from Gears of War but also Bender from Futurama, and in this game, he’s pretty much one can of Olde Fortran away from being in full Bender mode.  These two have a fantastic set of rude, crash lines they work from that accompany the killing spree you do on each level, and clearly they had a lot of fun with their lines and working together on (I’ve read they ad libbed a few of them as well, making this a nice touch).  The only complaint that I have about the lines is that they needed about twice as many, the repetition on the lines did get a little tiresome on some levels and later in the game. (Do make sure to stay for the credit sequence)  The rest of the sound effects in the game are good, and pretty much every way you can imagine that raw meat can be used to create sound effects has been utilized.

Overall: A-

MadWorld has some pitfalls and is not necessary a genre-changing game, but it is a very satisfying and fun game to play and feels that I’m playing exactly what the producers at Platinum Games wants to have as a game.  It’s a bit on the short side that makes it more a renter, though I’m one to always encourage supporting the little guys, and given Platinum Games’ history, I do suggest to buy it if you can.  While the gameplay may get a bit stale at the end, the rest of the presentation of the game is spot on and I find it quite amusing just to play it for a few minutes.

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