Review: MadWorld (Nintendo Wii)

Madworld
Genre: Action
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: 03/11/2009

What’s black and white and red all over?

The answer isn’t a blushing penguin or a menstruating nun – it’s Madworld, a new Mature rated game for the Nintendo Wii.

This has been a surprising year so far for what is generally considered to be the most family friendly of the current video game systems. A few developers and publishers are betting that for every home where a Wii was bought for a family, at least one member of that family is looking to play something outside of Nintendo first party titles and mini-game collections. Already this year has seen the release of Onechanbara, a game where scantily clad women graphically kill zombies, and House of the Dead: Overkill, which set a record for the use of the F-bomb in a video game (according to Guinness).

Of course partial nudity and/or gore might equal a Mature rating but that doesn’t mean that the game is any good. Take other Wii M-rated games like Alone in the Dark and Manhunt 2 for example. Luckily for anyone with a Wii, MadWorld was developed by Platinum games, which consists of ex-Clover Studio developers. That’s right, Clover Studios, the creators of awesome games that hardly anyone bought such as Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and one of the best brawlers out there God Hand.

Much like the previous Clover Studio games, MadWorld has a unique visual style. The levels and character models are all done in a striking black and white style, like something you would see straight out of an older comic or from a manga book. The only time color is on the screen is usually when it is gushing out of enemies after they’ve been cut in half with a chainsaw. The red color of enemy blood is the most frequent color you will see in the game, and the black and white style of the game makes the blood stand out a lot more than in some other games. During the game, there will be an enemy type with a different color of blood, and yellow is used to highlight certain things in the game like specific challenges and also for targeting. Otherwise expect to literally paint the town red while playing MadWorld.

Considering the visual style and over the top violence is most of what has been shown about the game leading up to the release of the game, it was almost surprising to find out that there was a story behind the gore. Yes, there is a story, and while it’s by no means is the plot extremely deep, it is an interesting story with some unexpected twists to it. Without trying to spoil too much, the game takes place in Verrigan City. A terrorist attack has cut off the city from the outside world and within the city limits, a biological agent has been released. Only those who kill their fellow citizens will be given an antidote. Those who do well might get sponsored to be part of Death Watch. Death Watch, much like Smash TV and The Running Man, is a TV show where contestants kill people for points and face off against specific opponents to gain rankings. Jack, a badass in a leather jacket and with a chainsaw strapped to one arm, enters the Death Watch with his own motives for competing.

It all sounds pretty straightforward but as I said, the story makes some interesting twists and turns. Unfortunately mentioning any of those twists would ruin the story so you’ll have to hopefully take my word that there is something more going on than what is on the surface. The game uses cut scenes presented with the in-game engine and also at times advances the story using comic book style panels.

Playing as Jack, the goal of the different levels is to kill enemies and gain enough points to challenge one of the main Death Watch competitors. Much like a TV show, you are only given 30 minutes to complete this goal. Each area provides different ways to creatively kill the enemies, even though some basic ways of getting points stay the same throughout the levels. Some of these level specific areas of destruction include a catapult to launch an enemy to the moon or a large food processor to turn enemies into tempura. One of the consistently best ways of gathering points is described in the initial tutorial and involves slamming a tire or barrel over an enemy, then impaling them with a signpost or something similar, then either throwing or repeatedly slamming them against a wall of spikes.

All of this violence is complimented by extremely vulgar commentary. This is great though, as the commentary is done by John Di Maggio (of Bender/Marcus Fenix fame) and Greg Proops. The commentary at times is nearly as shocking as the gore that is spattering all over the place. The only downside is the fact that the commentary repeats itself too often. For example, after every Bloodbath Challenge, one of the commentators mention to the other about shooting them with a gun. Why put this after every challenge? Other than the commentators the game features background music made mostly of upbeat hip hop that oddly fits, and different chainsaw/bloodsplatter/squish noises that must have been fun to record.

After reaching a pre-specified point goal, a Blood Bath Challenge will be unlocked. These involve even more ways of dispatching enemies in creative ways, including my personal favorite of turning them into a fireworks display. Doing well in these challenges helps one reach the point goal to unlock the boss battle much quicker than just random slaughter. It also helps prevent the monotony of slamming, impaling, and then throwing enemies over and over again. While these challenges keep things interesting, they don’t vary much between levels. Many of them only involve throwing enemies into or at stuff. Man Darts and Man Golf are fun variants, however they also require the camera to be pointing a specific direction during the challenges in order to score well and that’s not always the easiest thing to do.

After earning even more points, a Boss Battle is unlocked and then you can challenge the Boss of that level. These are one of the high points of the game. They are all different and each one feels like a major battle, whether you are fighting an entire pack of werewolves or a two story giant. One of the reasons these battles work so well are due to the quick time events that occur during a boss battle. I’m not a fan of this particular gameplay mechanic since it’s been beaten to death in other games, but the motion controlled QTE just feel so much more natural in a Wii game than the random button presses of a typical console game. Need to swing a guy around? You actually swing the controller around. While I might not like this mechanic in other games I have to say that not enough Wii games do this.

In fact the control scheme is one of MadWorld‘s strongest points. For some reason many developers still struggle with developing a control scheme for a third person action game that works well. MadWorld does work very well. The game uses both the nunchuck and the remote, the joystick on the nunchuck moves Jack. The A button is used for throwing punches, with multiple presses resulting in a punch combo. Holding A grabs an enemy. Move the nunchuck and Jack does a headbutt while holding an enemy, and move the remote again, and he will throw them. Flick the remote up and Jack does an uppercut, flick it to the side and he does a spinning backfist. C button resets the camera behind Jack, holding it down locks onto the nearest enemy. Z button jumps. Flick the joystick and Jack does a dodge backflip, and this works pretty much exactly like it does in God Hand. Then there’s the B button this controls the chainsaw. Pressing B unleashes the chainsaw, swinging horizontally causes Jack to swing it horizontally while swinging vertical makes Jack do the same motion with the chainsaw.

This is one of the few games where I can’t image it being on any other console. The Wii motion control is perfect for this game. If MadWorld had been released on a different system, then it would take something away from using the controller to mimic some of the onscreen actions, like cutting a zombie from head to tail with a quick downward strike. Another amazing thing is how little time it takes to adapt to the control scheme for MadWorld, after a few minutes it just feels natural, and when a motion sensitive action displays on screen it mimics what is going onscreen while not obscuring the action.

All of this works perfect, with one small, yet very annoying, flaw. The camera. The camera unfortunately is the hardest enemy in the game. While the C button resets the angle behind Jack there is just far too often when you will try and grab an enemy and get nothing but air. The lock on function does nothing to help, and it takes far too long to lock onto an enemy. I would’ve rather had an option to make tapping C lock onto an enemy and holding C reset the camera. No such option exists in the game. Or they could’ve used one of the D-Pad buttons like the down arrow which is used for taunting could’ve instead been mapped to the 1 or 2 buttons given the fact that it’s not used very often.

This might seem like a small gripe except during the harder sections of the game, or during specific boss battles it’s extremely annoying to either lose health or die because you couldn’t do the action you meant to since the camera was forcing you to look the other way. One example is during a boss battle you might lock onto a boss and after a QTE you’ll no longer be locked on. The time it takes to lock on again could mean the difference between living or dying.

Dying is not like other games. MadWorld is old school in its approach, the player is granted three lives at the beginning of a level. Losing all three lives means game over and restarting the whole level over again, even if you lose 30 minutes of progress in order to do so. On MadWorld‘s unlockable harder difficulty the life limit is dropped down to a single life. A single life with harder enemies is already enough of a challenge without having to also try and compensate for a poor camera.

Otherwise MadWorld isn’t a very hard game. Part of the difficulty is earning enough points within a given time limit. During the first couple of levels, the enemies don’t do very much dodging so it isn’t hard to grab them and throw them into some creative trap variation. With later levels, the difficulty ramps up, like zombies that you have to cut vertically to kill (to destroy the brain, duh), or an enemy that can kill you in one hit if you aren’t quick enough. Still with enough patience and dodging, it’s not hard to get enough points and get to the boss battle. The bosses, while amazing, pretty much boil down to using the same strategy, dodge, then wait for the boss to use the attack that activates a QTE, use the QTE which takes off a lot of life, repeat. It’s sort of disappointing that there’s not much more strategy that is required for the bosses when some of the average enemies require more strategy.

MadWorld is not a long game. It’s about average length for this kind of brawling game. There’re unlockable bonuses that encourage further playthrough, and an additional difficulty level that will make you curse the mothers of the developers. It’s also worth replaying some levels to see some of the different ways of massacring enemies that you might’ve missed the first time through. At the same time one of the things that make MadWorld repetitive is the fact that most often the best way to play is to use the, “Slam a tire over an enemy, impale them, then throw them into spikes” method. Sure there are some other fantastically brutal ways of killing enemies, but that this is often the best way.

Still, MadWorld is a brutal, bloody game that manages to do something many games do not. It’s a complete package. The art style works with the story since part of the story is about how people could manage to enjoy such violence, and the game encourages creative murder while at the same time questioning the motivation of such enjoyment. It is creative in its use of control scheme and visual style while remaining familiar in terms of gameplay concepts. MadWorld succeeds in being a game that’s more than just about violence while at the same time having more over the top violence than any other game on the Wii or even any of the other systems currently available.

Plainly put, while there are a few missteps in terms of camera and occasional repetitiveness of the combat, MadWorld is one of the best Wii games released that wasn’t published by Nintendo itself. If you own a Wii and are old enough to enjoy the game, and don’t have any kids that might accidentally wander into the room then this is a game you owe yourself to check out. Don’t let it end up ignored like some of Clover Studios other games.

And seriously, don’t let your kids watch or play this game. Or even listen to it. I’m not kidding.

The Scores:

Story: Great
Graphics: Amazing
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Amazing
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal: Good
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
Final Score: GREAT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
MadWorld is one of the few truly unique experiences on the Wii console. It has an amazing art style and a control scheme that feels natural after a few minutes. Aside from some camera issues and areas of the game that feel repetitive, this is easily one of my favorite games so far this year and an early Game of the Year contender.

2 Comments
  1. Matt Yeager

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