One of the great tragedies which has befallen Nintendo's Wii is the largely lacklustre and insulting support it has received from third party development teams. While the tide is slowly turning, by and large the little white box has played host to Playstation 2 ports and anemic Wii Sports clones, with few developers willing or able to provide gamers with anything of interest, style or production value. For this very reason, Sega's MadWorld should be lauded and met with great sighs of relief by content-starved Wii owners. However, this does lead to the inevitable question: does this ultra-violent, stylized beat 'em up succeed merely by virtue of the parity of quality Wii releases, or is it a truly special game in its own right?
Before the above question can be answered, one requires a little bit of context. MadWorld has burst from the skull of the talented and idiosyncratic developers of Platinum Games, the indepdendent studio spearheaded by gaming heavyweights such as Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya and composed in part of former employees of the defunct Clover Studios. The game sees the player step into the role of "Jack", a mysterious and brutal thug with a voracious blood lust. You see, Varrigan City has unfortunately been seized by the mysterious terrorist group known as The Organizers. Isolated and dominated, the city has been transformed into a stage for the deranged game show known as Death Watch. Jack lands himself a sponsor and steps up to become the game's ultimate champion by hacking, stabbing and pulverising a legion of foes in the name of good old-fashioned entertainment. Of course, there is more simmering beneath the surface of this story than initially appears, and part of the charm of MadWorld is how gloriously-insane and subsersive its concept truly is.
In terms of the core experience, however, things are relatively simple; MadWorld is a brawler. Jack will travel from locale to locale, murdering his way through the throng before confronting the Big Bad of the level. Occasionally, Jack's rampage is segmented by bonus round of sorts, the goal of which is invariably to kill as many people as you possibly can in the time allotted. At this point it would be no surprise to learn that many gamers are hunched in front of their computers raising a suspicious and cynical eyebrow at MadWorld; the very notion of a Wii brawler invites Vietnam-style flashbacks of endless and mindless waggle and the gurgling rage caused by misinterpreted gestures and sloppy motion controls. Take comfort then in knowing that MadWorld keeps things very tight, tidy and intuitive.
A few quick presses of the "A" button will have Jack pummel his enemies with basic punches, while holding down the "B" trigger allows him to start revving his arm-mounted chainsaw; from this position, a quick sideways or downward swipe with the Wii remote will unleash a devastating slash in that respective direction. Jack's core abilities also include a handy grapple move for tossing foes into spikes, garbage bins, or each other, and a series of finishing moves which can be unleashed once an enemy has been stunned into submission. Overall, the title controls very well and the clever layout provides a variety of moves to be performed very simply. In fact, the whole affair would be rendered almost too simple if not for the deceptively deep combo system which feeds into the title's central point-scoring mechanic. A quick swipe of Jack's chainsaw is fast and effective, and may net the player a modest number of points, but a far more inventive player will maximise their score by linking together a series of violent actions like a bloody Rube Goldberg contraption. Allow us to illustrate by way of example: for maximum points, Jack may pick up a flaming barrel and slam it over his opponent's body, before thrusting a sign-post through his head and hurling the entire flaming, blood mess under a speeding railway train. Needless to say, MadWorld is wonderfully amoral and bloodthirsty and a cheeky "up yours" to reactionary torch wavers who lack any sense of irony.
However, even the intellectual peanuts mentioned above would have difficulty denying the aesthetic beauty of MadWorld; the game's style is obvious from the title screen, and it gleefully wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Jack is Marv from Frank Miller's Sin City graphic novel series, and while it may be redundant to point this out, the game's monochromatic palette, slashed as it is with sprays of crimson and broad comic book flourishes evokes the best of Miller's work. Everything on offer is a testament to the power of style and artistic direction; there may be relatively few polygons strutting around on-screen but it is unlikely that many will care when faced with a game graced with such artistry and commitment to style. The aural experience of MadWorld is almost as engaging as its visuals, with foul-mouthed commentators quipping over your kills and deliriously bizarre hip hop providing a bizarre counterpoint to the stark carnage erupting in the foreground.
There are a few flies in the blood-red ointment, however; MadWorld often makes it difficult to view its beautiful action with any sort of ease. While a simple press of the "C" button aligns the camera behind Jack, it also, theoretically, serves to activate a lock-on targeting system. Combine this with a tight viewing angle and the end result is that during the frantic moments most requiring of precision, the player often has to resort to desperately hammering the camera button in a desperate attempt to lock on to an enemy, all the while trying to stave off the disorientation caused by the constantly shifting camera. It's nothing that cannot be adjusted to, but the niggling frustration never truly abates.
The other major caveat with respect to MadWorld is more subjective in nature; namely, that it ultimately lacks variety in terms of its set pieces and mechanics. A few vehicular sections and mini-games break up the action somewhat, but from beginning to end, MadWorld is a beat 'em up and all that the generic label implies. You'll be murdering, pillaging, scrapping, and having a fantastic time to boot, but by the title's conclusion, you will likely have had your fill. It's a shame that there wasn't a modicum more attention paid to the game's pacing - there's not nearly enough ebb and flow to keep things feeling fresh.
Sadly, following the break-up of The Fantastic Four, certain members entered a downward spiral of drug-use and criminality.
This pervading sense of repetition, however, is offset by the game's length; MadWorld has a duration which perfectly befits its genre, being about eight hours long on the first run through on the default difficulty. For those who have the desire or stamina to maintain their blood lust, the game offers various challenges and a harder difficulty which will truly put your skills to the test and even some multiplayer functionality by way of the aforementioned mini-games. Additionally, one cannot underestimate the pulling power of an old school score-based brawler, and it is likely that after putting the title down for a month you'll feel the urge to improve your performance.
What MadWorld truly offers gamers is difficult to define. It represents the most stylish, irreverent and distinctive title proffered since Suda 51's No More Heroes, but like that strange little gem, it is limited by the inherent drawbacks of its genre. It may be short, but the game's utter reliance on the same few (admittedly well-thought out) mechanics slowly erodes the shine off the overall experience. Still, for fans of the beat 'em up, MadWorld is almost-essential. For Wii owners, this is the best reason there has been to waggle in months.