I’m half tempted to write the review for Madworld entirely in red text… it would be fitting.
Then again, red would really mess up the contrast, and some of you might not be able to read it.
And I think you should definitely read this review if you own a Wii.
I spent some quality time with the most violent game I’ve ever seen, and now I’m going to tell you about it.
Madworld takes place in a futuristic ‘Varrigan City’, a dystopia of murder, mayhem, and evil plots involving poison gas; think ‘Escape From New York’, only less pleasant. The big time-waster for citizens of Varrigan? Death Watch, a ‘Running Man’ style game show where people compete for cash, prizes, and their lives.
You play Jack (just Jack), a brooding malcontent with a switchblade/chainsaw attached to his arm and a brand new sponsorship deal to enter Death Watch as a contestant. Your job is to rip, punch, smash, impale, and carve your way through minor thugs, get to the boss (the main event of each chapter), kick his sorry ass, and play some mini-games.
In the course of your television debut, you’ll uncover some interesting plot points (nothing too deep or complex, but nice) and rack up some extra points for disposing of your enemies in the most gruesome ways you can devise.
And now you know the premise.
The first thing that will strike you about Madworld is it’s unique visual style. Okay, it’s unique for a video game. Dozens of Frank Miller wannabes have stolen this look from ‘Sin City’, but it’s new to the world of consoles. Harshly contrasted black and white, with positively neon splashes of red blood… this game is instantly recognizable.
The visuals (as cool as they are) do tend to get muddled, and I had a hard time seeing some objects or enemies that were stationary. It only really works when things are in motion. It’s a good thing you rarely have a chance to stand around slack-jawed, staring at the scenery.
The monochromatic look makes the blood pop in this title, providing the accent to some of the most brutal action since the original Manhunt. Where Manhunt had it’s grainy film-like quality and grim, remorseless violence, Madworld easily surpasses it with sheer over-the-top gore and dismemberment. Strangely enough, it’s not as disturbing; I tend to think it has something to do with the overall ‘comic book’ feel of Madworld. While the action is uncharacteristically harsh for a Wii game, the aesthetic is less realistic and the atmosphere much less dire.
What is this violence I keep talking about? For the first few levels of the game, your bread and butter move (for maximum points) is to slam a tire around an enemy to pin their arms, ram a street sign through their eye socket, then pick them up and repeatedly slam them into a spiked wall.
While the violence I’ve just described is miles beyond Manhunt, can you really compare that to suffocating someone from behind with a plastic bag? Even though the two games are similar in premise, have insane amounts of mayhem… they are two different beasts.
Enough on that comparison.
From a technical standpoint, I found the controls to be exactly what was needed; instead of one-to-one remote waggling, attacks and motions are generally gesture based. A slight flick of the wrist will accomplish most moves. The exception to this is the chainsaw arm. Large movements and sweeping cuts work particularly well. You’ll want to wear your wrist strap for this one.
While the gestural controls are a good design decision, their implementation is a little lacking. Often I found myself backflipping away from an enemy when I had been trying a different move entirely. The controls are just a little more sensitive than they needed to be. That being said, it’s not game breaking, and never was a source of anything more than mild frustration.
Madworld features 2 player split-screen play, but not a co-op mode. Multi-player consists of playing through various mini-games you’re unlocked in the single player campaign. You can play ‘throw tons of guys into a spinning jet engine’, ‘hit the guy with the baseball bat and splat him on a dartboard, ‘throw the guy in front of the speeding train’, and several others (those were my favorites). It has to be mentioned that even on our 62″ display, multi-player was difficult to view, partially due to minor framerate hiccups, and partially because of the squashed horizontal split-screen. I really wish there was an online option.
The biggest disappointment in this game comes from the ‘generic’ thugs you battle most of the time. They really ARE generic. Identical models, identical voices, identical tactics, and the same looping taunts. They get old pretty quick, and while the variety blossoms in later levels, you WILL get a little tired of the same guys saying the same thing about your mother (just before you chainsaw them in half).
The main characters have stellar voice acting, and the ‘ringside announcers’ are hilarious. Greg Proops (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and John Dimaggio (Futurama’s Bender, Marcus Phenix) keep things lively and ribald, quipping their way through your on screen mayhem.
Is it me, or does Dimaggio sound just a little like Rowdy Roddy Piper in this game?
The single player campaign lasts about 6 hours, which is just about right for this title, although I wish there were some hope of decent DLC, I realize that being on the Wii makes that unlikely. Having a Trophy or Achievement system in place would have been a no-brainer in this game, increasing replayability and encouraging you to try things you might not have otherwise discovered. I’m not knocking the Wii, even an in-game trophy system would be nice… or maybe some leaderboards. C’mon guys? Put it in the sequel?
Even with some niggling issues, and features I wish were included, I can’t complain about this game. It was fun… maybe even therapuetic. I feel it was money well spent, and I suggest a BUY IT for you as well.
Unless you have issues with violence… or kids that might see it…
Oh hell, just send the kids to the grandparents while you play.
Matthew Ellis is a co-founder and Senior Editor for Bag Of Mad Bastards. He enjoys long walks in the park, romantic dinners, and chainsaw mayhem.