Phrases like “gratuitous violence” have become common among those who criticize the video game industry. MadWorld may require an entirely new term to describe the twisted, disturbing, and hilariously over-the-top level of violence it employs. If you are looking for a style of bloody action game unlike anything else on the market this beat-em-up might just be for you.
MadWorld takes place in the fictional city of Varrigan, where a group of terrorists have taken over the entire island to host their deadly murder game, Death Watch. In Death Watch all citizens of the city plus numerous veteran contestants of the game must compete for their lives and money. You play Jack, a mysterious dark horse competitor with a secret agenda. The characters are interesting, and the plot development is unexpected. It’s not going to rewrite the laws of video game narrative, but it will keep the player interested between the stretches of combat.
Combat itself is fairly straightforward. Jack can use his chainsaw with the B button and motion controlled slashes to slice people horizontally or vertically. He can also beat on people by tapping the A button, or grab them by holding it down. Once grabbed, an opponent can be tossed by swinging the Wii Remote. Jack can lock-on to enemies with the C button. This doesn't work great though, as you have to hold the button for a while before it manages to lock on to an enemy. Fortunately, it does work when you actually need it on boss fights. Dealing enough damage with A moves to stun the enemy allows Jack to perform a motion controlled finisher move. These are gruesome and satisfying, and are different depending on what weapons Jack is holding.
In addition to Jack’s personal abilities, numerous environmental items are available for killing. Tires, barrels, and boxes can be shoved over opponents’ heads to stop their movement, and signposts can be shoved through their heads to stun them. Jack can also pick up other weapons in the world with unique A and B techniques that are unlocked as points are built up. Stacking multiple environmental effects before killing your opponent and using special weapons increases your score. MadWorld also comes equipped with an arsenal of destructive environmental hazards ranging from dumpsters to catapults to the moon.
In addition the standard brawler gameplay, MadWorld features motorcycle levels and minigames. The motorcycle missions are an enjoyable break from the on-foot brawling, and mix things up well. Minigames are hilariously brutal, requiring the player to kill dozens of enemies in entertaining point-based games. Some examples of these are Man Darts, where players attempt to bash enemies into a dartboard with a large spiked club, or my personal favorite, Money Shot, which I’ll let you discover for yourself. These minigames pop-up during the level once you reach a certain point level, and are generally worth a lot of quick points. Of course, the purpose of the points is to unlock the real highlight of MadWorld's gameplay, the boss fights.
Boss fights in MadWorld are extravagant and outrageous. Giant zombies, voluptuous vampires, and any number of crazy over-the-top opponents show up to challenge Jack in his battle to the top. Each boss has a unique style, and some of them can be very challenging. If you time your motion controlled block right, you can enter a power struggle with the boss. A power struggle is a series of motion controlled quick-time-events, unique to each boss, that will deal large damage to them if completed successfully. These are satisfyingly violent, and very cool to watch. Once the boss's health is exhausted, one final QTE is activated for the finisher. Again, MadWorld's over-the-top style doesn't fail to impress with Jack finishing his opponents with brutal and often hilarious ends.
There are a couple issues with the combat. There are really only a couple of types of items, as the boxes, tires, and barrels are all reskins of the same effect, and eventually, despite the variety of enemies, things do get repetitive. Despite these minor gripes, the combination of entertaining brawler combat and detailed interactive environments makes for an enjoyable combat system.
It should go without saying that MadWorld is heavy on style. The only thing not black-and-white in MadWorld is the blood of your enemies, which admittedly is everywhere by the end of a level. Animation is smooth and believable. Cut scenes are delivered in manga/comic book style with panels for each character or event. Every kill and every action is gory, over-the-top, and stylized. Enemies could do with a little more model variety, and occasionally it can be difficult to find what you are looking for in the black-and-white world, but in general MadWorld is an excellent looking game.
Audio is, amazingly, perhaps even more impressive. Veteran voice actor Steven Blum (Cowboy Bebop, Big O) delivers a top-notch performance as Jack, and all the supporting cast is just as competent. Music is all hip-hop. While this may not be a genre of music everyone likes, it fits perfectly with the mood and tone of the game. All songs are composed specifically for the game, and are excellent examples of their genre. All of this, however, pales in comparison to the amazing announcers. Comedian Greg Proops (Who's Line is it Anyway?) and John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) steal the show. Their hilariously crude commentary throughout the entire game, including the boss fights and credits, is an experience in itself. The only problem here is that they do repeat comments a little too often, but they alone are almost worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, MadWorld does fall flat in one department. MadWorld's normal mode can be completed in 4-6 hours, depending on how often you die. Beating it unlocks extra weapons and the extremely challenging hard mode. There are also extra challenges to take the player back through the game, but it's still a very short experience. There is a limited split-screen multiplayer option. Players can compete against their friends in the Death Watch minigames, but while this is fun for a short time, it doesn't offer a lot of lasting appeal.
MadWorld is a unique experience, not just on the Wii, but in the industry in general. The combination of over-the-top crude humor, a visual style never seen in video games before, and an excellent use of 3D beat-em-up gameplay makes for something unlike anything else on the market. While the game has excellent presentation and very good gameplay, the fact that it is so short holds it back from excellence, even if those few hours are packed with entertainment. The flaws aside though, if you are looking to bloody your hands in something fresh and different on the Wii, MadWorld is probably for you.
Be sure to check out our MadWorld Contest going on right now! Entries end March 23rd!