Eleven years ago fans of Sega’s Dreamcast console got to enjoy one of the system’s best shooters, MDK 2. In this sequel to the original cult classic you are once again tasked with saving the world from a nefarious alien invasion. Well now that the game has been released for the WiiWare service, a whole new generation of fans can enjoy the exciting adventures of Kurt Hectic, his anthropomorphic, six legged dog Max, and the (possibly) mad scientist Dr. Fluke Hawkins. The question is: has time taken a once enjoyable game and, like a fine wine, made it better with age, or is this one shooter with just a few too many wrinkles?
MDK 2 opens directly as the original game closes; the aliens are vanquished, the Earth is left in desolation, but humanity has survived. On their spaceship, the heroes are celebrating their victory. All is well… for about 24 seconds. Soon a new enemy crawler is detected in Edmonton, Canada (nice reference to Bioware’s hometown). Kurt is once again sent to destroy the machine and save the Earth one more time. What ensues is a fast-paced, action-packed and light-hearted romp through a game that will leave you both laughing at the hilarity and swearing at the insane difficulty.
The one major overall of MDK 2, in its transition from Dreamcast to WiiWare, is the controls, notably in the aiming department. The ability to use the Wii Remote’s IR pointer vastly improves the game's speed and accuracy, and smoothes out some of its more difficult sections. This is effectively counterbalanced by the horrendous jumping mechanics that will have you missing more platforms than Mario after a few too many drinks at the local pub.
The gameplay in MDK 2 is split into three distinctive parts, reflecting each protagonist’s abilities. Kurt’s levels focus mainly on platforming and puzzle solving with various ammunitions for the sniper rifle. These levels are by far the most varied of the three types as you must navigate both combat and puzzle elements to reach your goals. Kurt is also equipped with a parachute to aid in the platforming sections, which really comes in handy as the platforming in MDK 2 is some of the worst I have seen in a long time.
Max the dog’s levels are all about fast paced shooting and senseless destruction. Here you will encounter the bulk of the game’s enemies who can, oftentimes, quickly overwhelm the faithful pup. Max can also find a jetpack to help him reach new areas and engage in air to air combat with enemies. Now while these levels are fairly straight forward firefights, I do find them to be the most enjoyable, as they don’t rely on odd gimmicks (more on that later) - only gratuitous violence (hey, blowing stuff up is fun) will get the job done.
Finally we have Dr. Hawkins' sections, which are both wildly imaginative and insanely frustrating. Imaginative because his levels require you to find and combine items in the same vein as an old-style adventure game, often with nonsensical and comical results (combining radioactive waste, a toaster and toast to make a radioactive bread weapon - classic). However, these sections are ruined by some of the worst platforming the world has ever seen. Seriously, trying to get the good doctor to land on a platform a few feet wide only to have him run off the edge, over and over and over… and over again, can quickly turn an enjoyable experience into an exercise in anger management. True story; I let my girlfriend play the game for a bit during these sections. The result? I had to take her out to a nice restaurant afterwards; it’s that bad.
Spread throughout the game, are small sections (almost mini-game small) that break up the (rather long) levels. During these sections you take control of objects such as rockets and fish (yes, rockets and fish) to help complete your objective. These sections are small, fun and light enough to provide a nice distraction from the main quest but never overshadow it. Sort of like taking a nice sip of water during a spicy main course.
Being an early title for the Sega Dreamcast, MDK 2 finds itself in an awkward position when it comes to visuals. While they may have been impressive at the time, these early attempts at complex 3D worlds simply haven’t aged well and look pretty poor on modern consoles. With its blocky graphics and muddy textures, MDK 2 is most definitely not a looker. That being said, the game does feature some very varied environments absolutely brimming with details that really help make the world of MDK 2 come to life, even if today it's how you imagine a game to look like after only a few hours of development time.
Despite the visual shortcomings, MDK 2’s characters manage to convey a real sense of humanity, aided by hilarious writing. The whole time that I was playing I was reminded of another comical third person shooter of the era, Jet Force Gemini, easily the most comparable game to MDK 2. In fact the similarities don’t end there; the setting, the pacing, the story, the characters, they all had a very ‘Rare’ feel to them, not at all what you expect from (epic oriented) Bioware.
The story is presented in a very tongue in cheek, comic book style, with the game constantly poking fun at the protagonists (Kurt is a janitor, Max is very Duke Nukem-esque, and Dr. Hawkins is the typical mad scientist). Even the alien invaders seem to be more interested in delivering one-liners than actually stealing Earth’s resources. All the dialogue is voiced over and very well acted, adding even more depth and hilarity to the lines.
The game also features a fantastic and fitting soundtrack. Playing along with techno and catchy beats in the background sets the mood as you explore the environment. Suddenly a much darker tune starts to play and the action heats up frenetically. MDK 2 mastered the art of having the music play a part in the experience by tweaking it to match the action and it goes a long way to making the experience that much more enjoyable. One small gripe I have, and it goes back to those un-godly platforming sections, is that when you are stuck (literally for hours) trying to jump out of a pit, having to hear the same track over and over can get rather annoying.
MDK 2 spans 10 levels. Now, while this may not seem like much, these levels are all large and feature several stages and can take up to an hour each to complete (that’s over 10 hours of gameplay for those of you reaching for your calculators). The problem is, outside of different difficulty settings, there isn’t much reason to come back to MDK 2. That being said, if you can stomach the harsh difficulty and sometimes unfair level design you would be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend 1000 Wii Points ($10).
MDK 2 was a hidden gem in 2000 and is once again one in 2011. Sure, there are numerous issues that may result in a few Wii Remotes ending up flying through rooms, but if you’re looking for an old-school game, both in nostalgia and difficulty, then look no further than MDK 2. This is yet another example of a game that ends up being better than the sum of its parts and fans of shooters, comedy-games and just all around fun games should definitely give MDK 2 a download; you'll be frustrated but not disappointed.