MadWorld Review: Paint the Town Red
With the endless sea of sequels and generic rehashes the video game industry is saturated with, it’s a nice change of pace to see a small developer, taken under the wing of Sega, to produce a truly unique experience. With its Frank Miller signature look, barrage of pop cultural references, and ridiculous amount of unrealistic violence, this breath of fresh air will infamously be known as “MadWorld.” This short but fun beat ‘em up is developed by Platinum Games (made up of the key members of the team that formerly worked for the creative powerhouse Clover Studios), and, depending on what type of person you are, you might either love it or hate it.
The first thing worth talking about, because it’s the first thing you’ll notice about “MadWorld,” is the graphics. As you can tell by looking at any trailer or screenshot, there is a heavy influence from comic books, with Sin City stylistically leading the pack. Does it work? Yes. The characters and environments are so stylized due to the black and white look that you can easily tell things apart. One aspect that helps makes the graphics work even further is as you progress through a level, you’ll notice that many objects tend to say indefinitely. For example, that guy you slammed into the Rose Bud (spikes on the wall) with a sign through his head? He’s still there. The sight of an empty level transforming into a wallpaper of corpses would bring a smile to those with the right sense of humor. As a nice little bonus, surprisingly, unlike most Wii games, “MadWorld” doesn’t look terrible on a HDTV.
The game doesn’t play like your typical beat ‘em up; instead of going from start to finish, dispatching morons along in the way, most of the levels allow you to explore one big area. As you begin to scout around the level, you’ll learn where the environmental hazards are, such as flaming barrels and firecrackers, while picking up all sorts of goodies such as spiked bats to extra lives. The purpose of most of these levels is to get a certain amount of points to unlock the access to the boss. In order to get the points that you so desperately need, you have to kill people, but you need do it in creative ways in order to get the big numbers.
Let’s just take a look at one scenario. The setting is an area in the subway, and the victims are typical punks. You meet one, punch him a few times to stun him, and a get few extra points. While he is stunned, you grab a nearby tire and slam him with that making him immobile, and scoring a few more points. Taking advantage of his new disability, you grab the nearest caution sign and implant it into his skull, yup, more points. Defying medical science, he is somehow still alive, so you decide to beat the bastard even more until he is finally in his “death state,” where you properly pick him up and begin to spin, heading into your finisher. After building momentum, you toss the poor bitch into an oncoming spike-filled subway. Congratulations, you just scored a huge combo.
If you laughed at the last paragraph, you’re the target audience for this game. If you didn’t, stop reading.
For those of you that are still here, this is the type of insanity you can expect from “MadWorld.” But the theme doesn’t stop with just punks; you’ll get to kill ninjas, robots, aliens, werewolves, and zombies. Each new area offers different environmental hazards, weapons, and enemies to play with. Besides the usual “big area to explore and kill,” some levels follow a more linear and traditional style beat ‘em up layout, with the least impressive type being the motorcycle levels. Fortunately, they don’t overstay their 2-minute welcome.
Each level also has a Blood Bath Challenge, a sort of ultra-violent minigame. The most well-known of these challenges are the heavily covered Man Darts. Fortunately, there are other ones, offering up even more creative ways to kill punks, such as the Death Press (where you throw a poor sap into a certain area only to be crushed by spikes), or the Money Shot (where you stuff poor bastards with carbonated soda so he’ll fly to at a target on a giant woman-shaped cutout). These Blood Baths can end up being a little repetitive sometimes, but they are often no longer than two minutes.
Due to the nature of the beat ‘em up genre, “MadWorld” is a repetitive game. You’ll be following the same motions throughout all the stages, just interacting with different objects along the way; instead of a sign, you use a candlestick, or instead of tire, it’ll be a giant model planet. While it is a repetitive game, it is no more repetitive than other great games like “Double Dragon,” ‘Mega Man,” “Metal Slug,” or “Contra” which are considered classics. The reason “MadWorld” holds up is that these executions and kills are extremely quick, so even though you are constantly throwing guys into spinning blades over and over again, it’s all done in a few seconds. That, and, for some reason, it’s endlessly enjoyable to watch a ninja get tossed into a spike. However, if you the type that expects the game to change dramatically every few minutes, or can’t stand the idea of perfecting the mechanics, it may be best for you to avoid this one.
Since this is on a Wii, the use waggling controls (A.K.A. “innovation”) takes place instead of the ancient art of button mashing. After much playing time, I have only one thing to say: it works. I would even go so far as to compare the controls to “Mario Galaxy.” They’re very simple, and easy to understand. You press buttons to do the basic moves, such as punches, use the chainsaw, and jump. To do your defensive back flip, you just shake the nunchuk. To do the stronger attacks, you have to move the Wii remote. The controls are responsive and don’t give you any hassle, which is a pleasant break from most Wii games. The only time where you need to do specific gestures is during the quicktime events (yes, they’re here), but they only occur when you’re being held, when you are executing someone, or during boss battles. While many gamers moan about QTE, they’re kept quite brief in “MadWorld.”
Speaking of brief, the boss battles in “MadWorld” are ultimately disappointing. The bosses themselves have great presentation, showing off a fun character design, with decent writing behind them, but they don’t last long. They all follow nearly the same type of attack patterns you’d expect from a 16-bit game. These battles tend to be a mix of free form and QTE, with QTE often being a gamble, since, if you screw up, you are going to end up losing a lot of health, instead of the boss.
But the QTE and the boss battles aren’t the only things that are brief; “MadWorld” is very short. The game will take you around 5-6 hours on Normal difficulty, and each stage has a 30 minute time limit. This was a bit disappointing, because they could’ve added a lot more themes to explore and weird enemies to fight had they extended the length of the game.
In its defense though, the storyline is perfect for the genre. The main plot is very similar to Running Man, where the main protagonist, Jack, must survive a deadly game show. At first glance, you’d think “Madworld” barely has a plot but as game progresses, things definitely change a little enough to grab you. It is well paced, there are plenty of plot twists, and the dialog is great. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say it is more than what the trailers want you to believe and Jack isn’t just there to become the best.
What would make you go back into the game after beating it? There is a new difficulty setting unlocked called “Hard” and, as a veteran gamer, I can safely say that the word is very accurate. Unlike the Normal setting, you do not have lives to help you continue on with the level (although you can score some while exploring). The enemies are much more aggressive, defend more often, and the damage is much higher than normal. You’ll need to pay attention and understand the game inside and out before jumping in. To further emphasize on the difficulty: The first level’s boss, Little Eddie, killed me in 3 hits. Remember, you only have one life.
What’s even more disappointing than the short length of the game is the miss opportunity of online potential. There are no online leaderboards, there are no online Blood Bath Challenges. In fact, there is nothing online. Even “Ninja Gaiden,” a single player game, had online leaderboards and the sequel offered downloadable replays. This would’ve been the perfect addition to a game like “MadWorld” and considering this is published by arcade expert Sega, it’s a shock that these features were excluded. The only sign of multiplayer is a series of local, split-screen Blood Bath Challenges, which are fun, but not enough in this day and age.
While “MadWorld” could stand to learn a few things from some of the other games on today’s market, those same games could stand to learn a few things from “Madworld.” Well composed music and good voice acting head up that list. Besides the graphics, the gore, the unique take on the genre, the audio in this game is incredible. The music has a hip-hop flair, but it suites the game very well. It matches the tempo and odd nature of the surroundings. The voice acting is also top notch, as each character definitely has their own personality and do not degrade themselves into crappy sound bytes.
The stars of the voice work are the two narrators of “MadWorld.” Voiced by John DiMaggio and Greg Proops, “MadWorld” is the perfect platform to showcase some awesome voice over talent, and prove that that these two guys need to be in more video games. Listening to these two babble about their cheating wives, masturbation, or their messed up childhoods, was wildly entertaining and there is no hint that they were forced to do this; it all comes out naturally because of the great chemistry between the two. Their only flaw was that they don’t have enough lines. Yes, it is repetitive, as the number of lines for a certain event can literally be counted on one hand, so why weren’t they forced to spout off even more crazy shit and pop cultural references?
Since we are on the topic of references, I’m sure that the fans of “God Hand” and Sega are curious to see if “MadWorld” contains any of them. Although I wasn’t actively looking for them, I’ve managed to spot two. For “God Hand,” one of the bosses gets her ass spanked, and for Sega, there is an F-14 Tomcat environmental hazard called the “Afterburner.” Throughout the game, there are more references, such as the Matrix when you pick up a health pill, and they are all delivered very well. You’re not only going to laugh at the violence, but what is happening in the game as well. You’ll even want to watch the ending credits.
After digesting this long review, it’s quite hard to judge “MadWorld.” On the pro side, it is one of the most unique beat ‘em ups with an incredible comic book look which is complimented by great writing. On the con side, there isn’t a whole lot of content outside of the short storyline; this is as bare bones as you can get for an acceptable modern game. The question remains: Is “MadWorld” for you? As I said before, if you enjoy short arcade-style games like “Contra” or “Metal Slug” and didn’t mind paying the full price for a Wii game, then go get it. But if you’re the type that wants a ton of different game modes, options, and online play, this may be more of a rental.