Friday, 2 March 2012

Review - Madworld

Madworld, Wii, released March 2009
Developer: Platinum games
Publisher: SEGA

I played Madworld back in the summer of 2009, when its lack of sales meant the price had dropped to £5. It's a fascinating peculiarity, and a number of things struck out to me, which I wrote about in this review originally for the website DooYoo.

Madworld is an ultra-violent brawler for the Wii. Being one of the few 18 rated and adult orientated games on the console made it something of a novelty, but it is a strange thing that some perception of what constitues a Wii game made Madworld's violence somehow novel.

Calling Madworld a game is a fairly loose concept as well. It is more like an animated comic where you choose which panel comes next (will it be a bad guy getting a baseball bat in the face or getting chainsawed in half). The influence of black and white manga and anime, along with "edgy" western comics like Sin City, are obvious and intentional. The only colour on screen is swathes of red blood or yellow onomatopeia (SPLOOOORCH plastered over the screen as another foe is eviscerated)

The story focuses on Varrigan City, which has been captured by terrorists, and its citizens are forced to compete in Death Watch, an underground TV show where contestants kill one another and viewers gamble over the result. Its basically Escape from New York meets Running Man
You control Jack, a competitor with a chainsaw for an arm. At that point you should realise all realism has left the building. Each zone is cartoonish and ridiculous. You come across giants, ninjas, zombies and robots, and lets you kill them in a variety of ways.

And you have to kill them in a variety of ways. The objective of each level is to gain enough points from imaginative methods of murder in order to beat the level boss and proceed to the next level.

To accompany each level is commentary from two individuals, omedian Greg Proops
and voice-actor John DiMaggio (voice of Bender and Jake the Dog) which is actually very funny and doesn't repeat itself too often, as well as rap music and hiphop which is enjoyable and gets you in the mood for the grind that is to come (in some levels, you literally throw opponents into big grinders and watch them get squashed). 

Sadly, this game consists of the bad kind of grind. Because once you have exhausted the few level-specific death traps, you'll have to spend the rest of your time doing the same type of kill, such as the barrel, pole, spike kill. There is a big vairety in barrels (there's wooden ones, metal ones, or just a plain ol' tire) and lots of different poles to put through your opponents head (stop signs, candle holders or, my personal favourite, trumpets), but you'll essentially do that a dozen times per level (and there are ten levels in which to grind through).

And that is where the problems begin. This game is repetitive. It's also repetitive, while sometimes being repetitve. It's a repetitive game, okay?! Its full of ideas, but they boil down to giving you a different enemy skin through which to chain-saw. Some of the bloodbath challenges (mini games which involve killing for bonus points; imagine throwing guys against a massive dart board or a golf game but with someones head instead of a ball) are fun, and each boss is very unique, with plenty of character and are fun to fight against. But it's still a grind, and the black and white design, although arty and original, can also be drab and confusing. In addition, the vehicle levels, which are implemented to try and break the repetitive monotomy, are even more boring, as you only have two attacks. These sections feel slow, boring and much more could have been done.

My main problem with Madworld is that the game design is at a right angle to the story. The story, told through cut scenes at the beginning and end of each level, attempts to create a sense of jeopardy and realism, as well as presenting a story of political conspiracy reminiscent of Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear opus. The slow, serious and wordy cut scenes, which often lack any music or sounds, drain the fun generated by the previous level and fail to generate excitement for the level ahead. The realism and seriousness of the story is juxtaposed and undermined when you are fighting zombies outside a gothic castle with outlandish weapons, as well as the sarcastic commentary. Everything is presented through a camera lense and reminds us that this is a game, it is meant to be fun. The story is not neccessarily bad, but it doesn't fit the direction of this game, and is more irritating then enlightening, despite some great vioce acting.

This juxtaposition is confusing and presents Madworld as a confused game. It doesn't know what it wants to be. It is a very short game, but it still manages to be repetitive, with only the occasional birght idea and comedic moment.

The outlandish conspiracy story, which strives for realism and attempts to be relevant to today's entertainment obsessed culture is a confusing direction and detracts from a game that does have some quality. The levels are fun. There is alot of entertainment to be had experimenting with different combinations and throwing people into each deathtrap. The simple control system is engaging and the use of motion based attacks does create a sense of immersion, which is a refreshing idea that hasn't been implemented well in other Wii titles. In addition, the ninja and zombie levels are fantastic, and sometimes let you foget the repetitiveness of the core game concept.

Overall, this is an original game. It is an individual game. There is alot of brilliance and imagination hidden here, and you can have fun finding and using all the ways to kill opponents in each level, but it is weighed down by a confusing and poorly told story.

Plus, if you loved the Evil Dead movies, then pretend Jack is actually Ash and keep playing the zombie levels. It will fill you with glee.

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