GameCrank: MadWorld Review

Patrick

“MadWorld,” rated M for mature, is the kind of game that makes me mad at just about everyone who’s ever reviewed it. When this game was released more than two years ago, everybody was talking about it and everyone had some sort of burning opinion. A large group of people saw it as an artistic masterpiece with fantastic production values and story presentation, memorable bosses, and fantastically graphic beat-‘um-up action. A lot of others saw it as an unimaginative abomination of uncreative, repetitive, bland combat coupled with an uninteresting story that was only as popular as it was because it was a playable third-party exclusive on the Nintendo Wii. Regardless of how much of either of those opinions is valid, here’s the main, undeniable fact: nobody talks about it anymore. “MadWorld,” despite getting huge publicity from gaming sites, sold terribly and, today, it remains as a curious piece of history. This, I find quite sad, because the game is definitely worth playing as well as discussing.

Before I say anything about the game itself, I have to mention that this is probably the most difficult game to review yet. First and foremost, the game is probably one of the most violent games I’ve talked about so far, and if you look at my track record, that’s saying a lot. It’s not “Dante’s Inferno” violent with nudity and disgusting imagery spewing out if its pores, but it’s up there with the ridiculous cult slasher classics and “Grindhous”e-style gore-fests like “Dead-Alive” or “Final Destination.” There isn’t that much sexual content, but the amount of blood and body parts on screen at any given moment can fill a small swimming pool; it’s absolutely off-the-wall. It’s definitely the most violent game on the Wii to date, and chances are it’s going to stay that way.

I’ll be ashamed to admit that “MadWorld” initially intrigued me because of its violence. At the time, the only M-rated game I had ever played (not owned, at least for a while) was the original Halo, and my parents were extremely authoritarian on controlling the violent content that I saw (so far as going to censoring parts of the original 2002 Spider-Man movie when I first watched it). So, as you can probably guess, it was a very hard battle for me to get them to buy “MadWorld” for me on my fourteenth birthday. In the end, it wasn’t my father, but my mother that originally caved in. I’ll explain later how my age affected how I experienced it.

The main gimmick with the art style of “Madworld” is a monochromatic, “Sin City”-style comic book presentation, with a graphics engine that’s literally black, white, and especially red all over. For the first hour or so, the game definitely tries to sell itself because of this the most: the graphics look great and the game’s aesthetics are so vibrant and in-your-face. Several snobs have accused Platinum Games of using the black-and-white style as a cover-up for graphical concessions for the Wii, but these people are simply trying to find flaws. The shading for every inch of every level has been expertly crafted to look as natural as possible, and, if you look closely enough, the attention to detail in the environments is especially impressive. Of course, the blood effects look delectably satisfying as well. The only two aspects that look really shoddy are the shadows and lip-syncing of the characters, which both look hilariously awful. If nothing else, the game is at least eye-catching.

The story is unique in that it’s in complete contrast with the rest of the gameplay. While the game itself is almost gleefully cartoony and ridiculous in its violence, the story is actually very dark, introspective, and surprisingly involving. It snuck right up and got me; at first, there really doesn’t seem to be much story presentation at all. It’s basically about a terrorist organization that has taken over and quarantined an entire city called Jefferson Island. They’ve also released a neurotoxin into the air that’s affected the entire population. The leaders of this organization then force just about every citizen in the city to partake in a kill-or-be killed game show where the only rule is survive and murder as many people as you can. Those who win are not only granted the antidote to the deadly virus wreaking havok in their veins, but also a pretty decent pay-check of $100,000,000. You follow a deep-voiced, gruff bounty hunter named Jack who’s out to win the competition as well as carry out a few alternative motives he’s had brewing in his mind for quite a while. The cutscenes can be occasionally underdeveloped and slow, but the voice acting and dialogue are both outstanding as well as quite a few surprising twists all over the place. It’s not really good enough to warrant a full hour-and-a-half film adaptation or short novel, but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air in its originality.

The gameplay could best be described as an extreme version of skateboarding. In each level, you have a certain amount of time to collect points in order to unlock the boss battle at the end of every stage. You collect points by mutilating everything that moves in the most violent and spectacular ways possible. In addition to Jack’s combat skills and the chainsaw concealed in one of his mechanical arms, the stages themselves are also death-traps; levels are packed with weapons, objects, environmental hazards, and tools all designed for turning people into sticky red mulch. The more pain and punishment you put on your fellow man, the more points you gain, and the game encourages you to go nuts and experiment with all the wonderful ways to chop, crush, mangle, skewer, decapitate, dismember, and murder in every given area. These can range from ringing a tire around people to slamming sign-posts through their faces (up to five per person) or throwing them into meat grinders. Every level contains variations of similar traps, but every single one of them contains their own unique hook and gimmick to keep the points going. Entering a level for the first time is like stepping into a theme-park: there’s so many toys and traps to play with that’s it’s unlikely that you’ll see everything on your first go.

The thing that one has to keep in mind about “MadWorld” is that there’s often a difference to what’s fun and what’s effective. If you want to earn points quickly and get to the bosses, you’ve going to have to repeat tactics over and over, sticking signposts into faces with incredible repetition in order to move on. Also, for example, throwing someone onto a bed of spikes is quick and effective, but if you want to get more points, you’re going to have to grab that enemy, walk him over to that wall, and impale him over and over again to double your score. There’s nothing in this game that I don’t find instantly appealing, but if you want to keep that game from turning into a grind, you’re going to have to find your own entertainment and use all the tool the game offers. Many people have denounced the game for being repetitious, but that’s mostly because they didn’t bother going along with the game’s spirit: let loose and have fun. This isn’t a game you play to beat and finish every level quickly, and if you don’t realize this, you’re going to end up famished and unsatisfied. I can’t truly blame these people, though, since the game does have balancing issues with its scoring system.

Other ways to build up points fast is to partake in the Blood Bath Challenges. There’s at least one of these in every level, and each is a great way to build up huge points real fast. These can range from the self-explanatory “Man Darts” to hurling people into a jet turbine. The enemies magically lose half of their brain cells in these challenges, giving you plenty of time and opportunity to up the body-count. There are also generally mini-bosses for each arena, and they’re possibly the only true hazardous opponents you’ll face outside of the main bosses in the default difficulty setting.

Speaking of which, the enemies in this game certainly aren’t the brightest in the bloody bunch. They generally just stand around you, fight each other, or act like drugged-up idiots; or at least this is how they act at the beginning of the game. The enemies, shockingly, start to fight back, and it can really catch you off-guard to be ripped apart by a group of ninjas, zombies, or bionic super-soldiers that the game starts to throw at you. This is what I truly love about this game: it makes a pattern to making you enter a trance and repetitive grind, but then it throws a huge curve ball and sends the gameplay in a new direction. Once you overcome this learning curve, it makes you feel even more awesome than the game already makes you feel as you’re breaking open the skulls of hundreds of armed-to-the-teeth contestants and ripping through the ranks of the Deathwatch competition. I don’t recall ever getting a game-over in my initial run in Normal mode, but if you’re looking for a true challenge, you’ll definitely get it in Hard mode. This mode doesn’t mess around: enemies that used to be point-spewing punching-bags turn into death machines, and if you aren’t a seriously salty veteran, you’re going to get pummeled. It’s the #1 reason to replay the story mode, though.

That’s another issue I need to bring up: the replay value. Earning first place in the Deathwatch games will only take about 6 hours, and even less if you’re just playing it to plow through the missions. However, there are also additional Deathwatch Challenges for completed levels, some of which can range from annoyingly time-consuming to outright devilish. There’s also split-screen multiplayer for the Bloodbath Challenges, but it would’ve been much more worthwhile to have co-op in the story mode.

Now for the finishing cut: why I love this game. Actually, perhaps I should rephrase that: why I appreciate this game. When I first got “MadWorld,” I went to town on it. I tore through the story mode again and again, spilling more gallons of blood than I had ever seen before in my entire life combined. I had never imposed physical violence on a human being before, and here I was piling corpses so high that it could reach the atmosphere and touch the moon. I was having a moment of revelation: it was nothing like I had ever seen or played before.

Then… it snapped. I had lost interest. I stopped playing. I moved onto other things. Suddenly, games that seemed to flaunt violence, profanity, sexuality, or vulgar content lost their initial appeal to me. I learned much later on what this game had done to me: I was desensitized. I was ground to a pulp. I had been parched for blood, and “MadWorld” opened up a fire-hose on me. I can still recognize when something is especially violent, and I can still appreciate games as such, but now… well, I don’t care that much about violence any more. I hadn’t turned into some sort of psychopathic, genocidal maniac: I had turned into the exact opposite. Now, I can play games and realize when their violence is simply an excuse–a cover-up of violence meant to conceal a product’s mediocrity. That is why I appreciate “MadWorld:” it made me avoid the fate of so many other kids my age. I managed to avoid becoming a gore-obsessed junkie with no artistic taste, and it took a gore-obsessed junk game to do that. However, I very much hesitate to say “MadWorld” has no artistic taste, and I might even regret calling it a junk game as well. If you haven’t picked it up, do so. I still hesitate to recommend it to kids, but if you’re a person who knows someone that needs to go through the same process that I did, then I certainly wouldn’t condemn you for doing so. Just try to pick it up at a very cheap price if you aren’t totally invested.

GameCrank is written by Patrick Pontes

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