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TVG revs up its newly installed chainsaw arm and gives the inhabitants of MadWorld a nasty shock...
- Refreshing health system.
- Inspired level design.
- Brilliantly gruesome visuals.
- A short main campaign.
- Poorly integrated camera.
- Lacks any online multiplayer.
Despite protestations from the UK's foremost media watchdog, which attempted to have MadWorld banned in this country, PlatinumGames' first title has thankfully made it through the BBFC's ratings system without a scratch. Even conservative ratings boards, such as the Australian Classification Board, cleared MadWorld for release in the territory. The reason for this is how the game's violence is depicted: never taking itself too seriously, always served up with a dose of humour, and set in a game world plied with enough fiction that it doesn't touch on any real-world taboos.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty descriptions of MadWorld's many gruesome ways of dispatching enemies, or blather on about the Sin City style graphics on show, it's worth finding out why MadWorld is actually an enjoyable gameplay experience. The visuals and violence alone would not be enough to stop the game from becoming repetitive. Knowing this, PlatinumGames has designed a structure that's a true return to the old-skool without sacrificing the game's depth, flow, and content.
MadWorld fits roughly into the third-person action game genre and, with this in mind, its hard to recall a game of this type that doesn't utilise a bleed-out health system and checkpoints on every level section, much less a title that brings in any type of scoring system. Veritably pissing in the wind of modern day game design, and not giving a damn that it ends up with urine all over its shoes, MadWorld does away with all of these present day bells and whistles in terms of level design, and comes away all the better for it.
Truly a title for core gamers who were schooled on Nintendo consoles, this game is as much a refreshing experience as it is a violent one. Utilising a lives based health system that allows you to continue from where you died if there are lives in the bank, but will conversely send you all the way back to the start of a level when you run out, MadWorld serves up its precisely orchestrated boss battles (possibly the best we've seen on the Wii) with the sort of exhilaration and desperation that has been missing in most games since the 16-bit generation.
The levels are something of an anomaly, as they're much less a scripted journey through what the developer wants to dictatorially show the gamer, and much more a series of arenas, challenges, and interactive objects that gamers can use at their own will. What leads players through these various Bloodbath Challenges and mini-boss encounters is, somewhat originally, a scoring system. In order to unlock new areas of a level, or bonuses such as different weapons (which disappear after a certain period of time, Double Dragon style), and ultimately the final boss, players have to reach a high score that's built up by the way you kill enemies and not necessarily the sheer number you bludgeon to death.
Jack (MadWorld's protagonist) has a handy chainsaw arm at his disposal to swiftly amputate the limbs of his enemies, but continually slicing bad guys in two with this implement simply will not cut it (figuratively speaking). Instead, the challenge is to ratchet up a combo multiplier by dishing out ever more gory deaths on Jack's enemies. PlatinumGames has clearly applied a lot of its creative energy [read: sadistic tendencies] in order to provide the multitude of different ways to kill people in MadWorld. If you're not hurling a handful of guys into a jet engine, then you're sticking an oil drum on one guy's head, impaling him with a signpost, and then throwing him onto a rosebush (wall of spikes).
A good rule of thumb with this combo system is that the more brutal acts you can incorporate into a kill, the higher the multiplier goes. Likewise, killing more than one guy with a single action also builds up the multiplier considerably. Bloodbath Challenges are particularly useful for this and can be unlocked on each level, with everything from a human dartboard to a train of death called the Rocket Reamer being utilised to boost the carnage. Special weapons, such as a spiked baseball bat or a large skewer that can be used to impale multiple enemies at a time, also help to up the gruesome ante.
Once you've unlocked all these goodies across the level by accruing certain scores, a boss is then unlocked once the level's ultimate high score is achieved. Less of a stress is put on weak points of the Capcom archetype, with the impetus instead lying on choosing the right moment to unleash Jack's chainsaw while spending the rest of the time dodging everything from bullets to tornadoes. Quick time events are then triggered once you've done a certain amount of damage to the boss, which wheel out the usual box of tricks for the Wii's motion controls (i.e. shaking both Nunchuk and Remote vigorously, gesturing sideways with both controllers simultaneously, or thrusting the Remote downwards).
This kind of integration for the motion controls is commonplace throughout the game and is intuitively done for the most part, whether Jack is hurling someone around by the foot (circular motions on the Remote) or slicing them apart with a pair of knives (moving the Nunchuk and Remote in opposite directions). The one area of the controls that we weren't entirely happy about was the camera, which works on a semi-automatic basis and often fails to turn in the direction of peril even when Jack is facing that way. Pressing the C button can re-align the camera or lock-on to enemies, but this feature is weakly implemented and you'll often have more luck just running around aimlessly until you achieve a more favourable perspective.
PlatinumGames have also thrown-in the odd vehicle section to keep things interesting. One of the early levels places Jack in the seat of a chopper motorbike and, while the controls are rudimentary (accelerate, brake, turbo) and the combat is markedly simpler than in other areas of the game, the level is a welcome change of pace nonetheless. And speaking of that pacing, there's certainly enough variation in elements of the game such as its environmental themes, mini-games, and interactive objects to ensure that the experience rarely becomes monotonous. It's a pitfall that MadWorld could've easily fallen down given it's penchant for continuous combat in place of staggered problem solving sections, so PlatinumGames should certainly be applauded for avoiding it.
The Sword Is Mightier
While it may seem a bit strange to talk about a game's story at the end of a review, it's pretty fitting in MadWorld's case. Served as a side-order to the game's main course of blood and violence, the storyline is more of an optional extra should gamers wish to seek out justification for why they're slaying muscle-clad bad guys in a dystopian metropolis that makes Gotham City look like a home county suburb. Perhaps the best way to describe it is Battle Royale meets The Contender, where reality TV charts the be-or-be-killed environment of a city where civilians have fled and fighters, who demonstrate a barely human conception of morality, are all that remain.
It's not that this story is bad by any stretch of the imagination as it actually throws up some interesting plot twists, only that PlatinumGames never insists on showcasing cut-scenes that demonstrate poor attempts at character development or clichéd plotlines (as so many other development houses do). Instead, the odd portion of story is available here and there should you wish to indulge in it, but it's always far from mandatory to your understanding of the game world.
As you plough through this storyline (which should take no longer than 6 hours or so - it's a relatively short game), the Bloodbath Challenges in each level are unlocked for use in the multiplayer, which caters for 2 players via split-screen. These challenges actually sit very comfortably as multiplayer mini-games, with Man Darts being a particularly noteworthy barrel of laughs. If you're not trying to land a bulls-eye with the readily spawning NPCs, then you'll be attempting to take player 2 out of the action with a hefty swing of your spiked baseball bat.
MadWorld is very much top of the mountain when it comes to graphical presentation on Nintendo's Wii. Yes, it's true that the black and white cel-shaded visuals are capable of hiding a multitude of sins, allowing PlatinumGames to spend less time worrying about effects such as detailed textures and lavish lighting effects. Instead, the focus has been drawn onto razor-sharp shading of the game's environments and character models, allowing the omnipresent splattering of bright red blood to do its job, standing out in stark contrast to the rest of the game world and drawing the gamer deeper into the omnipresent acts of violence. Further comic book touches, such as yellow 'Thud!' onomatopoeias that appear underneath Jack whenever he returns to earth from a jump, are similarly welcome.
Where sound is concerned, MadWorld serves up a formidable commentary duo for its reality TV style presentation of the carnage, with their American sports parodying punditry providing a suitably inappropriate satire that never skimps on the adult content. Effects such as the roar of your chainsaw, both through your Wii Remote and television speakers, as well as the squelching sound as you walk over massacred bodies, also ratchet up the amorality factor a few notches.