Fans of any media are no stranger to violence. In Michael Haneke’s film Funny Games, visceral off screen violence and repeated breaking of the fourth wall comment on violence as a negative form of entertainment. Chuck Palahniuk’s book Haunted has a group of writers create violent situations by sabotaging food supplies, and each other, in an attempt to become more credible; thus stating that in media, more violence means more entertainment.
Does MadWorld join this overdramatization of violence? With over the top characters, violence, and graphical presentation Madworld makes the statement “violence is fun” successfully, but not perfectly.
While Haneke is forcing the audience to reflect on their violence, Palahniuk is making fun of it. Video games are no different. Grand Theft Auto IV offers a realistic violent take on crime and justice, attempting to make the player feel, and possibly regret, their actions. Others have embraced violence, much like Palahniuk or Quentin Tarantino, taking it over the top to legitimize it as a form of entertainment, under the right parameters.
Madworld follows the story of Jack Cayman as he participates in the Deathwatch Games. This sport pits contestants, willing and unwilling, against each other in battles to the death while spectators view the game safely from their television sets. Each stage pits Jack against large groups of thugs and he uses his environment, or chainsaw, to maim, mutilate, and dismember random contestants for points. These points are totaled throughout each level and as you reach certain point tiers (i.e. 100k) weapons, items, Bloodbath Challenges, and eventually the stage’s boss are unlocked. The crux of Madworld’s gameplay isn’t about gathering the points, it’s the execution.
Each stage offers different backdrops and hazards that Jack can manipulate. You can combine these different methods into combo kills which earn more points than standard kills. Combos have the player swing the Wii remote in certain directions to jam, stab, and stuff their foes with an eclectic array of items. For example, Jack jams a tire over his foe, runs a signpost through their head, then picks up his new friend and chucks him into a barrel of fire. Even though the items tend to repeat themselves (tires are replaced by roulette wheels etc), executing your fellow contestants never seems to get old.
And if it does, Jack has a chainsaw on his arm. Bringing enemies close to death lets you perform finshers that have Jack ripping off heads, or slicing them in two with the aforementioned chainsaw. Add in the different hazards that each level offers (garbage chutes, furnaces, turbines) and you have over twenty different ways to mangle your opponents. Each death borders on being twistedly artistic and is either funny, or so brutal that you can’t help but laugh.
The Bloodbath Challenges and bosses are the cream of Madworld’s combat crop. After playing man darts and battling your first boss you won’t mind sloshing through waves of baddies to get to the next one. The challenges begin repeating themselves near the end but there is always a slight twist that keeps them from getting stale. These challenges are also used in the multiplayer mode where you and a friend compete for the high score. While highly entertaining during the single player campaign, it would have been nice to see a co-op experience for the single player campaign, or let players compete on the different stages for the best combo kill.
The bosses aren’t all winners, but the majority are incredibly fun to battle, albeit a little easy. Defeating them consists of shaking the nunchuk to dodge and finding an opening in their attack patterns. Certain attacks leave the boss open for a power struggle and the player can compete in eye-melting, motion-activated, quick time events to deal, or take, massive damage. Nothing beats swinging the Wii remote in circles as you rip screws from the back of a giant Frankenstein-like monster, and like No More Heroes, each fight culminates in a sickly satisfying death, leaving the gamer contemplating and craving the next.
While the combat is quick and entertaining, it’s not without flaw. Even though the developers didn’t abuse the motion sensor, it doesn’t always do what you need it to during the quick time events (sometimes resulting in a lot of damage) and when grabbing for enemies it’s possible to whiff two or three times in a row before finally catching them. You can make this easier by locking on by holding the C button but it takes too long to activate, becoming more of a chore than a blessing. When you do catch the enemies the game isn’t difficult. The enemies A.I. floats near a 1 in the D20 system and they will stand there until you stab them, slam them, or slice them. If they aren’t standing there waiting for it, most likely they are standing somewhere else on the map, waiting for you to come get them.
There are two different modes, hard and normal, with the latter taking about six hours to beat and the former delivering the only real challenge in the game. The lives system introduces a small degree of difficulty but only when you’re trying to complete special objectives on a level, or when the level specific reaper appears and kills you in one stroke. Upon beating the game you are given access to new weapons, the katana and double chainsaw, but they are only a feeble attempt to produce replayability. These issues take away from the game at certain intervals, but not enough to warrant putting down the controller.
The combat would seem to be the biggest star, it’s not. Madworld is one of the most visually and auditory pleasing games on any system. That’s right. Killzone 2 and Resident Evil 5 may push the polygon limit and deliver surround sound, but Madworld’s graphical style and soundtrack deliver high quality entertainment to the senses. The monochromatic color scheme works wonders when coupled with the comic book, cinematics, and colored blood. Since blood is the only color in the game (and its plentiful) this extreme contrast helps Madworld forcibly push violence over the edge while creating a light-hearted and beautiful juxtaposition. It looks so good that the red strokes of blood feel like deliberate calligraphy, rather than disturbing gore.
If that isn’t enough, the game’s soundtrack sports original hip-hop tracks and two extremely funny foul mouth commentators. The hip-hop is delightfully amateur and melds into the background and with the help of the time limit, raises the game’s tempo. Some of the tracks repeat themselves; however, it’s done so well that it doesn’t become a problem.
The commentators, in tune with the violence, deliver hilarious foul mouth lines during Jack’s encounters with enemies, bosses, or during stage introductions. Ram a smoking pipe into the mouth of an unfortunate contestant and you will hear “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” That isn’t anywhere near the best line but most of their others are not family friendly. Like the hip-hop tracks, the commentators tend to repeat themselves, but their voice acting is brilliant and their delivery reminds me of the glory days of Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross’ wrestling commentary.
The best thing about Madworld is the dedication to its concept. It’s a brawler with flair, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. Its style, sound, motion controls, and story intertwine to create an entertaining streamlined experience. The entire game is a slap in the face for the homogeneous sequels and trilogies that haunt our store shelves, a testament to what developers can and should be doing.
That being said, dedication doesn’t make it the best game ever made. It’s too short, the controls can be sticky, the frame rate dips with too many enemies, and the co-op mode could have been expanded past the bloodbath challenges. However, the game is great and these minor inconveniences only keep it from being perfect. Like Palahniuk and Quentin Tarantino, it’s completely aware of its shortcomings and embraces them, instead of trying to ride the perfection train. I adore Madworld and I hope you do too.
Madworld blends together colors (and lack thereof), gameplay, and sound, into a wonderful puree.
Fighting enemies shys away from repetition with the violent combo kills and the incredible bosses make the journey worth it.
Displaying some of the best voice acting (Go Steven Blum!) on the Wii, rap beats that enhance gameplay, and some of the funniest commentating in any sport, Madworld does wonders for the ears.
The multiplayer challenges and two new weapons you get for beating the game won’t be a good enough reason to come back for more. Shoving people into garbage cans just might.
Madworld’s creative endeavors deliver a deliciously visceral experience. While it has its techinal problems, everyone should give it a shot.