MadWorld review
It's a Mad, Mad World


Clover Studios were originally one of Capcom’s development teams whom were responsible for the creation of Okami, God Hand and the Viewtiful Joe series, all of which did poorly in sales yet received near perfect reception from critics for the most part. Unfortunately back in 2006 Clover disbanded from Capcom and merged Seed Inc. to found Platinum Games whom quickly formed a contract with legendary gaming company SEGA to produce four games for them. Madworld is one of those games.

Receiving a great deal of hype prior to it’s release, Madworld is an Action game which has you violently murder your foes in as creative and gruesome ways as you can, from ramming sign posts through their heads to using the protagonist’s chainsaw arm to shred your foes to pieces. Featuring a unique graphic style inspired by the Sin City graphic novels, Madworld is entirely in highly stylized black and white and cel-shaded to look like a graphic novel in motion, the only colours you’ll see in this game are bits of yellow, bluish green and a whole lot of red. Madworld features a LOT of blood, enemies are practically walking blood baths and the various manners in which you can kill them generally ensures that you’ll see a great deal of blood throughout the experience, and thus the game garnered a great deal of attention from the media, as well as many petitions to have it banned and the refusal of classification in certain countries. Needless to say Madworld gained a huge amount of hype prior to its release and upon release it received near perfect critical reception as did many of Clover/Platinum’s previous titles. However looking back several months later, was Madworld really that great?

The concept art gives you a sense of the style Madworld has.

Madworld is set on Jefferson Island after it’s been taken over by a group of terrorists called the ‘Organizers’. The mysterious organization cut off all access and communication to the island and proceed to transform it into the setting for the most violent game show in existence; DeathWatch. In DeathWatch contestants are forced to murder each other in as violent and creative manners as they can in order to appeal to the bloodthirsty audience, whom bid on them, people who don’t will quickly wind up slaughtered themselves. You take on the role of Jack, a bounty hunter who turns up at the show from seemingly out of nowhere and quickly proves his potential by slaughtering a few other contestants. Almost immediately Jack is contacted by Agent XIII; a representative of Sponsor #13. The sponsors are a group of rich and powerful people whom fund players in DeathWatch, providing them with weapons, information and ensure that their sponsored contestants aren’t dealt with by unfair means, and in exchange they gain a percentage of the money that’s bet on the contestant they sponsor. From their Jack enters the games, and the Organizers quickly realize Jack has motives of his own, and that they need to get rid of him.

The story of Madworld is surprisingly good; the script was written by Yasumi Matsuno; most famous for his work on Final Fantasy XII. The interactions between Jack and XIII are truly well done and how the story itself unfolds as the game goes on is really impressive, although at times the story feels as though it moves too quickly, and it does leave one too many things unexplained by the end of it, although I imagine this was done to leave Madworld open for expansion in the future as a potential series. Despite this Madworld still has a relatively compelling story, and the dialogue is genuinely funny throughout the course of the game, whilst still managing to maintain a dark atmosphere.

Turbine arms are all the rage in Germany.

Graphically Madworld is easily one of the best looking games released this whole generation. Sporting an impressive Sin City inspired graphic novel look, Madworld is entirely in highly stylized black and white and the sheer level of detail applied to the environments and characters models is incredible when you consider the lack of colour. Of course the whole game isn’t in black and white, sound effects pop up in comic style bubbles with are typically a bright yellow, and you’ll be seeing a LOT of red as blood gushes in fountains from your varying victims throughout the game. Speaking of which there’s a fair deal of variety in the enemy design as well, from fighting street thugs to ninjas, zombies to aliens and even facing off against storm troopers and Minotaurs you’ll find that Madworld never stops throwing something impressive at you. Something else that really impressed me was the character animations, enemies have a huge amount of different animations as you would expect but Madworld also features thousands of different models for each individual enemy for when you start removing limbs. As you can imagine in a game like Madworld your opposition are going to find themselves outright mutilated a lot of the time, and the sheer amount of detail applied to this is astounding. Unfortunately maintaining this level of graphic fidelity on the Wii isn’t an easy task and Madworld does suffer from slowdowns from time to time. Thankfully this is an uncommon issue, but it’s annoying when it pops up. Aside from that whilst I’m a huge fan of the graphic style Madworld sports, it can get confusing to keep track of what’s going on at times, and furthermore the black and white style is certainly something to avoid if you’re prone to seizures or migraines.

As far as the soundtrack goes Madworld is pretty much set. Featuring 20 different blends between hip-hop and rap performed by a variety of artists including but not limited to Ox, Optimus and Doujah Raze. The tracks themselves are all incredibly catchy but the most impressive thing is how well they fit the game and the action, there are very few moments when you’ll find a song in Madworld that doesn’t fit if any at all. On the vocal side of things Madworld is truly outstanding, Platinum Games and SEGA went to every extreme to get the perfect cast for the game, including the legendary Steven Blum to voice Jack, Jim Ward as Agent XIII and even Dwight Schultz as the voice of Noa; the leader of the Organizers. These are only a few of the big names you’ll find in Madworld’s cast and they all perform their respective roles brilliantly particularly Jim Ward who’s performance as XIII is downright incredible. However the most impressive voice acting in the game has to go the two announcers; Kreese Kreeley and Howard Buckshot Holmes whom are voiced by John DiMaggio (Famous as the voice of Bender from Futurama) and Greg Proops (From Whose Line is it Anyway?) respectively, and these two pull off a simply mind-blowing performance by providing an in-game commentary on everything that happens, the dialogue of which was constructed by Warren Graff and Kenn Navarro; legendary for creating Happy Tree Friends. If you don’t think that’s the best cast of any existing game in the industry, you don’t like laughter.

The overall presentation of Madworld is literally unsurpassed, the story, dialogue, graphics, art direction and music all pull together to create a truly incredible experience. Presented as though it’s a gameshow, all the levels in Madworld have ‘advert’ styled cut-scenes to introduce new weapons, enemies and mini-games. Speaking of which, throughout Madworld you take part in mini-games called Bloodbath Challenge which are introduced by the Black Baron; a stereotypical black pimp who spouts hilarious lines before being used to demonstrate how the challenges work by his assistant Matilda. All of these varying factors really make you feel as though you’re participating in a game show, and the sheer absurdity and hilarity of the game is really some that needs experiencing firsthand.

Signposts are your best friend.

Once you get into the game itself Madworld grants you four save files and utilizes auto-save meaning you don’t have to manually save after every stage. You navigate levels through a stage-select screen, there is no ‘campaign’ in Madworld, you can play the levels at any pace you want and go back and play levels you’ve completed at any point you want to. The cut-scenes appear at the beginning and end of levels, but can be skipped once you’ve already viewed them. The levels themselves are sandbox areas where you can explore the deadly environments of DeathWatch and discover the various things the game has to offer. Now Madworld is based around a ‘point’ system. You earn points by killing enemies and as you gain points more powerful enemies will appear, new items will be unlocked, Bloodbath Challenges will become available and eventually you can take on the bosses at the end of the stage.

Now been a typical beat ‘em up Madworld lets you run about and pound the crap out of enemies as you wish to, you can tap the A button to unleash punches upon your foes or hold down the B button to rev’ up Jack’s trusty chainsaw and shred the opposition by swinging the remote. You can grasp enemies and objects by holding down the A button when you’re close to them and proceed to either throw them by shaking the remote, or headbut them by shaking the Nunchuck. Now this basic interaction is easily done yourself but in order to really rack up points in Madworld you’ll have to make use of environmental hazards and the various instruments of death you’ll find about the stages. Flaming barrels, spiked walls, meat grinders, razor fans and dozens of other hazards are located about the stages which can all be used to massacre enemies. You’ll also find things like sign posts, pinwheels and even fish that can be rammed into or onto your foes, further mutilating them. However the real key to gaining points in Madworld and enjoying the experiences is combining these varying methods of killing people into onto huge mess of bloody violence. One example of this would be taking a barrel and ramming it onto an foe’s head, then taking a sign post and impaling the poor fool with it and finish him off by throwing him into a turbine. And that’s only an example; you can stick as many as five additional objects into a foe, one object on top of them and use an environmental hazard if you wish, or simply finishing your foes with your handy chainsaw. You can also find various weapons about Madworld including spiked bats, daggers, golf clubs and even a gravity gun that can be used to further rack up the points when you’re ripping enemies to shreds, although you can only hold up to one additional weapon at a time and they break after excessive usage. As amazing as all this may sound the gameplay itself isn’t very deep, and once the initial shock wears off you realize how simplistic the gameplay in Madworld is. People looking for advanced combat will probably be unimpressed with the simplistic and easy-to-grasp gameplay of Madworld yet despite the simplicity of it; Madworld manages to be amazingly fun. And despite the lack of depth when you can ram a guy into a toilet and watch him get flushed to death, you can’t help but forgive the lack of complexity.

Now given how much I’ve rambled on about the gameplay itself, I should probably also discuss the enemies themselves, after all they are the victims you’ll be making bloody messes out of. The enemy AI in Madworld is actually somewhat impressive, enemies will fight amongst themselves at times but will work together when confronted by yourself or a stronger enemy, and they’ll even stop fighting to burst into hysterical laughter when you stick a signpost through someone’s head. Still, the earlier enemies in the game provide little to no challenge whatsoever, literally being nothing more than fodder for you to earn points with. However this changes very quickly, once you reach the fifth stage you begin to encounter much deadlier and more aggressive enemies which will force you to play much more carefully if you intend to survive the levels. Especially later on in the game, where you’ll find yourself being consistently ripped to shreds if you don’t make full use of the weapons and hazards at your disposal.

The Bloodbath Challenges are absurd yet brilliant.

Despite the overall gameplay of Madworld been really fun, it would get incredibly repetitive and dull if that’s all it was throughout the whole game. As I mentioned earlier on in the review, throughout levels you will be confronted with Bloodbath Challenges when you reach certain amounts of points. The Bloodbath Challenges basically play the role of very fun and innovative mini-games that provide variation throughout the levels, and they’re as amazing to play as they are to watch. From games like Man Darts where you’ll find yourself batting contestants into a giant dartboard to Money Shot where you’ll find yourself ramming fizzy drinks into enemies’ throats and then firing them at large cut-outs of naked women with spikes on certain points of them (No points for guessing where) you’ll find that the Bloodbath Challenges are incredibly fun to outright insane as you go along, and there are over 8 different challenges to keep you amused. Aside from these fabulous mini-games you’ll also find two motorcycle levels throughout the game, where Jack will ride his trusty bike through linear stages as he takes down opposing riders and earns points. Unfortunately whilst these offer variation to the standard stages, the motorcycle levels are downright boring and they aren’t particularly enjoyable to play. Thankfully one of them lasts less than 5 minutes, but the other is a really monotonous level which makes you question what the point of it was, although admittedly the Bloodbath Challenge and boss of said stage make good use of the bike. This brings me to the final part of the gameplay in Madworld, the Boss Battles. Playing the roles of the ranked DeathWatch contestants the bosses are all designed fantastically, from the giant ironically named Little Eddie, a pack of werewolves, a sexy vampire to a pair of Jedi Masters and that’s only a third of them. The sheer design of the bosses is award worthy, and the bosses themselves are great fun to fight and several of them are really challenging. Interestingly all boss battles feature ‘power struggles’ where you’ll have to perform specific motion control to overpower the boss head on, and proceed to injure them significantly. Furthermore all boss battles feature ‘finishers’ which also use motion controls to kill the boss in very cinematic sequences.

The gameplay in Madworld as a whole is a load of fun and really innovative, despite the simplicity of most of it. Although unfortunately the game’s length is its biggest weak point, coming in at just over 5 hours on average (And that’s including the cinematics) Madworld is incredibly short. However the game isn’t devoid of replay value, beating Madworld once unlocks a harder difficult setting and there are ‘DeathWatch Challenges’ in the levels that require you to complete specific tasks, such as getting specific enemies run over by a train, or finding hidden items scattered about levels. There are over 40 different DeathWatch Challenges, several of which are amazingly difficult so the perfectionists among you will certainly find a great deal of replay value in Madworld. Even so for people who don’t like spending hours attempting to complete extra challenges for no real gain, Madworld is an incredibly short game without a great deal of replay incentive, which is unfortunate since something as simply as unlockable concept art or the soundtrack would have done wonders for it.

Little Eddie ain't so little.

Overall Madworld is a unique game, taking an amazing presentation which has to be experienced to truly understanding how brilliant it is, coupled with really fun gameplay and brings it all to the Wii for a budget price. Unfortunately the otherwise fantastic game is weakened by the monotonous motorcycle levels, somewhat simplistic design and a lack of length and replay value. Madworld is one of those games where the term ‘style over substance’ fits perfectly, and if you can forgive the shortcomings of Madworld you have a really fun brawler with amazing style that’s definitely among the better games on Nintendo’s console. Even if Madworld isn’t your cup of tea, I’d highly recommend renting it at the very least, if just to experience the sheer hilarity of the game.

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