Friday, December 16, 2011

MadWorld

Let's Paint the Town Red.
The newly formed Platinum Games is filled with a lot of the people behind Clover Studios. Clover Studios, though now disbanded, was known for very "artsy" games, being behind Okami and the Viewtiful Joe series, which both incorporated style and substance to craft winning formulas. Platinum Games first title is here, MadWorld, and with it comes a very noticeable, black, white (and a whole lot of red) art style. But does it live up the the precedent of Clover Studios' past "artsy" games? Quite frankly, yes, and what results is a very enjoyable beat 'em up with some strikingly pretty graphics.

At first glance, the most noticeable thing about MadWorld is the beautiful, black and white art style. The game's locales, objects, and people are all colored with the contrasting colors of black and white, no gray whatsoever. Red also is a prominent color due to the over the top violence. Adding red to the otherwise monochromatic environments greatly improves the visuals. Besides black, white, and red, the only other color to be seen is yellow, which make up the various comic book-like onomatopoeias such as "VROOM!" (when starting up your chainsaw) or "THUD!" (when landing a jump). This adds a very comic book feel to the entire game. All in all, the art style masks the Wii's limited graphical capabilities well and ends up being a beautiful game that runs very smoothly.

What really surprised me was just how good the story in MadWorld was. For the longest time, very little was said about the game's story other than, "Jack is competing in a game show called Death Watch where you have to kill to survive." But once I played through MadWorld, I found there to be a deep and enjoyable story. It may be a little far-fetched in some areas, but I still found it good fun. Basically, terrorists have taken over Varrigan City, cutting off all communication and transportation in and out of the island, completely isolating the city from the rest of the world. The city has become home to a horrific game show titled Death Watch, where the competitors must kill to win. Jack enters the game show during the third day and quickly begins climbing the ranks, attracting a lot of attention from both sponsors and viewers. 

The deeper you go into the game, the more you'll find that not everything is as it seems; there are government conspiracies, and not all of the characters' motives are clear, including Jack's. On a side note, there's a lot of well done voice acting too, which is even more of a surprise seeing how this game was made in Japan.

MadWorld is, at its heart, a beat 'em up. It's over the top, comical, and just flat out entertaining. What do you expect from a game with a guy who has a chainsaw on his arm? There are many different ways to kill enemies due to the variety in weapons, melee attacks, and environmental hazards. You're encouraged to try new things, and comboing attacks and kills together is important in gaining points. Sure, chainsawing a guy in half is easy, but it doesn't do you much good points-wise. Stabbing a sign through a guy's head, shoving him face first into a barrel, and then picking him up and slamming him into a wall of spikes a few times will earn you a lot more points.

The funnest part about the game is just how varied the combat is. You have your basic chainsaw and punches, then you've got all the weapons and objects each stage offers. Next there's all the brutal attacks and finishers you can produce with these. And then there's the different "Murders" which require certain environmental objects unique to each level, such as slamming a guy face first into a toilet or throwing a goon into a tank full off piranhas. Many beat 'em ups and other games that rely solely on combat suffer from repetition, but MadWorld succeeds in banishing this generalization by letting you have hundreds of options of killing enemies. There's also a good amount of variety in stages and enemies. You'll fight regular thugs and punks in the city levels, werewolves and zombies in the haunted levels, aliens (which explode into bluish-green blood rather than the normal red) and robots in the Area-51 inspired levels, and ninjas and samurai in the oriental levels. It's all great fun.

MadWorld also controls very nicely. A and B are used for most attacks, while gestures and waggle (replacing the button mashing of games like God of War) are saved for the more cinematic moves and finishers. Jack's chainsaw attacks work wonderfully with the game, recognizing horizontal and vertical swipes with ease. Similar is the rest of the motion controls in MadWorld; they all work great and don't feel forced. The only complaint I had was with the camera and the lock-on system. To lock onto enemies you have to hold the C button for a couple of seconds until the game locks you on, then you can let go. It's too much of a hassle to bother with in early parts of levels since you'll be killing enemies left and right, though you'll definitely want to use it when facing bosses. 

It would've been much nicer for you to lock on while pressing C and take it off once you let go of the button. The camera also is a bit funky in the game. The only control you have of it is pressing C and it pops back to viewing directly behind you. It would've been nice to have some manner of analog control over it, but you'll be able to make due with it most of the time.

Each stage is structured similarly. The boss at the end is only unlocked after you earn achieve a certain amount of points. But along the way, points will unlock various things such as weapons, health items, Bloodbath Challenge minigames, environmental kills, and minibosses that offer a challenging break from the usual enemy fodder. It's fun and vital to use these point-unlocked things to your advantage, since they'll usually help you garner more points faster. The Bloodbath Challenges definitely are a highlight of the game. There are eleven in all; all brutally hilarious and all very fun. In one such Challenge, titled Man Darts, you'll hit enemies with spiked bat towards a dart board, with real darts points factoring into each hit. 

As I mentioned before, doing good in these boosts your score and gets you to the end level boss quicker. And how about them bosses? They're some of the best fun in the game (and trust me there's a lot of that in MadWorld). The best part about the fantastic boss battles are the finishers, which definitely are the greatest kills of the game.

The audio in MadWorld really blew me away. I was pleasantly surprised by just how good the music was in MadWord. I generally don't like rap and hip-hop, but I loved MadWorld's soundtrack. But the high point of the sound department has to be the brilliant commentary done by Greg Proops (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama). It's immature, very well done, and plain hilarious. I'm pretty sure the game earned several of its ESRB details solely from DiMaggio and Proops and their very enjoyable commentating. 

Once you factor in the sound effects and in-game voice work along with the commentary and soundtrack, it can become too much. Thankfully you can turn up and down the different aspects of the audio. So in one level if you just want to hear the excellent music, you can. Or in another if you want to hear the hilarious banter of the commentators with nothing else distracting you, you can.

Besides the regular stages, you'll have motorcycle ones and boss-centric levels (where you'll do nothing but face the boss). Both of which are very fun, but I found the regular levels to be the most enjoyable. Another gripe I had with the game was that it wasn't particularly long. Granted it was a hell of a ride, but MadWorld clocks in around five to six hours. There is some incentive to go back into Hard mode, for new weapons are unlocked to play with, and the A.I. is brutally smart and a lot more challenging than their Normal counterparts. 

There is a multiplayer that is fairly enjoyable, though it only has you competing with another player in the Bloodbath Challenges. This is fun and all, but I can't deny how great the game could've been if it let you tackle the stages and bosses with (or even against) a pal. Unfortunately, there's still not too much to make you want to replay stages. All there really is to do is beat your own score. With a game so centered around getting points, it's sad to see no online leaderboards.

Playing MadWorld, I had some of the most fun on my Wii I'd had in a long time. My only gripes with the monochromatic beat 'em up would have to be that it's not the longest of games and the camera has some positioning issues. Despite these very minor gripes, MadWorld is a blast with it's over the top, comical fun and pretty black, white, and red visuals.
NAME: MADWORLD
SYSTEM: Nintendo Wii

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