Do you remember being excited for the Wii? I sure do. I remember waiting in line for nearly three hours on a cold October morning, just to pre-order one. Back in ‘06 the Wii was Nintendo's promise to revolutionize our favorite game genres with a unique new interface that would make gaming more immersive than ever. Well, it's 2009 and for the most part that promise is still unfulfilled. Nintendo now caters to the casual crowd—bored housewives and grandparents who never played videogames before the Wii—and they've largely abandoned the hardcore gamers who’ve kept them in business since the ‘80s. We've begged and pleaded for more robust software on the Wii but Nintendo knows where their bread is buttered and they know they don’t have to keep any promises to the Nintendo faithful anymore. Aside from a few greats like Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 3, Nintendo has been content to slap tech demos together into minigame collections, bundle them with a gimmicky peripheral and call it a game.
Ironically Nintendo's rival of old, Sega, is one of the few publishers who actually gets it. They understand that within the Wii's massive install base there is a hearty chunk of hardcore gamers, people who stood in line for those preorders, people who imagined more than lame minigames for the Wii. Sega knows that the Wii’s potential is being squandered, and its popularity exploited by lazy publishers (Nintendo included) who take advantage of the largely ignorant, cash-flush casual audience. Sega can see that there’s a lot of money to be made for a publisher that does some honest work and listens to its fans. That is why they are supporting developers who take the Wii platform seriously, developers like High Voltage Software and Platinum Games. Sega believes in the Wii and what it can do for gaming, even if Nintendo doesn’t. This is why we have MadWorld.
Like its more obscure cousin House of the Dead Overkill, Madworld is designed to see just how much they can get away with on the lily white, family friendly Wii. MadWorld, however, is not pure gratuity like Overkill; it has an artistic identity that strangely enough meshes well with its gruesome subject matter. Developer Platinum Games, the phoenix that rose from the tragic ashes of Clover Studios, took inspiration from Frank Miller’s Sin City when conceiving the game’s visual style and attitude. When the same people who made Viewtiful Joe and Okami are working on a game you know it’s going to be have a lot of artistic flair, but MadWorld is so striking because it’s so different from every Clover or Platinum did before. In fact, I don’t think any game developer has done anything quite like it.
MadWorld’s color palette consists almost entirely of three colors: black, white, and blood. There is little shading within the game’s graphic novel-noir world, creating a stark, sometimes harsh landscape that is all hard edges, grit and plasma. It is on this backdrop that Platinum tells its phenomenally violent and crudely humorous story.
You play Jack Cayman, a mercenary sent into the hellhole of Varrigan City. Some time prior to the start of the game the Manhattan-like Varrigan was besieged by the terrorists known as the Deathwatchers. The Deathwatchers saturated the city with a deadly virus, and the only way to get the cure is to participate in Death Watch, a televised, high stakes blood sport. As the city tears itself apart and the citizens kill each other out of desperation, wealthy betters contract professional Death Watch players to compete for the cure. Jack is hired by the mysterious Number 13 to compete, kill, and make him a lot of money. Jack may seem like he’s in Varrigan just for the sport and the cash, but he has a few ulterior motives as well. The plot isn’t Deus Ex or Eternal Darkness, but more akin to the campy-anime style of Metal Gear Solid and it does contain some nice twists and memorable characters.
There are some serious bits to the story but MadWorld always plays its violence and crudity purely for humor. This keeps it from getting pretentious and dull—similar games like Manhunt take themselves too seriously, and end up feeling like an angsty short story written a disgruntled 13-year-old desperately trying to look edgy. MadWorld looks artistic but Platinum understands that so much violence can only be played for laughs, and the seamless, intuitive gameplay follows suit.
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