Creating games for the Wii in 2009 was a good way to distinguish a newly-formed developer from the massive amounts of third parties out there who at that point couldn’t be bothered anymore, but making that game one of the most violent to ever appear on a Nintendo console that catered more toward casual gamers and families may have helped put Platinum Games, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, on the map. MadWorld was unlike anything on the system, or any other for that matter, and heralded the kind of bat-sh** crazy action and bizarre humor that the studio would eventually become known and loved for. While, due to the imprecision of the Wii remote, the gameplay is not as refined as the magnificent Bayonetta 2, MadWorld‘s striking visuals and ceaseless energy make it an interesting early look at a company who has since developed a sort of signature style of spectacular awesomeness.
MadWorld puts the player in control of a massive hulk of a man with the standard video game hero name of Jack, and a non-standard retractable chainsaw attached to his arm. There’s some kind of plot going on that involves a terrorist organization releasing a virus on a city and promising that any person who kills another will receive the vaccine, or something like that; it’s really not important. What matters is that the city has turned into an Escape From New York-type war zone, its populace reduce to thuggish killers at home in any Mad Max film, and the whole situation is playing out in front of the cameras via an exploitative gameshow called “DeathWatch”, of which Jack is now a contestant. Two announcers (voiced by Gregg Proops and John DiMaggio) lay down the rules, explaining that the more gruesome the kill, the higher the points, which seems perfectly logical from any gaming sense.
And so Jack must make his way through the city, impaling goons on street sign posts, cramming criminals in garbage cans, bludgeoning heads with nail-studded baseball bats, and using every object in the environment to rack up combos that beat, dismember, and positively mulch everyone he comes across. Yes, there are twists and turns throughout the incomprehensible plot (another Platinum trademark), but the real focus is on the kicking ass part. Basic moves are easy enough, done via simple button pushes, but in order to really deal the heavy, crowd-pleasing pain, Jack learns several techniques that prompt the player to perform various motions with the Wii remote. Various, of course, means wagging it side to side, up and down, forwards and backwards, and…well, there isn’t much else. That’s pretty much what a Wiimote does.
If this sounds like fun, that’s because it kind of is, in that gonzo Platinum way. When everything works, of course. Unfortunately, the motion controls don’t register as accurately as they need to with this kind of intense action, making racking up those crucial points take longer than it should, and rendering some boss fights downright frustrating. What this does is take an already repetitive game and make more repetition necessary, removing any hope of immersion and instead producing the opposite. MadWorld was made for shorter play times, but when progress is hampered and the same battles must be re-fought over and over again, those sessions get curtailed for more disappointing reasons. Add to that the charming-for-five-minutes-but-nails-on-chalkboard-forever-after steady stream of commentary from the two announcers, and it’s not really a wonder that MadWorld never really caught on.
But still one can catch a glimpse of the fast-paced ridiculous experience Platinum was aiming for, and would later achieve in their better-known efforts. The insanity of the kills keeps ratcheting up, with “Blood Bath Challenges” where Jack has to make sure his victims are plowed into by a train and mini-games that include “Man Darts”.
The stark black-and-white visuals stood out at the time in a sea of color that was the Wii, and they give the game a comic book feel that can’t be taken too seriously (inspired by Frank Miller in look, but not tone), with farcical amounts of blood spilled, all emphasized in red. It’s all absurd in the best way possible, and though the novelty does wear off after a while, MadWorld offers plenty of good fun for those who get a kick out of splatstick. Motorcycle chases, chainsaw skewering, sumo wrestlers throwing helicopters, a missile-firing robot named Martin, and a guy named Beetle man with a slew of Beetle Dwarves are just a few of the Platinum nutty touches.
No doubt many would pin the cartoonish levels of gore as the reason for the game’s lackluster sales, but ultimately MadWorld just couldn’t deliver the type of satisfying gameplay that the best action games are known for. As a debut title, however, it was an ambitious effort, from concept to middling execution, and for fans of Platinum Games, MadWorld was an important step on their way toward bigger, better, and bat-sh** crazier things.