Madworld is probably one of the most anticipated Wii games in a number of different circles. The stylish and ultraviolent third-person action game offers a change of pace from the lighter fare that's prevalent on Nintendo's juggernaut platform. Instead of brightly colored cartoony visuals, developer Platinum Games is serving up a dose of noir-inspired black and white lunacy with dramatic flashes of color in a hyperviolent package. Yes, it's completely crazy, but after trying out a work-in-progress version of the game, we can say it's looking like a good kind of crazy.
Madworld drops you into a sci-fi fantasy world set in an indeterminate time period. You are cast in the role of Jack, a participant in a virtual reality show whose goal is to have you beat, impale, kill, and maim anyone you encounter in the enclosed areas you're being sent through. Yep, this is no Wii Sports. While we've seen the game a number of times over the past year, this was our first chance to try it out ourselves. Before we were able to get our hands on the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, we got a quick look at another new area in the game, dubbed Asian Town. The level was much like what we've seen before--a city street area with nooks and crannies full of people to murder. It seems that the hook for each area is a collection of themed murder options, some of which become available as you rack up a specific number of points. In addition, the demo let us get a look at a boss battle between Jack and Yee Fang, a huge roly-poly boss that rates about what you'd think on the stereotype scale.
Once our guided demo was done, we got the chance to try out the game ourselves. We were more than familiar with the game's control scheme after having seen so many demos over the past few months. The Wii Remote-Nunchuck combo works well, although the camera can be a problem when you're trying to murder everyone around you. The A button has a number of context-sensitive uses, from punching to picking up items to throwing. The B button fires up your chainsaw for the special up-close-and-personal eviscerations that are gorily commonplace in Madworld.
The level we played had us guiding Jack through the downtown stage and taking people out. A map on the right side of the screen showed enemies as red dots and made it easy to get around. Killing options included using our bare hands, going slice-and-dice with our chainsaw, and, more interestingly, impaling enemies on pretty much anything around us. The environments in Madworld beckoned with everything from spiked walls to spinning razors that we could toss foes into with a few context-sensitive button presses and motions with the remote and nunchuck. As we murdered our enemies, we also used the map to guide us to the new bonuses that would become available from dispensers set throughout the level. The goods ranged from health-restoring balloons to massive knives that could be used to fillet enemies.
While all of that is well and good, the real fun comes from challenges that kick off in certain areas. We encountered the "death press," which was a massive spiked press that would mash anything underneath it at set intervals. Our goal was to toss people underneath it and reach a kill count. The gore enthusiast in us appreciated the growing pool of blood as we came close to our goal. Our hands-on demo ended with "man darts," which we've seen before and which has lost none of its appeal. If there's a better use for a large dartboard, a limitless supply of hapless victims, and a spiked baseball bat to blast them into the air with, we've yet to see it.
We've waxed poetic about the game's visuals more than a few times since we first saw Madworld, and our high opinion hasn't budged an inch. The game looks great in motion, and the minimalist use of color really pops. The levels are almost sensory overload thanks to everything that's crammed in, but it all fits the style. There's a bit of weirdness when the action gets too crazy--for instance, it can be hard to keep track of where you are and who around you needs a punch or chainsaw to the gut, which we hope gets polished up as development progresses. Still, other than that, the game looks great and moves smoothly.
We need to do a special callout for the audio, which is nearly as over the top as the visuals. The music is an eclectic mix of hip-hop tunes--recorded especially for the game--that are reminiscent of the cool array of tunes in the Jet Grind and Jet Set Radio games, only darker. The effects for the various implements of death and chainsaws are meaty and work well. The voice in the game sounds like it's going to be steller, with John DiMaggio (of Futurama and Gears of War fame) and stand-up comedian Greg Proops offering a volley of commentary that falls somewhere between WWE and monster truck rally announcers. Outside of that, the outrageous voice work of your pimp/host and the various ambient noises add up to create a surreal, hard-edged atmosphere that really works. All told, this could be the best audio in a Wii game this year.
Based on what we saw and played, Madworld has a lot going for it. The game looks impressive, blending solid tech with a great sense of style, and it plays pretty well. There are the usual tricky issues around camera and targeting, but time will tell if they're a serious roadblock to fun. We're also curious about the game's length and if it will have enough variety to hold our attention. As of right now, we're hopeful, since we could play man darts and throw fools into the death press all day. Madworld is currently slated to ship this March exclusively for the Wii. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.