The last time we got some hands-on time with Platinum Games' chiaroscurist bloodbath Madworld, we got a brief sampling of one area in the game. It was a nice and gory treat, but it left us hungry for more. Fortunately we recently got a look at a near-final version of the game and were able to clock in a good chunk of time to see if Madworld lives up to its promise. Our answer so far? It looks like it.
Besides being able to explore Madworld's gameplay, we were able to get a handle on the game's story. While bits and pieces have been revealed in the past few months, there's no substitute for letting the game tell its story. Madworld's narrative unfolds via still images--some of which are laid out in comic-book panel style--as well as via animated sequences that are rendered in the game's striking noir art style. The opening sequence fills you in on the plight of Jefferson Island, an island that has become isolated because of some evildoers who have blown up all the bridges leading on and off the island. Local law enforcement is warned to stay away, and citizens are terrorized. To make matters worse, local security cameras are co-opted and used to broadcast Death Watch, the reality show from hell that focuses on people killing their way up a ranked list. Those who make it to the top will be able to escape the island. Yes, this all sounds a little Lord of the Flies, but in the absence of law enforcement and general order, what are you going to do?
Madworld's hero, Jack, walks into this powder keg at the start of the game and punches his way up the rankings by taking out a prospective contestant while they're chatting to the mysterious XIII, the representative of one of Shock TV's sponsors. XIII taps Jack to participate in the competition, and the game kicks off. The story unfolds as you play, revealing some surprising layers and plot twists that keep things interesting. While Jack is participating in Death Watch, you come to discover that he has a different agenda than the other participants. One special point of interest is that Madworld's story was developed with help from Yasumi Matsuno (the game designer behind Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII), who, it turns out, was chosen by his friend Atsushi Inaba of Platinum to work on the game's scenarios. Given all the experience at Platinum, as well as the experience that Matsuno brings to the table, we're anxious to see how this craziness is going to play out.
Interesting background aside, we've been anxious to really dig in to Madworld to see how all the random craziness we've admired over the past few months fits together. The game tasks you with beating your way to the top of the Death Watch list as well as dealing with Jack's own personal business. Each of your Death Watch targets is hanging out in a different part of the city, which requires you to make your way to different districts. Apparently, before all the chaos, the city was pretty extensively wired up with security cameras, which helps make the Death Watch broadcast possible. All told, it's like Escape From New York meets Running Man meets Manhunt, which, when you think about it, isn't that bad of a combination.
Our run in the demo took us through three separate districts in the Varrigan City and Asian Town areas. Each district featured a unique boss that was worth a bump in Jack's Death Watch ranking. Most of the boss runs played out the same, with Jack entering a level and murdering everything. The killing spree nets you points that unlock bonus weapons, minigame challenges, and eventually the ability to take on the boss. The slight variation on the formula we played, Redline Way, had Jack riding a motorcycle and dealing with foes on the road.
While we don't want to give away too many specifics on the bosses, we do want to call out their sheer awesomeness. Platinum seems to have taken a kitchen-sink approach with the bosses, drawing on comics, horror kung fu, and the Mad Max movies to create a totally random assortment of scum and villainy to hack up. We defy you to find a game in 2009 that will pit you against a massive slow-witted mutant, a cowboy, a German cyborg that makes tornados, and assorted ninja movie archetypes in its first two hours.
But Platinum didn't save all the fun for the bosses; Jack has some pretty great moments himself. The assorted finishing moves he executes, each bloodier than the last, the unlockable weapons, and the profoundly demented minigames are all pretty choice. We told you about "man darts" in our last preview, but believe us when we tell you there's better stuff later on. We'll try not to offer too much detail since their introduction is pretty funny. But with that said, if the thought of launching enemies at billboards of scantily clad ladies with strategically placed impaling spikes or force-feeding enemies cola and launching them at walls or cramming enemies into explosive barrels that shoot them up like fireworks sounds appealing, then this is your game. On top of the single-player experience, Madworld features a modest multiplayer mode that lets you and a friend have split-screen minigame compeitions. While it's not anything too robust, it's a nice touch.
The game's visuals are an outstanding mix of style and tech. We understand that the look and the color palette may not be for everyone, what with the buckets of blood, but there's no ignoring the fact that Madworld has an impressive style you don't see every day. The black and white visuals help make the dramatic red flashes of blood stand out all the more as you gore your way to victory. The boss design is especially inspired, thanks to the smorgasbord approach taken in creating them. The various movie and comic influences we noted earlier really gel in the bosses and the surreal atmosphere. While most of your attention is on your enemies and the specific spots where you can use your surroundings to kill them, we have to say we were impressed by the level of detail packed into the environments we've seen. Beyond the technical prowess on display, Madworld is a showcase for Platinum's twisted sense of humor. You'll see everything from cheesy signs and displays that are groan-inducing, to genuinely funny and downright cool things like certain hazard signs or a building with a dragon motif.
The visuals are complemented perfectly by the goofy audio. The voice acting nails the unsettling but funny tone that is core to Madworld's appeal. We'll offer shout-outs to Greg Proops and John DiMaggio for their outstanding announcer work. There is some repetition, but their hilarious--and outrageously offensive--banter is one of the high points in a game loaded with great moments.
It looks like Madworld is going to deliver on what we were hoping for. The action is over the top, and the story seems to take some interesting turns. The camera isn't perfect and the monochromatic art style isn't for everyone, but there really is an infectious sense of fun when it comes to messing around with all the different executions. If you're looking to give your Wii library some edge, you'd do well to keep an eye out for Madworld when it ships next month. There's nothing quite like it on the Wii, or on any other platform, so definitely give it a shot if you're curious. Just be sure you have a strong constitution, because the action is pretty much a meat grinder. Until then, enjoy a unique look at the game in our latest video preview.