Despite its few flaws, MDK 2 is a great first effort by BioWare, and it's a better game than the original.
The cliche is that sequels are never as good as their originals. MDK 2 proves to be the exception to the rule though, as the newest edition of Interplay's somewhat silly shooter is a sizable improvement over the original game. This may be because the game is now on a more powerful system, or it could be all due to the efforts of the new developer, BioWare - a developer known mostly for the PC RPG Baldur's Gate. Regardless, MDK 2 is a solid shooter with one of the most creative play mechanics to appear in any game thus far.
Aliens once again threaten to destroy Earth, and this time around, Kurt (the coil-suit powered janitor), Dr. Hawkins (the eccentric inventor), and Max (the gun-wielding, six-limbed robotic dog) must work as a team to eliminate the alien menace. As the game unfolds, you'll take control of each of the three characters, using their unique play styles and character strengths to progress through each level. Kurt spends most of his level sniping baddies and switches; Dr. Hawkins collects objects and combines them to solve puzzles and make useful items; and Max holds a gun in each of his four paws and powers his way through the level. MDK 2's level structure is extremely linear and is something of a throwback to side-scrolling platformers - a cutscene will explain why a character is where, and then you'll progress through the location, passing checkpoints until you reach a huge boss. Once you've beaten the boss, another cutscene will start the next level.
What's refreshing about MDK 2 is that the game does a good job of not taking itself too seriously. Bioware has filled the game with funny pop-culture references, such as an alien disturbance in sector 867-5309, and the game does a good job of poking fun at the characters. The main bad guy is a huge purple alien that wears red sunglasses and asks Earth, "Who's your daddy?" and each of the three good characters have plenty of jokes and funny moments. While MDK 2 is not as obnoxious as the first game, evidence of Shiny's influence can be found. Certain guards break wind constantly; a floating brigade of troops watches as you perform a difficult platform-jumping bit, cheering and booing at your ability; and Max drops in on three characters doing what can only be the alien version of the macarena. And while most games fail in their attempts to be at least slightly funny, MDK 2 actually provides some good laughs and keeps you interested in how the plot will develop.
The story mostly unfolds using in-game cinematics. A brief but funny cutscene will show the characters figuring out what their next move should be, then there's usually a brief action sequence before the actual level loads. Each of the levels loads while the game displays a classic-comic-book-style cover - complete with comic-book-style captions - that usually depicts your good guy fighting that level's main boss. Once you've beaten that level's boss, another in-game cinematic will show the results of your actions and set the stage for the next level. MDK 2 uses a control scheme similar to that used by most N64 first-person shooters. You'll use the analog stick to face your character and the four digital buttons to actually move him. The left trigger jumps, and the right trigger fires your weapons. The digital pad is used for different things - entering sniper mode and selecting your ammo for Kurt, selecting your four weapons for Max, and selecting and using your items for the Doctor. The scheme takes a little time to get used to, but it's great with the Dreamcast's limited buttons. Unfortunately, the digital buttons are difficult to use when maneuvering tight spaces, and your characters will often end up falling off important ledges.
The graphics were one of the high-points of the first game, and they're even more so here. MDK 2 really takes advantage of the Dreamcast's graphical capabilities and simply looks stunning. The environments are large and detailed, the lighting effects are genuinely spectacular, and the textures distinct and creative. BioWare did a great job with the level design - each of the different locations has its own look and feel - Dr. Hawkins' spaceship, the Jim Dandy, is a well-lit and feels like your standard Terran spaceship, while the alien ships and planets all feature distinctively alien architecture and foreign textures. All of the characters animate well - each of the characters have their own way of moving about, and even the alien characters animations are believable, if not odd. The lighting effects are simply fabulous - the characters cast realistic shadows that accurately use the available light, power-spheres sparkle in a dazzling pattern, and alien rooms are lit with patches of eerie blue light. The in-game cutscenes look really good, and the detail on every character is remarkable. In the sniper mode, you'll be able to zoom in on an enemy and watch his facial expressions change. And while the first game was plagued by slowdown, the problem is seldom seen in the sequel, even though the game features some genuinely huge environments that are packed with enemies.
Another truly excellent aspect of the game is the sound. The background music is great and really helps define the mood of the game. While each of the levels features a general audio track that best reflects the character you're using, certain events or locations within the level will summon a change in the background music - usually a more tense or suspenseful theme that helps to make the situation more dramatic. The sound effects are just as good. Footsteps make the appropriate noises, different firearms make distinct sounds as they're being fired, and enemy weapons sound otherworldy. Ambient noises, such as the whir of the Jim Dandy's engine or the whisper of air flowing through a room, also help ground you in MDK 2's immersive environment. All of the alien characters are downright chatty. They'll talk and make noises to each other while unaware of your presence; they'll make alarmed noises when they discover you; they'll plead and whine while you fill them with bullets; and they'll celebrate when they actually hit you back. Additionally, some aliens seem to have some serious digestion problems, as they'll break wind at an alarming rate. While most third-graders find a good fart noise immensely funny, the sheer amount of the noise in the game is somewhat disturbing, and the joke gets old too fast - giving you that much more incentive to put the poor bugger out of its misery. The real drawback to MDK 2 is simply how needlessly difficult it is. There's no shortage of well-armed aliens for you to take down, and some areas feature bad guy generators that are impossible to shoot until you've progressed through a good portion of the level, making the body count in this game an amazingly large figure. There's also a good amount of extremely difficult platforming. Dr. Hawkins' level is almost all super precarious ledge-jumping, with a tiny bit of insane puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, Hawkins moves extremely fast, and he is difficult to control with the digital buttons - he often falls off the balance beam-like ledges, and with the level's shortage of save points, he makes an extremely frustrating character to play. Kurt spends way too much time in sniper mode, shooting miniscule targets and switches to activate platforms or fans that blow him to the next platforms, and Max simply wades through an immense number of bodies. The bosses are no easier, most of them requiring you to shoot a certain target or flip a certain switch. The first time you face Schwing-Schwang, the huge purple badass, is an amazing ordeal that requires you to snipe different targets, all the while dodging his laser beams and the exploding robot frogs he throws at you. But actually hitting the targets is easy compared with the time it takes to actually figure out what you're supposed to do. Unfortunately, the insane difficulty factor is the only thing that keeps MDK 2 from being a game you could beat in one four-hour sitting, as the game is fairly short in actual length. You'll spend too much of the game starting over from a save point and playing one area over and over again.
Still, MDK 2 is a worthwhile experience. The offbeat humor and silly aspects enhance the great storyline and give the game a very likeable nature while the different game mechanics keep MDK 2 from being a mundane shooter. The graphics and sound are truly excellent, making MDK 2 one of the best-looking and best-sounding Dreamcast games yet. Despite its few flaws, MDK 2 is a great first effort by BioWare, and it's a better game than the original. While the extremely difficult nature of the game may put off some gamers, the title is well worth the extra effort needed to see it through.