The PlayStation Portable has been suffering through a long bout of PlayStation 2 hand-me-down syndrome ever since the system's release. In that time, dozens of PS2 games (some of them years old) have been ported, remixed, or otherwise crammed onto UMDs and rereleased as PSP games, usually with some lame subtitle to try to make the game seem different. But as annoying as this syndrome has been up to this point, occasionally some games are exempt. Such is the case with Chili Con Carnage, a reworking of a little-known action game from 2005 called Total Overdose: A Gunslinger's Tale in Mexico. It was basically a Robert Rodriguez movie and Max Payne all rolled up into one, and it was a patently silly piece of work, emphasizing ridiculous shoot-dodging moves and big explosions over...well, just about everything else. In Chili Con Carnage, developer Deadline Games has made the experience much better by stripping away some of the more superfluous elements of the console game (such as the open-ended, GTA-esque city) and turning in an even more ridiculous adventure.
Chili Con Carnage's main story follows Ramiro (or Ram), who goes to visit his government-agent father at work one day to bring him a birthday present--a box full of kittens. The father and son commiserate for a moment as the father opens his gifts. But not two seconds after the father utters the word "kittens!" does a gigantic thrasher come crashing into his office, with a cackling villain behind the wheel, giggling with glee as Ram's father (and those poor, poor kittens) are horribly murdered. And that's not even the most ridiculous thing to happen in the game. As Ram goes on a revenge hunt to kill those responsible for his father's death, Ram finds himself mixed up with several wacky Mexican crime lords, from a bull-charging behemoth to a drug lord with his own jet fighter.
Some of this premise might sound familiar to those who played Total Overdose, but the vast bulk of the story has been totally redone. Chili Con Carnage reuses some of the core level designs and characters from the original game, but the story takes wildly different turns. The developer essentially scraped off whatever hard-boiled or minutely serious elements the original game had in favor of making the whole thing a totally bonkers affair. And that really works to the game's benefit, too. Chili Con Carnage is legitimately funny in a number of spots, and even when it's not funny "ha-ha," it's still goofy enough to enjoy just because of how over the top everything is.
A lot of the humor is in the action. Total Overdose revolved its action almost exclusively on the act of Ram being able to leap around like a bandito inside the Matrix while shooting copious amounts of exploding barrels and boilerplate thugs. In Chili Con Carnage, the number of explodable objects has become even more copious, and the thugs have been given more personality, making them all the more fun to waste. You also get a myriad of weird power-ups that do everything from providing you a pair of machine-gunning guitar cases that instantly destroy anyone in their path to creating a giant Mexican wrestler to bully any nearby enemies. What ties all this carnage together is a Tony Hawk-esque combo system that racks up points based on how many kills you can string together, as well as how crazily your kills play out. An onscreen meter drops when you aren't in the process of wrecking shop, so the goal is to try to keep the crazy going as long as possible. In fact, you could theoretically keep the combo meter going for the entire length of a level, if you were talented enough.
The scoring system makes what is otherwise a fairly simple combat system more enjoyable. There's not much depth to what you're doing, as all the shoot-dodge moves are just one button press away and the targeting system usually does a pretty good job of picking out the more threatening enemies to blast away at. There's even a target-lock button that specifically latches onto inanimate objects that can be blown up or otherwise decimated, making more explosive kills that much easier a process. Some of the stages are a bit tough, simply because of the ridiculous number of enemies the game throws at you; but other than that, the only thing that makes Chili Con Carnage even remotely difficult is some of the camera and aiming functionality. Specifically, if there's ever an enemy you have to blast that isn't easily targeted (namely, a boss character) and you have to use the free-look function to manually move the camera up and down, because the camera doesn't stay positioned for very long, you end up having only a tiny window to take your shot. Also, the analog sensitivity during some of the on-rails missions and turret-shooting sequences is rather obnoxious, making precise aiming a severe chore. Still, control issues and lack of depth and difficulty aside, the sheer absurdity of the combat is enough to keep you entertained.
Of course, it won't keep you entertained for all that long. The story mode won't take you more than four or five hours to bust through, though if you're just playing through the game to get to the end, you're not going to get a whole lot out of the experience. Getting the most out of the game is all about high scores and completing some of the off-the-wall challenges that pop up in between story missions. The other single-player mode is just a purely score-based mode in which you try to off as many chicken-costumed enemies as you can before your combo meter drops to zero. The multiplayer modes work similarly. The one mode that requires between two and four players via ad hoc, fiesta, doesn't pit you or your opponents directly against one another, but rather transports each of you to the same environment and just has you running around, killing everything in sight to try to get the best score. The slightly confusing thing is that the character models of your opponents will randomly spawn inside the level you're playing in, but they're computer controlled. You're not totally devoid of the ability to mess with your opponents, though, as there are some cool power-ups that do everything from flipping your opponents' screens upside down to creating an earthquake that makes it impossible for them to stop moving. The other multiplayer mode, hangman, is just a pass-and-play version of the same basic mode, with slightly different rules.
Even if the action is a bit simple, it's a lot of fun to watch. Chili Con Carnage has great graphics that are both technically proficient and stylish. All the slow-motion camera angles, rampant explosions, and barrages of bullets look fantastic in motion, and the game never slows down (unless you want it to). The character models are all a little chunky and deformed, but that seems more like a stylistic choice than anything else. The audio is just as enjoyable, despite how awful some of the voice acting is. The voice acting seems like it's awful with a purpose, however, as everyone speaks with the kind of hyperexaggerated accents that bad comedians can't even get away with. The dialogue is actually pretty funny, and the actors ham it up so much that the cheesiness of the acting is legitimately enjoyable. The soundtrack is much the same as Total Overdose's, relying heavily on Mexican hip-hop that's mostly quite good. However, the best part of the music is the way it fades in and out during a level, depending on what's going on. When you're not shooting stuff, the game goes dead silent, but when you're in action, it kicks in and adds a backbeat to the chaos. It's as if the game is actively punishing you when you aren't wrecking shop.
Though Chili Con Carnage isn't likely to win any awards for originality or gameplay depth, you've got to give the developers credit for taking a console game that wasn't anything special to begin with and revamping it into something that's legitimately good. By trimming the fat and ramping up the ludicrous factor, Chili Con Carnage does what Total Overdose couldn't, and creates a wildly over-the-top action game that's not only bizarre and funny, but also fun to play all the way through. The multiplayer maybe isn't as good as you'd hope it would be, and you won't find a ton of content to play with in the single-player modes, but brief as it is, Chili Con Carnage does what it does well, and it's precisely the kind of cockamamie fun that Total Overdose ought to have been in the first place.