Over the years, numerous games have tried to use a fictional game show as the premise for their gameplay and story line. Some worked well, some didn't. On one end of the spectrum is the fantastic futuristic shooter Smash TV. On the other, the weak attempts at humor found in Twisted! for the old 3DO system. Whacked! is an action game that bills itself as a "game show gone wrong." Yet aside from its occasionally successful sense of humor and the fact that it's one of the first action games compatible with Microsoft's Xbox Live service, Whacked! has very little to offer.
Putting aside all the game-show trappings and other plot points, Whacked! is a four-player action game that gives you a collection of maps and game types to choose from. You view all the mayhem from a third-person perspective, and it all goes down in fairly small environments designed to keep things focused. The different game types all involve picking up weapons and wiping out the competition, but your reasons for wanting everyone else dead change from game to game. In king of the hill, you must stand in a specific part of the level and prevent other players from doing the same. Another game type has you collecting stars, and the first player to grab a set number of stars wins. A third type simply counts kills until a preset time limit is reached. In the single-player mode, you'll play in these modes against computer-controlled contestants, though you'll also occasionally face what seems like a billion drone chickens, who run at you in hopes of pecking you to death.
Whacked! is extremely simple, though instead of merely being easy to pick up and play, it's also very shallow. You have few moves at your disposal. You can jump, attack, and execute a butt-stomp-like jumping attack. The game contains a wide array of weapons and outcome-deciding power-ups. Weapons include the standard collection of plunger guns, rockets, and other cartoon-violence weapons, like the staple gun, baseball bat, rubber ducky grenades, and egg blasters. You'll also find a basic assortment of homing missiles, standard projectile weapons, explosives, mines, and melee weapons for close attacks. While Whacked! does feature a lot of different kinds of weaponry, many of the weapons do roughly the same thing. The power-ups have bit more variety. One gives every player a rack of homing missiles, another turns the display upside-down for a few seconds, yet another lets you automatically vacuum up nearby stars, and so on.
The characters in Whacked! are a crazy batch of cartoony oddballs, such as Lucky, a crazed rabbit who's missing all four of his paws, or Lucy, a naked woman with black bars covering her naughty bits. Each character has his or her own set of sayings, and lines are triggered when you pick up weapons or are killed. But in practice, all the characters are identical.
Whacked! is among the first batch of Xbox games to support the Xbox Live service. It includes all the standard Xbox Live features, including voice masking and various forms of player matching. It's easy to get into a game and get going, and the game rarely shows any noticeable signs of lag. Of course, not many are playing Whacked! at this time, since the Xbox Live service isn't fully available yet.
The game has a stylized look to it, rendering all the different characters in some form of the "twisted versions of your typical cartoon character" motif. The game's cutscenes are the best place to see the characters in action, as the rest of the game moves too quickly for you to get a sense of the visuals. The game's prerendered cutscenes and commercials are probably the sharpest part of the entire game. The commercials, mostly drawn in a crude, scribbled style, are genuinely funny at times, particularly the public service announcement that warns you not to shoot fire at police cars. The game's levels are colorful and showcase some pretty good texture variety from stage to stage, and the frame rate is constantly smooth, which is a nice touch, though perhaps an expected one, given the simple design of the characters and the game's small environments.
Though Whacked! looks good, the game's soundtrack is mostly annoying. The character voices fit the contestants pretty well, but the soundtrack is grating in a way that only bad cartoon music can be. The game's sound effects are your standard cartoon-style effects, complete with boinks, whoops, and various explosions.
Whacked's main problem is that there simply isn't much to it. The single-player mode is plain and simple, and the multiplayer mode, once you get over the novelty of shooting people over the Internet, really lacks depth. It benefits from being the first action game with Xbox Live support, but considering the fact that other, deeper action titles are slated for release when the service officially launches next month, anyone who isn't an Xbox Live beta tester desperate for something other than a sports game should really look elsewhere.