The idea of adult Wii games is something people like us have been banging on about for ages. Essentially we want less mini-game collections and more 'proper games' that can be played and enjoyed by adults. SEGA's House of the Dead Overkill managed to make the most of the Wii's control system and deliver a funny game that only adults should be playing, but it wasn't really a mature game. The same can be said about SEGA and Platinum Games' MadWorld, a game so violent it deserves every inch of its BBFC 18 rating, yet is as mature as an episode of Chucklevision. Perhaps adult Wii games aren't what we wanted after all.
Kids across the world are likely to be salivating over this gore extravaganza, getting their fill from YouTube, just as kids gathered around the arcade version of Mortal Kombat back in the early 90s. Any game in which you can skewer a string of ninjas onto a long spike shish kebab-style or drill a man's face clean off as he comes hurtling back to earth is bound to attract attention. The violence here is so over the top you'd be hard pushed to find someone who is truly repulsed by what's shown, though, with even the most squeamish person more likely to raise an unexpected smile than run to the nearest toilet. It's the gore that's going to bring in the punters, but it's the gameplay that's likely to leave a few people wanting more.
MadWorld sees you playing as Jack, a large gruff man that's entered into Death Watch, a TV show that is centred entirely on killing people in the most horrific ways possible - think Arnold Schwarzenegger in Running Man and you're almost there. You work for TV producer Agent XIII, who wants to increase viewing figures and line his pockets with more money, which means more and more ways to kill people for you. This need to kill in the most extreme way possible is what drives the gameplay, with thug after thug able to be dispatched in increasingly inhuman fashion.
The game world is split into zones, each compromising a series of levels. The goal in each level is to score enough points to unlock the boss fight, but numerous score milestones leading up to that unlock new weapons and mini-games. A simple kill with Jack's chainsaw (his main weapon) will earn you very few points in the grand scheme of things, while a combo of tyre round the waist, spike in the head and then repeated impaling on a wall of spikes will earn you a lot more. As you progress you'll discover new ways to score big, but part of MadWorld's problem is that things get repetitive very quickly. Finishing moves are good for a laugh the first few times too, but once you've seen each one they quickly start to lose their appeal.
Your basic attacks are mapped to A and B plus a Wii Remote swing, with grabs performed by holding A. Context sensitive usage of A and B will perform finishing moves, and various other places in each level will let you do the same when combined with a gesture - slam a guy arse first onto a spike, for example. Enemies can be targeted and locked on to using the C button, while Z is reserved for jumping, with Jack able to climb onto higher platforms if he can't quite make the jump.
Some variety can be found in the Blood Bath Challenge mini-games, which offer up such wonders as Man Darts and Money Shot (impaling enemies on spikes placed conveniently over a poster of a woman's private parts, using shaken champagne bottles shoved into mouths as rocket fuel). High scores in these rounds will limit the amount of brainless killing you need to do in order to unlock the boss fight, but an awkward camera system and a less than perfect target lock-on mechanic work in tandem to make precision attacking a chore.
Boss battles are certainly one of the game's highlights, both in terms of character design and kill inventiveness, but the combat is more or less as it is throughout the whole game. Each boss fight also includes a QTE attack, performed by mimicking the on-screen Wii Remote and Nunchuck actions, usually triggering an especially brutal piece of action. Most satisfaction comes from the boss deaths, which are well thought out and often quite funny - if you can find humour in extreme maiming. One boss, a Japanese woman with razor sharp fans, meets her doom at the hand of animatronic sign of a man eating noodles with chopsticks. Instead of the noodles, though... well, it's not hard to work out what happens next.
Early on there's plenty of fun to be had by linking together the fairly obvious combat multipliers, but when things start to get tough the combat system falls down. There's no block button, so you're forced to use the evade move repeatedly, and the bosses that regain health over time seem designed to sap enjoyment. Even this isn't too bad as long as you've spent 20 minutes prior to that ramming enemies into barrels of burning oil or throwing them into spinning blades, but complete death during a boss fight (loss of all lives) means it's back to the start of the level - something that really isn't fun.
These general gameplay issues are a real shame as the core controls work well for a game designed around gestures, but the poor camera and a less than ideally thought out progression system do their best to put you off. Thankfully MadWorld has been created with an awful lot of attention paid to presentation. The stylish Sin City-esque black and white art style fits the game exceedingly well, and the splashes of red blood stand out in stunning contrast. Audio work is top class too, with some superb tunes to kill to and often hilarious (if rather juvenile) one-liners from the commentary team. There's no doubt that a lot of people will easily overlook the game's flaws on the merit of the presentation alone.
Another disappointment comes from the game's short play time, coming in some way short of the majority of major releases. There's replay value in achieving high scores and two-player support via split-screen, but there's a definite sense that the harsh restart level design choice was made in order to artificially extend the lifespan.
On a console devoid of anything even approaching a game like MadWorld there's no question that SEGA's blood-soaked brawler will find an audience. It's easy to play and enjoy what developer Platinum Games has created, but it's impossible to overlook the numerous design flaws. High production values and a superb art style can only take a game so far, and the gameplay on offer here, while fun, can't take it that step further.