Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'Madworld' Musings

With the release of Madworld on Wii this month, I find myself overjoyed to own the console for the first time in almost a year. Here it is, a visually rich and daring console game, its stark black and white imagery is as sleek and sexy as that of graphic novels like Sin City or Lone Wolf and Cub. The game is also imbued with the powerful legacy of Viewtiful Joe and Okami, two juggernauts in the hardcore gaming community who make regular appearances in arguments for games as Art. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to support this game and I’m glad to say that I feel well rewarded for it.


Madworld creates a virtual world that is clearly derived from sources in the realms of comics and movies, but at the same time fills that world with wildly imaginative and original ideas. There’s an abundance of ninjas, zombies, and robots (the trifecta of nerd gold), all rendered with incredible style and unencumbered enthusiasm. A number of similarly simple tropes, like castles and post-apocalyptic city streets, feel fresh and exciting in three-dimensional black and white. There’s a surprisingly compelling story that takes place within this world as well; a Running-Man inspired tale of man who must kill with spectacular violence in order to go on in ‘the game.’


Madworld’s main character, Jack, uses his chainsaw arm, street signs, and any old object he can get his hands on to brutally dismember, impale, and bludgeon his opponents. On top of this there’s a colorfully profane audio commentary, graced by fine comedians from “Whose Line is it Anyway,” which ensured that I never forgot I was playing an M rated game. I think that the stand out line for me was when one of the commentators/comedians said “The real question is whether she spits or swallows.” I shit you not.


Overall there was plenty of solid brawling and memorable boss battles, which are difficult to talk about without spoiling them.


Ironically, Madworld is hindered by the one of the same aspects that sets it apart, its presence on the Wii. The Wii controls work, but they don’t add anything. The camera is simply terrible. The Wii has no second analog stick with which one would typically control the camera, so you’re reduced solely to re-centering the camera at your back, which is hardly helpful especially during boss fights; often I was blindly running towards the camera and that occasionally cost me my life. There’s also no block option, so the remaining defensive option is to dodge, which is done by ‘waggling’ the Wii’s left controller, the nunchuck. During boss battles in particular, I found myself waving my left arm like I was having a seizure. The bottom line: the game was frustrating enough that I swore, not as much as the commentators, but enough that I’m embarrassed about it.


I expect that Madworld will become a cult classic and it deserves a strong following, because in truth it’s easier to forgive a few technical flaws when the overall presentation is so polished, and the experience itself is so unusual. Madworld is a gift, and I was happy to receive it.

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