Bloody, offensive, and brilliant.
There are generally two approaches to introducing players to a video game: a game can provide a gentle tutorial, or throw people into a game with little-to-no introduction. Sega and Platinum Games' MadWorld combines the two and does it almost perfectly. This idea extends to almost every aspect of the game, from its story to its brutality. It is this delicate balance of hand-holding and exploration that makes MadWorld work.
For the uninformed, MadWorld is an ultra-violent beat-'em-up made by many of the same people behind games like Okami and Viewtiful Joe. It uses a unique black, white, and red color scheme that looks like a comic book, or more specifically, like Frank Miller's Sin City.
The controls are mostly spot on. The basic melee attacks are controlled by the A button and motion controls, and Jack's chainsaw is used by pressing the B button and swinging the Wii Remote. Of course, the controls' functions change when new weapons are found. You can jump by pushing Z. The camera is the game's only rough spot, as you can only control it by recentering with C, and this command is hard to use in the heat of the combat. The C button can also be held to target specific enemies, but this is pretty much unusable when facing groups of enemies, which is the norm the majority of the time.
With a story put together by Final Fantasy veteran Yasumi Matsuno, the player controls Jack, a man with a chainsaw attached to his arm and a mysterious past. Jack has just joined DeathWatch, a bloody reality television show where contestants must kill or be killed, and he competes in different areas of the terrorist-occupied Varrigan City, such as Asia Town and Area 66. The story starts off a little slow, but as you find out more about Jack's past and how all the characters fit together, it gets better and better.
Much like the story, the gameplay slowly unravels as you play on. This helps players get acclimated to the controls and the style of play. The focus of the game is on killing people in outrageous ways to earn more points. You can impale enemies on spikes, electrocute them, skewer them, and even turn them into human tempura. It is fulfilling when you discover a new way to kill an enemy. Each of the fourteen levels is a march to different target scores that unlock weapons, Bloodbath Challenges, boss battles, and more. The best part about the levels is that the majority of them are relatively open-ended: they are little sandboxes where you can use the environment, various weapons, and your own two hands to annihilate the different types of enemies that come your way. As for the enemies, you'll fight everything from generic thugs and robots to zombies and ninjas.
Sadly, not every level is open-ended, as a few are short motorcycle segments or boss battles. The motorcycle segments require you to maneuver around obstacles and use motion controls to kill enemies on your left or right side, and are the worst levels in the game. Luckily, there are only two of them. The boss battles aren't usually difficult, but they're extremely varied with everything from a vampire to a sumo wrestler. While most don't get much screen time, the bosses have good personalities (mainly thanks to the colorful commentary) and each has an exceptionally gory, interactive death.
The over-the-top Bloodbath Challenges, short mini-games that are inside levels, are quite humorous and a means of getting bonus points. One relatively tame example is Man Golf, where you tee up enemies using a golf club. They get far more absurd. The Bloodbath Challenges are also the source of MadWorld's multiplayer. In the context of the game's levels, the Bloodbath Challenges are fun little distractions and add to the abundant gameplay variety, but they don't hold up well by themselves and most of them are poorly explained.
MadWorld contains the two funniest characters I have ever heard in a video game: the announcers. Voiced by Greg Proops (Who's Line Is It Anyway?) and John DiMaggio (Bender in Futurama), the duo is often extremely vulgar and offensive, but they never fail to be funny. While their banter is not for the easily offended, it makes the game one-of-a-kind. The rest of the voice acting is very good, although a lot of the cut scenes just involve talking heads. Also, the soundtrack, which contains a lot of original hip-hop songs, suits the game well.
While the game is undeniably fun and filled with a lot of personality, it is a rather short affair, clocking in at around five hours. It's a blast while it lasts, but all that remains after you complete the game is a nearly impossible harder mode and some unrewarding challenges that take place in levels. These challenges range between speed runs and specific types of kills, such as getting enemies run over by a train. Still, the levels are fun to go back to and, as said before, the sandbox nature of them allow for fun exploration.
Aside from the camera issue and length, MadWorld is superb. Everything from the visual style and the sound to the ultra-violent gameplay and visceral controls are wonderful. It has its flaws, but MadWorld is riddled with unadulterated fun. Any Wii gamer that can handle MadWorld's violence and foul language should try this game, just don't expect to last too long.
Note: The PAL version of MadWorld does not support 60hz display mode, and has not been optimised for 50hz. As a result, it runs with borders at a lower frame rate than the North American game reviewed here.