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Best of Portland 2009

Black and white and red all over

The stylish ultraviolence of MadWorld
By MITCH KRPATA  |  April 2, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for MadWorld

MadWorld | For Nintendo Wii | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Platinum Games | Published by Sega
The most common problem afflicting video games these days is a deficit of imagination. So many releases look alike, sound alike, and play alike. When you play a game with even one unique angle, it's like finding water in the desert.

That's the case with Sega's MadWorld. Its æsthetic is like nothing else out there, and that, along with a mordant sense of humor, is almost enough to carry it. After a time, though, the presentation can't make up for the repetitive gameplay, and this offering ends up being less like an oasis and more like a mirage.

But let's start with the look. Graphics aren't everything, to be sure, but after playing countless muddy-looking first-person shooters, I'll welcome anything with daring visuals. MadWorld seems to have taken its cues from Frank Miller's Sin City comics. Characters and environments are rendered in impressionistic black-and-white polygons, with negative space often replacing explicit outlines. It's the canvas upon which buckets of bright red blood are splashed, Jackson Pollock style.

To call MadWorld violent would be an understatement. Its gleeful, unrepentant embrace of bloodshed smashes through the limits of decency and emerges on the other side with a kind of divine purity. As a contestant on a depraved television program, your character, Jack, earns points by killing the other players. But he earns even more points by shoving a road sign through their necks, stuffing them into a trash can, and then throwing them in front of a moving train. That's it — that's the entire game. The more points you earn, the more methods of destruction become available to you. There's something very Zen about dragging a leather fetishist over to a spiked wall and seeing an on-screen prompt that says, "Murder!"

The proceedings are helped along by the energetic banter of the play-by-play announcers, comedians Greg Proops (from Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and John DiMaggio (best known as Bender from Futurama, or Marcus Fenix from Gears of War). Whereas in sports games the play-by-play guy and the color commentator appear to be transmitting from separate universes, Proops and DiMaggio have a familiar — and quite profane — rapport. They sound as if they were improvising. At least, they do till you hear the same off-the-cuff remarks six times in the span of two minutes. Nothing saps humor faster than repetition.

The same can be said of the gameplay. Although the level environments cover lots of ground, as Jack travels through the many neighborhoods of Varrigan City, before long they all begin to seem familiar in the ways they allow Jack to dispatch his foes. Is there any real difference between a train covered in spikes and a bus covered in spikes? More disappointing are the boss battles. They look great (I loved the giant Frankenstein's monster), but rather than requiring different tactics or an awareness of your surroundings, they come down to similar prompts in which you move the Wii remote in the direction indicated on-screen.

One good idea can sustain a two-hour movie. A video game, on the other hand, is just getting started at that point, and if it doesn't have more to offer, the gamer will move on. Still, before the familiarity sets in, MadWorld is a blast to play. One good idea is better than none.

Related: Review: Afro Samurai, Review: Street Fighter IV, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, More more >
  Topics: Videogames , blood, Culture and Lifestyle, Frank Miller,  More more >
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