It's not often that you see an overtly violent and sweary game on the Wii, so when one like MadWorld comes along, you certainly sit up and take notice. Having such a bold and distinctive art style also makes MadWorld stand out from the crowd, the striking black and white comic book aesthetic giving the game a strong identity of its own. This is one of the most graphically arresting games we've seen in a long time, the striking monochrome visuals splattered in fountains of claret are achingly beautiful. Yet beneath the stunning surface beats the heart of a resolutely hardcore, arcade-style score attack and a fantastically playable beat 'em up boasting a fluid and intuitive control system.
PlatinumGames' first title after forming in 2006 under previous name Seeds, MadWorld is a gratuitously violent game that revels in its many excesses. Playing it is incredibly easy, yet there's a finely tuned fighting mechanic that enables you to pull off all manner of inventive killing techniques. Grabbing an enemy or an item is mapped to the A button which is held down, while throwing either of them is a case of simply letting go of A and performing a forward motion. It's a brilliantly instinctive system that makes learning the numerous moves a breeze. After the obligatory tutorial, you'll be executing wince-inducing fatalities like a pro, whether it's repeatedly slamming a hapless foe into a Rose Bush (a spiked wall) or impaling him arse first onto a three-foot spike. While this may sound utterly repellent, it's actually hugely compelling and immensely gratifying.
Somehow, despite the constant perfunctory swearing and blood-drenched mutilation, MadWorld manages to charm in spades. Perhaps it's the barefaced nature in which the whole thing is presented as an unpretentious massacre with no greater remit than to entertain the player. Playing as Jack, the gravel voiced protagonist participating in sadistic game show DeathWatch, your sole task is to cleave your way through as many opponents as you can with your wrist-mounted chainsaw within the allotted time period. Amass enough points and you'll open Bloodbath Challenges, gruesome mini-games that task the player with slaughtering as many enemies as possible before the clock runs down. Pick of the bunch are the Turbinator, Man Darts, Hanabi and Death Press, all of which involve throwing multiple opponents into a death dealing device of some form for points. These mini-games introduced by the brash Black Baron (who ends up being subjected to a grisly death after the tutorial for each mini-game) prove to be irresistibly compulsive jaunts that offer a welcome break from the main game.
With a driving hip-hop soundtrack accompanied by constant chatter from the commentators, there're certainly a lot of different sounds competing for your attention. The commentary is as frenzied as you'd expect too, with insults being hurled back and forth between the two as well as constant remarks on your performance. The thumping soundtrack and slightly repetitious combat could trigger a headache after extended play, so perhaps it's best to play MadWorld in short bursts, which is fittingly precisely how the levels have been constructed. Each stage is a series of interconnected arenas peppered with weapons, interactive scenery and the odd diverting Bloodbath Challenge of course. Some areas may present you with optional tasks such as collecting orbs to unlock a DeathWatch Challenge or rescuing scantily clad geisha girls from ninjas. The added threat of larger enemies such as the chainsaw wielding bulls or spike-shelled roaches who are slightly harder to take down also spice up the wanton bloodshed, making things a little tougher. In fact, what initially seems like an effortless blood-soaked romp soon becomes a far more challenging game as Jack rises through the DeathWatch ranks to become the number one contestant.
Any danger of MadWorld becoming a repetitive Remote-waggling affair, is thankfully offset by the intermittent mini-games, some punchy and engaging boss encounters and fairly dull motorcycle sections which involve constantly swatting enemies away when they get too close to your ride. Each of the five zones branching from Varrigan City are individually themed, so there're always a variety of new instruments of death and torture to discover such as daggers, spiked bats and spears as well as a timely change of scenery. But the real satisfaction lies in meticulously taking apart the opposition, chaining together combos and watching the mayhem ensue. There's nothing more gratifying than jamming a tyre around someone's waist, skewering their head with a lamppost and then mercilessly impaling them on a meat hook. It's so uproariously extreme that you can't help but laugh and the stylised visuals help in providing a certain degree of detachment from the violence, which means if you do happen to find stabbing someone in the eye with a trumpet funny, then that's fine. How about subjecting one boss character to death by spikes, electrocution and red-hot cooking fat before being shot into a volcano? If you're not at least sniggering at the prospect, then maybe MadWorld isn't the game for you.
MadWorld is a uniformly compulsive experience, yet it's not completely without its faults, minor though they may be. Sometimes Jack's movements can seem a tad imprecise leading to moments where you're grabbing at thin air rather than the bad guy dancing around right next to you. There is a lock-on button mapped to C on the Nunchuk, but this can be somewhat unreliable, especially around multiple enemies. Now and again, gestures fail to register which can lead to a frustrating break in a combo, leaving you exposed following your fudged efforts. The core narrative is pretty short too and the unlockable hard mode is simply too difficult meaning that you may be reluctant to even bother with it. The two-player Bloodbath Challenges will certainly entice you back though as they're thoroughly absorbing and breathlessly entertaining, especially when competing with a friend for the highest score.
There's no denying that MadWorld is effortlessly, deliriously fun. The OTT, unashamedly brutal mutilation never grows tired, which will encourage you to return to the game even after you've aced the initial play-through of the story. There's a glut of DeathWatch Challenges to complete that encourage even greater acts of atrocious carnage and the ever-present lure of improving your score, so you'll be playing for weeks, experimenting with new ways to build up massive combos. Essentially, you'll come for the violence, stay for the grisly finishing moves and addictive gameplay. Either way, MadWorld is massively rewarding, startlingly unique and unapologetically bloody. In other words, it's the perfect antithesis to almost every other Wii title out there and as such demands your undivided attention.