Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Madworld ramblings...

Since Madworld came out there's been distinctly little talk about it in any circles that happen to overlap with my own Venn Diagram of experience. In fact the sole piece of reporting that I've really seen on it post-release relates to how "poorly" it's sold thus far.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I saw no advertising for this game. Not online, in print, on TV or in the cinema. It seemed that they were solely relying on the buzz created by the art and the fact that it was a "mature game on the Wii".

Oooh, yes. How positively shocking. A mature video game. It doesn't seem particularly mature to me. In fact it seems positively juvenile - but I suppose that's half the fun of it. I really consider it a sad state of affairs if "gallons of blood explode geyser-like out of a stump from a chainsawed limb" is considered to be the defining factor in what is "mature" and what is not.

Another bit of buzz in the lead up to the release of this game was that was being developed by some new American/Western development house created by SEGA. Part of a new wave of games designed to break the trends of old. But for the most part I feel like I'm playing a game so firmly rooted in the tropes of the 16bit era that I have to remind myself that this is 2009.

The story dialogue in this game is presented in the classic Japanese unskippable-floating-text-box-with-character-portrait-cutscene style. Don't tell me that you budget was so tight or room on the DVD so sparse that you couldn't get some voices in there for these scenes. They are few and far between and the fact that I never hear the voice of anyone actually in the world puts me off. And the fact that the story has to be delivered in such a way is even more disappointing.

Then we have the fact that this game still has lives. Yes. Lives. As in you die, you use a life and get to continue. Last I checked my Wii doesn't have a slot for me to pump coins into so this is an automatic devaluation in my mind.

Levels aren't particularly long, but for me anything more than 10 minutes without a save is annoying. And this game doesn't have saves. If you don't finish all the sections of a level before quitting then you don't have your progress saved. You get to go back to the very start. Personally, I think that if you have to have a load event to move into a new area, then the very least you can do is have a goddamn checkpoint there to allow the player to restart from there.

The gameplay isn't particularly deep, instead relying on player creativity and the visuals to keep interest going. And combining this kind of uninteresting combat with the quite frankly awful control scheme that this game has just results in frustration. The way the controls are in this game seems to be tailored to make them as unfriendly and unresponsive as possible. All too often you will end up facing the wrong way and attacking the air or having one of many, many, many context sensitive actions fail because you couldn't keep the camera aimed at exactly the right spot.

In combination, all these factors make me feel like I'm playing a B-grade brawler on the Megadrive. In fact, I'd be tempted to label Madworld as "The Wii's Altered Beast" if it wasn't for the fact that the game has style on it's side.

A few games have been accused of putting style over substance and only rarely has this accusation been more accurately levelled or the crime been more egregious. And I can take a lighter approach to sentencing here as Madworld revels in it's style - through the gritty black and white lense they're able to get away with a lot more. This ultra-violence is at the heart of the game's commentary, the focus is put on why ultra-violence is an accepted spectacle and supported. But this "social commentary" seems a bit off-the-mark, especially given how actively the game tries to alienate you.

Really, Madworld should be so much better than it is. All it would have taken is someone to take a stand and go: "It's not 1992. We have the technology. We can do so much more than Streets of Rage now." But it seems at every turn the easy decisions were made - to fall back on cheap, stale and boring design which ultimately saddles this game with so many issues as to make it unenjoyable. Combine this with some ridiculous technical issues - like how the game plays at some weird resolution giving you a top, bottom and sides letterbox effect cutting your viewable screen area significantly, and the continuing inability for Wii controllers to reliably pick up what's being input in gestural commands and the game enters the realm of painfully disagreeable. And for a game that should have been the perfect stress-reliever, this outcome is just criminal.

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