What's black and white and red all over? Apart from a sunburned zebra, a Commie panda and a magpie in a blender? That's right, an ultra-violent fighting game developed by the makers of Okami and published by SEGA exclusively for Wii in the first quarter of 2009! I am brilliant fun at parties.
MadWorld is a debut title from Platinum Games, the company set up by former Clover Studios staff. It's said to be inspired by American comics, and as you'll know if you've seen the trailer they don't mean Garfield. Giant Gears of War-style thugs hulk around grimy city streets, dispatching each other in gruesome ways. The hip-hop soundtrack is punctuated by guttural screams as enemies are stabbed, sliced, diced and spiked. Everything in sight is black or white apart from the torrents of blood that splatter constantly across the screen.
It's certainly got style, and as producer Atsushi Inaba explains that's always been the aim. "Nowadays, the visuals in gaming are so evolved and so beautiful it's hard to distinguish one [game] from another," he says, via a translator. "When we tried black and white, we decided it was very impactful and really stood out - and that's the reason we went for it."
The storyline isn't quite so unique. You play Jack, a contestant in a gameshow called Death Watch where participants must kill or be killed. Batter everyone else to death and you win; die, and you lose, on a variety of obvious counts. It's been created by a band of terrorists known as The Organisers, and as the plot unfolds you'll get to find out how Jack became involved with the whole thing.
But MadWorld isn't about complex story arcs and multi-layered narrative structures. It's about cutting people in half with chainsaws, mainly. You can cut them in half horizontally and watch their legs crumple as their torso flies into the air. You can cut them in half vertically and see the two sides peel away from each other to reveal more red. The chainsaw is the default weapon, but not the only one you get to cut people up with. In the demo we're being shown there are twin daggers and huge swords, plus a giant baseball bat for splunching people's heads open. Apparently there will be more weapons to choose from in the finished game.
But even if these amount to nothing more than a rubber band and a pointy stick, you won't want for ways to kill people. Everywhere there are elements of the environment you can use against enemies. In an example we're shown, Jack picks up a road sign and stabs the pointy end right through his opponent's head. He continues to stagger around, groaning loudly, but shuts up when Jack throws him on to rack of spikes handily protruding from a nearby wall.
Another enemy is flung around and slammed to the ground like a rag doll before Jack chucks him into a dumpster, at which point the lid smashes down and severs the enemy's torso. When the action moves to a subway station, Jack has great fun throwing some opponents into the path of oncoming trains and battering others with seats he's torn up from the platform.
But it's not all about brutal violence, says Inaba - it's about using brutal violence in an imaginative fashion. "There are many different ways to kill your enemies, many different combinations and things you can do," he confirms. "The more creative and brutal your kill, the higher your score's going to be - and with those points, you can purchase weapons and play mini-games."
Ah, mini-games. This is a Wii game, after all. But it's also MadWorld, so they're not called mini-games - the official name is Blood Bath Challenges. Apparently there are many different types in the finished product, but we're only getting to see one today: Man Darts. This involves using the baseball bat to smash enemies into a giant dartboard. Certainly looks more fun than PDC Challenge. Naturally, you'll be able to compete in the mini-games with other players.
One journalist pipes up to suggest chopping each other into bloody messes isn't most Wii users' idea of social gaming fun. Isn't MadWorld a bit hardcore? "It might seem a little niche or a little core, but actually when you play it's a pretty simple action game," says Inaba . "Anyone can pick it up and play. It's perfect for Wii, because Wii is the perfect social console."
Watching Inaba play, the controls do look intuitive - you swing the remote downwards to chop off a head, for example, and make a forwards thrusting movement to impale people on pointy sticks. However, there are also more complex moves; pulling the remote and nunchuk away from each other horizontally causes Jack to perform an upper-cut. It'll be interesting to go hands-on with the game and find out just how many extra options there are for those who can be bothered to learn the moves.
No matter how accessible MadWorld's control system is, there's no doubt it's an extremely violent game. The likes of Keith Vaz and the Daily Mail aren't likely to be keen, and SEGA may come to regret putting things in the press release like, "Features ultra-violent mini-games designed to push you over the edge."
But there's also no doubt it's comic violence - much more Itchy and Scratchy than Bundy and Gacy, as SEGA is keen to point out. There's much talk of how the tone is "irreverent" and "humorous", and how the violence is "over-the-top", "fun" and "upbeat". All of these terms are appropriate. And although there's plenty of blood splashing around, you couldn't describe the action or the cartoon-style black and white visuals as realistic.
But wait till the Daily Mail gets wind that MadWorld also features an angry hip hop soundtrack and two commentators who do swearing. They tell each other to "F*** off", describe giant bosses as "Motherf***ers" and refer to things like air stewardesses being "poked" and thrown in dumpsters. As a prelude to Man Darts one commentator declares, "It's time for the BBC." The other replies, "Big breasted chicks?" "Blood Bath Challenge, you 'tard." The commentators seem to repeat themselves a lot, which could prove highly irritating, but hopefully that'll be sorted out for the finished game.
Otherwise, there's little to complain about so far. To sum up: swearing, rap music, comic books, violence, blood. Who cares what The Man says, Tha Kidz are going to love this game. And MadWorld could be the perfect solution for those who didn't just buy a Wii to get fit and play tennis. Let's just hope it's as much fun to play as it is to watch.