It's difficult to understand why there's so much controversy surrounding MadWorld when the violence is so very Tom and Jerry. It's mostly prop-based, slapstick comedy; giant spikes, falling objects, tyres being jammed over characters' heads, enemies getting thrown into the path of subway trains. If it weren't for the copious red splashes spattering the black and white gameworld and the vicious, limb-ripping finishing moves, it would be hard to imagine it sparking much debate - even on the family-friendly Wii.
MadWorld is a violent comedy, reminiscent of No More Heroes in attitude as well as visual style. There's a smidgen of God Hand in there somewhere, too - the game doesn't take itself remotely seriously, as the over-the-top, foul-mouthed, American-accented voice-overs and tongue-in-cheek mini-games attest. It's a high-score playground, essentially, where the object is to chain attacks and inventively violent environmental effects together for maximum comedy effect, and maximum violent fun.
The game has progressed since we last saw it. The AI still isn't fully in place, so the game's enemies were mostly placid, unfortunate playthings for Platinum Games' Atsushi Inaba during our demonstration. In the final release they'll put up more of a fight - against each other, as well as you. MadWorld's rather well-worn gameshow premise pits everybody against everybody else in a massive fight to the death, so main character Jack won't be hogging all the limb-detaching limelight for himself. Mini-bosses appear throughout the levels; we saw Jack engage in a chainsaw duel with a mask-wearing hulk of a man in a warehouse, before cutting him up into tiny bits and throwing his friends' detached torsos into a dumpster.
The demo also offered more of an insight into how the scoring system works. MadWorld encourages you to pile up the violence, taking advantage of the environment to cause maximum pain. Killing an enemy with a decapitating finishing move will rack up points, but trap them in an abandoned tyre, then beat them up a bit, then rip up a nearby 'No Swimming' signpost and impale their head with it, then throw them into a river, and you'll get a lot more of them - and have a lot more fun, if such gratuitous violence strikes you as funny rather than disgusting.
It really is hard to be offended by MadWorld's violence, though, because it's just so ridiculous. The black-and-white, comic-inspired art style makes everything less gory and more amusing. MadWorld is one of the best-looking Wii games we've seen; like Okami, it compensates for a lack of technical power with a lot of stylistic flair. You can definitely see elements of Clover Studios - where many of the Platinum Games team worked before Capcom shut it down - in MadWorld, but the art style is unique.
MadWorld breaks up its levels with occasional mini-game challenges, which take you briefly out of the level and into a separate high-score challenge. A new Blood Bath Challenge called Death Press was showcased during our demonstration, replete with the sweary, gratuitous, American-accented commentary voice-overs that we met the last time we saw the game. A massive, spike-adorned block hovered above a small pit, dropping down at about twenty-second intervals; naturally, the idea was to chuck enemies into the pit with good enough timing to ensure that they got smooshed into a bloody mess.
Motorbike sections provide a short break from all the killing. They turn up between levels or on the way to boss fights - you select your destination and embark upon an old-school, obstacle-dodging few minutes of high-speed action. This hasn't been fully implemented yet, but in the finished game there will be other bikers to fight on the road, no doubt resulting in some pretty extreme high-velocity deaths. MadWorld is really quite traditional at heart; there are charmingly old-fashioned twitch-gaming sensibilities lurking behind its slick, modern exterior.
SEGA also gave us a first glimpse at MadWorld's boss battles, although our demo was sadly curtailed before Atsushi Inaba got into the fight proper. After arriving at a desolate street and hopping off the motorbike Inaba spent a few minutes dodging past tornadoes, which sent bits of buildings, furniture and the obligatory few cows spinning overhead, before coming face-to-face with the massive monster that was causing them. It's all quite platformy; getting caught up in a tornado sent Jack spinning back to the level, which brought back some nostalgic memories.
Visually, MadWorld looks really impressive, but it's difficult to make any further judgment when we have no idea how subtle the controls are. They certainly look satisfying - stabbing, impaling, punching, kicking and decapitating all seem to be performed with appropriately violent Wii remote movements - but we don't know how big the move-set is going to be, or how much variation there will be for more dedicated players. As hilarious and spectacularly violent as it is, MadWorld won't get by on visual spectacle alone.
There are also times, usually when the American announcers are throwing around swear words and breast jokes like Sid James reading a copy of Nuts, when MadWorld comes across more like a puerile, parent-baiting teenager than a dark, disturbingly violent adult. Somehow, though, the game gets away with it - it's all so comic and so tongue-in-cheek, and probably intentionally stupid. You never get the impression that MadWorld is trying to be big and clever. It just is what it is.
MadWorld won't be released in Germany - evidently it's just too violent, although frankly we've seen worse things in 15-rated films than we have in this consciously OTT, cartoony third-person action game. It's still on track for 2009 in the rest of Europe, America and Japan, though, despite various campaigners voicing their concerns over how at odds MadWorld is with the Wii's family-friendly image.
As far as we're concerned, it's genuinely refreshing to see something inventive and adult-themed on the console. Although 'mature' is not a word we'd use to describe this kind of gleefully blood-spattered, über-destructive fun, MadWorld is interesting, and that's what really matters.