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Review - Tom finally takes on the world in MS' puzzler

Whacked! is a rubbish name for a videogame, up there with Plok, James Pond, and anything with a colon and a hyphen in the title. Fortunately, it's a bit better to play than it is to say, but I'm sure I gave my Gran a stroke telling her I was off to do some whacking yesterday...

Live TV

The idea (and origin of the exclamation mark) is that "Whacked!" is a TV show. Presented by the eclectic, sharp tongued Van Tastic, who struts around introducing you to tasks and mediating contestants like a low brow Jerry Springer, each episode of the 'show' consists of three rounds, each made up of several tasks from among Whacked!'s six main game types. Van marshals his players and audience, and there's a degree of scripting to the interchanges - Van even has gag writers, although they clearly had some off days.

As you might expect, your choices of character are total oddballs. Your four last-chickens-in-the-shop are: Eugene (a green, propellerheaded penguin), Lucky (a bunny whose mood suggests repressed anger or, gender permitting, menstruation), Lucy (a stocking clad near-nude tartlet) and Toof (big eyes, pig tails, needs a dentist). It matters not a jot who you pick, as they all behave much the same.

Your job is to guide a character ('character' is a bit of a push really) through these rounds and emerge victorious. You can do this either offline in the single player 'Gameshow' mode, or in a similar Battle mode on Xbox Live. There's also a training mode called "Theatre", but if you can't figure out how Whacked! works within seconds of clapping eyes on it then you'll need more than this...

The Art Of Whacking

Actually playing Whacked! is mostly a matter of thwacking people on the head, or holding onto stuff for longer than your enemies, but as far as the game's concerned there are six distinct choices. The first of these is Chicken, one of the few things you can do in Whacked! as a loner, which involves destroying chickens to collect silver stars. Next up is Grab 'n' Run, which is a bit like hot potato in reverse, with your enemies pelting you in an attempt to make you fumble. Dodgeball (dodge... the... ball...) and King of the Hill (first to stay on top for three minutes wins) are pretty obvious, and Fragfest is just another name for deathmatch.

Most of these are ok, although Chicken and Grab 'n' Run feel too much like Crystal Maze rejects and when we started thinking of Van Tastic as Richard O'Brien we had to run and hide for several minutes.

Fragfest is probably the most fun, largely thanks to the collection of weapons you can pick up - these range from typical, Looney Tunes esque junk (plunger missiles, mallets, pitchforks) to the slightly more gamey (cannons and freeze guns) and the effortlessly sublime (whatever it does, a 'cluster duck' is clearly going to be memorable).

Comedy repeats

How does it look? How does any Xbox only game look? The visuals are a cut above what you might expect from such a simple title, but are still nothing too exciting. Everything has that "I'm American and want to be Japanese" style to it, and could be described largely as functional.

With simple controls (which are rarely anything other than stick plus button), functional looks and really, really simple gameplay, Whacked! feels like the sort of game you stick on to play with a mate while you have a chat. It's like those TV channels which show nothing but BBC comedy repeats - you've seen it all before and it's fun, but you aren't really paying attention.

And for us, that's the reason that Whacked! fails as a Live title. Live should be about involving, engrossing multiplayer experiences, and Whacked! just isn't anything like that. People are happy to chat through the games, which is nice, and the crowd is a lot more grown up than we've so far encountered in MechAssault and Ghost "stop shooting me in the bloody head" Recon, but we don't turn on our Xboxen to talk to some bloke in Barking about Coronation Street while we vaguely try and pop him with a mallet. We want something more.

Beating off

Whacked! is a reasonable party game, beating off [enough of the masturbatory references - Ed] Fuzion Frenzy (its only Xbox competitor) without much effort, but if you have access to other formats there's a whole host of much better titles out there (Super Monkey Ball springs automatically to mind).

That said, Whacked! is an excellent introduction to Xbox Live. It's easy to pick up, gives you the chance to master the voice comms juggling and make some friends. It's good, uncomplicated fun, but you won't ever want more than the demo version supplied with the Xbox Live Starter Kit. As a £40 purchase, Whacked! can get F---ed!

Whacked! screenshots (Xbox)

5 / 10