Sunday, July 18, 2010

So what does "Mature" mean again?

This weekend is a buy 2 get one on used games at Gamestop. Saturday's purchases were:

MadWorld for Wii
Wall-E for Wii
Scooby Doo: Night of 100 Frights for Gamecube (I always tell #1 son that if we can get a game for PS2 or Gamecube to get the Gamecube version.)

Two for the kids, one for me. At first, we were going to get No More Heroes 2 instead of Wall-E, but I felt like that No More Heroes 2 would be around for a while. My reasoning for getting MadWorld was that if I really want to experience what the Wii has to offer hardcore gamers, I should pick it up before it disappeared. Since No More Heroes 2 is a more recent release I wasn't worried about it going away any time soon. Also, I thought it was somewhat unfair to double up on UltraVoilence, since I'm not the only one that plays Wii in our house by a long shot. I had played the demo of the Wall-E game for PC, and it wasn't horrible, so I figured it was worth a try. It took us a while to decide what to get, and it took a little longer because #2 son kept bringing me cases for PSP games. "Bub, we don't have PSP. Leave 'em on the shelf". I would also like to thank Chrisitan at our local Gamestop for being a good sport while I did Rubik's cube demos in line at the store.

Eventually, we got home to play stuff. While it doesn't look as good as the PC version, the Wii version of Wall-E seems to play OK but we didn't delve very far into it. The controls showed a surprising amount of depth, even going so far as using the Wiimote to look around. As soon as we got home, #1 son fired up my Gamecube and got right to work on the Scooby-Doo game, and noticed that it was full of jumping and part-collecting. It also has a lot of well-arranged incidental music from the cartoons in it, so it definitely gave off the Scooby vibe. #2 son sensed the Scooby vibe and went in to watch him play, so I switched out discs and got started with MadWorld.

I have always been a big fan of brawlers, I think my favorite one in the arcades was The Combatribes, although I did play both Streets of Rage and several of the Final Fight games on the 16-bit consoles. I also played Double Dragon on a green screened Compaq portable at some point in the 80's, and I also remember getting my butt kicked by some stupid game on NES or SNES called "BattleToads". Stupid jetbike levels killed me every time. But, I digress.

The conceit of MadWorld is that you're an entrant in a city-wide televised combat spree called "DeathWatch". They play it up like it's a highly rated TV show and a terrorist plot all at the same time, especially since the island that the game takes place on had all of its bridges demolished all at the same time, right before the show starts. It implies that some big players are involved behind the scenes - it also implies that our protagonist might just be more than he appears.

Just because a game is rated for mature audiences is no guarantee that what you are experiencing is mature subject matter, or intellectually mature, or has mature gameplay. This is the most profanity laden and unapologetically violent game that I have played, but I hear that House of the Dead:Overkill (another game I haven't gotten to yet) actually has more profanity. Even Resident Evil 4 hides some of the decapitations with blurry cameras and slight cutaways, but Madworld includes a couple kinds of impalements, bisections, fire, getting run down by trains, getting thrown into saw blades, and being crushed with a two-ton metal ball - and that's just in the first level. Now while this sounds a bit gruesome, bear in mind that the entire world is rendered in a graphic novel styled black and white, full of deep shadows and punctuated with the occasional red and yellow. It is reminiscent of Frank Miller - perhaps the target audience for the game is people who enjoyed Sin City? Level two has a game called Man-Darts partway through, and while I can only explain it by saying that it involves a big baseball bat and a thirty foot high dartboard that you whack enemies into headfirst, it's a lot more fun than it might sound even though I had to fight the camera more than my opponents.

The voice actors that play the two play-by-play announcers in MadWorld are John Dimaggio, voice of my second favorite American English speaking robot, and Greg Proops, voice of my favorite non-alien speaking Podrace announcer.* In the first few minutes of the game alone, the two announcers drop F-bombs like it was February 1945 over Dresden. They start repeating jokes pretty early on, so you may just turn them down as soon as you're tired of them. I was very pleased to see that the announcers had their own volume slider. The enemies swear at you all the time too, so don't think turning down the announcers will help. After you turn down the announcers and the enemies, you will notice that the game's music is a flavor of hip-hop that includes at least a third as much swearing as the announcers. At this point, I was hoping for a button in the options that said "Instrumental & SFX Only". The violence I am used to but it probably doesn't annoy me because it's ridiculously over-the-top. The constant barrage of profanity annoys me, though. I'd like to be able to play the game without getting everyone within earshot annoyed. The music part of the music is well done, and the sound effects are meaty and solid.

It was also nice to hear that the voice of our protagonist Jack is played by the same actor that played protagonist Brad Hawk in Namco's Urban Reign, Steven Blum. The opening narration for Urban Reign was a standout piece of the game, and he gave you the inspiration to kick butt just from his voice alone. He serves a similar purpose here, to let you know that Jack is not a dude to be messed with.

My biggest issue with the game is that while it has many similarities to No More Heroes with even more swearing and the swordplay and the beatings and the ranking system and the on-screen controller motions for finishing moves, it misses the mark on the controls a little. It's difficult to stay locked on to the bosses and mini-bosses, and when you're not using the lock-on feature, the game often whiffs a punch into the empty space right next to an enemy if it thinks you're actually trying to get some other farther away enemy that's at a different angle to you. If your character is such a bad motor scooter, how could he mess that up? After having played games like Rygar and Devil May Cry and God of War that get that right a lot more of the time, it's sad to see a good developer miss the mark on that.

I hope all you people out there playing Heavy Rain appreciate what you got - that may actually be a "Mature" game. For that matter, Shadow of the Colossus and Sly 3 show more emotional maturity than MadWorld does. Heavy Rain may have a more choose-your-own-adventure game interface, and isn't as much of an action game. From a gameplay standpoint, MadWorld has a lot of things that I like in it, but a lot of the game's overall tone looks like it was just there for shock value and not because it fit with the game's story.

Maybe what I really want is a cartoony Devil May Cry game on Wii, rendered like Under The Skin or Viewtiful Joe. Enemies explode into red orbs (Devil May Cry's currency) upon defeat. Nero, Lady, Vergil, Trish, Leon Kennedy, and a few others show up as drop-in-drop-out team mates. Lots of action, some difficult puzzles that don't require jumping, minimal swearing, music that you need a subwoofer for, and some extra multiplayer modes. Dante runs an "agency", so why not let him do some detective work? Of course, if Capcom made anything like that they would be berated for making "LEGO Batman meets Carmen Sandiego".

* John Dimaggio's Bender is my second favorite American English speaking robot because he loses out to Robby the Robot from "Forbidden Planet" - nothing against John DiMaggio, Robby has a cooler hardware configuration. Also I had to specify American English because Anthony Daniels just slays both of those guys, and R2-D2 doesn't even speak English. As far as Greg Proops (the English speaking half of the podrace announcer) goes, it's just sad that he's at the top of such a very short list.

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