The Only Color That Matters is Red: Celebrating MadWorld
When folks think about Nintendo and its systems, nostalgia, happy characters and kid-friendly storylines probably come to mind. At the very raciest of the Nintendo spectrum, a game that draws its visual style from graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s Sin City and embraces over-the-top brutality like a longtime friend probably still seems well out of left field. It felt that way back in 2009 too, but that didn’t stop Sega and PlatinumGames from unleashing MadWorld on the Nintendo Wii. Though it was somewhat controversial back at launch, today we celebrate the classic 3D brawler that hit the Wii like a running chainsaw and left us loving its sardonic hero: Jack Cayman.
Right from the get-go, violence was at the core of PlatinumGames producer Atsushi Inaba and director Shigenori Nishikawa’s vision for what MadWorld would be. The Wii was severely lacking in any sort of adult-themed games and Inaba and Nishikawa wanted to tap a market on the Nintendo systems that was relatively untouched. At the same time, they wanted to avoid making a game like Manhunt 2, which had portrayed over-the-top violence in serious tone. They wanted the game to be violent in a comical way, so they chose to observe and borrow from Western and Japanese comic books as the main influential style for the game’s visuals. The world became black and white, sound effects would be accompanied by text and the only other color came from red splashes of blood. Furthermore, they chose to omit puzzle solving and item collection in favor of focus on combat to keep the game at a high-octane pace of brutal absurdity.
Speaking of absurdity, the plot has it in spades. A terrorist group known as “the Organizers” targets an island city known as Varrigan City and after cutting off transportation to or from the island, they introduce a virus to the cities inhabitants promising that all infected will die within 24 hours. The only way to save oneself is to kill another after which the killer would receive a vaccine. The city was turned into a brutal game show called “DeathWatch” in which contestants vie for survival and a shot at a large cash prize. One such contestant is our hero, Jack Cayman, a former cop and soldier with a mechanical right arm that transforms into a chainsaw. The Organizers quickly learn to hate Jack, but when he becomes a fan favorite, they have no choice but to try to kill him within the confines of the game show. It’s a set up that easily reminds of classics such as the 1987 movie, Running Man, or Koushun Takami’s famous novel, Battle Royale.
The game plays out in a series of levels in which Jack must score enough points by killing enemies in brutal and creative ways to access a boss character in the area. The player can punch, grab enemies and slice them in twain with Jack’s aforementioned chainsaw, but the levels are open environments and there are plenty of implements with which to dispatch foes. You can slap a tire on someone and drop them in a barrel fire or push them into a wall of spikes (affectionately known in the game as rose bushes). These are just a few of the ways to get Jack to his quota. Furthermore, as you wrack up points, Bloodbath Challenges occur, opening new and destructive means of getting to that boss fight, such as a race to throw as many enemies into a large jet turbine as Jack can within a time limit. All of it culminates in boss fights in which Jack takes on the most freakish and murderous of DeathWatch’s competitors.
As would be expected of a game that shamelessly glorified violence in a brutal game show setting, MadWorld drew criticism and controversy for its content, to the point where there were attempts to block its release in the United Kingdom. Regardless, the game garnered critical acclaim and though it didn’t put up the most spectacular sales numbers, it did gain quite the cult following and pave the way as PlatinumGames’s first major release. Its over-the-top combat and brutality would also carry on to future PlatinumGames endeavors, such as the successful Bayonetta series. MadWorld broke the status quo for what people expect out of games on a largely youth-oriented system and in a world as devoid of adult color as the Wii library, MadWorld was a lovely sea of red worth remembering.