There's no denying that the Wii is in desperate need of adult fare. Its massive library is stacked high with mini-game collections, simple sports simulations, puzzlers, and platform games, but offers precious little content geared for older players.
However, the early months of 2009 have seen the release of several decidedly adult-oriented games designed explicitly for Nintendo's squeaky clean console. The barrage began in February with the bloody, zombie-infested horror titles Dead Rising: Chop Til You Drop and The House of the Dead: Overkill, and now we've been given MadWorld, an unambiguously mature action game published by Sega and developed by Osaka-based PlatinumGames that has players engaging in such gory activities as jamming signposts through foes' skulls, repeatedly ramming enemies into walls covered with two-foot spikes, and tossing bad guys into roaring jet turbines. Indeed, as far as gory, over-the-top violence goes, MadWorld finds itself in company with such notorious fare as Manhunt and The Punisher.
The action is gripping, to say the least. I've never really taken to the way the Wii's motion-sensitive controls have been implemented in action games, but I was able to get the hang of things in MadWorld pretty easily, swiping my Wii remote to punch enemies and swirling it to swing and then hurl them against walls to complete brutal finishing moves. Plus, many of the game's most common actions, such as revving up and hacking away with our hero's chainsaw prosthetic, require just a single button tap.
What's more, the art is fantastic. Environments and characters are rendered in high contrast black-and-white, the only blots of colour coming in the form of the crimson blood shed by our enemies and the yellow, comic book-style onomatopoeic text that accompanies explosions and other game noises. Think Frank Miller graphic novels like Sin City, but with costumes vaguely influenced by Japanese fashion sensibilities.
Alas, the compelling combat and unique visual aesthetic are wasted on a story that sags under the weight of a hackneyed plot-the premise involves a city infested with psychopaths that has been cordoned off and a game show in which contestants fight to the death-and a group of stale characters with about as much personality as a pile of stones. Exposition is essentially limited to a repetitive commentator who spews obscenities for no reason other than to shock (it's supposed to be funny, but it's the sort of crass humour primarily appreciated by young teens looking to partake in what they think of as forbidden adult fruit), and the occasional chat between our burly hero and his agent, most of which consist of directions and negotiations. Put another way, it makes The Running Man seem like high art.
Worse, the poor storytelling makes the rest of the game feel cheap and dirty. If we were provided a character with whom we could sympathize or a plot that somehow made sense of all the ultraviolence it would be easier to digest seeing people decapitated with golf clubs. As is, MadWorld comes off as nothing more than violence for the sake of violence.
It's nice to see Wii developers paying attention to the 18-plus crowd, but they'll have to dish out more than just innovative graphics and oceans of blood to engage the minds of mature gamers.