Jack goes about his job in the vein of a traditional beat-em-up, and Sega kept the controls traditional too. Punches are mapped to the A button, while B revs up Jack’s signature chainsaw and Wii remote swipes swing it horizontally or vertically. The A button handles some context-sensitive actions, like carrying an object or hoisting a thug off the ground. As for the Nunchuk, the Z trigger makes Jack jump and a tap of the C button centers the camera, while holding it will lock on to an enemy. While holding a mook, shaking the Nunchuk makes Jack head-butt them, letting you stun a struggling enemy or even shatter their head. Swinging the remote with a baddie in hand will toss them overhead or with a shoulder throw, depending on how you swing.
The gestures were surprisingly responsive and simple to execute, and I appreciated that basic actions weren’t mapped to flailing waggle controls. The C-button lock doesn’t work well as it takes a few seconds to lock on and can get the camera turned around a bit, but it doesn’t ruin the experience.
With the intuitive control setup Jack handles as any typical brawler character would, but with the excessive flair of Sin City. Varrigan is divided into several levels populated by thugs and bosses, usually based on a theme like Asian Town or a medieval dungeon. Jack has thirty minutes in each level to rack up the highest score possible and unlock the final boss challenge, and the ways for Jack to score in Death Watch are nothing short of gruesomely brilliant. The only rule of the game is to kill the other contestants, but if Jack wants to score big he’ll have to do it creatively. To put this into perspective, remember that Jack has a chainsaw strapped to his arm as his standard weapon, and you are discouraged from using it too much because there are more inventive, point-rich ways to kill enemies.
For instance, Jack can drop a tire onto a thug, or jam a street sign through his neck, or impale him on a wall of spikes. Each of these methods is fun enough, but do all three of them in order and you’ll get a huge point bonus. And this one-two-three method is only the first that you are introduced to; indeed, it becomes vanilla after a while, encouraging you to seek out more ridiculous types of fatalities. The theme for each level gives you a wide variety of props, items and environmental objects to use in cruel and unusual ways.
Every level has an item that can be shoved onto an enemy to disorient them and make them look silly—anime doll heads in Asian Town, spike balls in the dungeon, and humorously enough, pirate hats in the ninja level (ninjas hate pirates more than anything). This “hat” prop is a bit uniform, but the traps and hazards in the levels are quite varied. Circular saws, crushing rollers and various spiky implements are the routine hazards, joined by piranha-filled fish tanks, lethal toilets and even a deep-frying vat for turning guys into tempura. Jack can supplement his chainsaw with an arsenal of portable weapons like a spiked bat, torch and dual daggers. If he weakens an enemy enough he can perform grisly fatalities with his fists or weapons, and while the chainsaw lets him do some nice finishers, the other weapons are even nastier. Add to this several types of environmental bladed devices and you have a pretty deep list of ways to dispatch the other contestants.
As the levels progress you see weirder and weirder themes. At the beginning of the game you’ll be fighting thugs and gang bangers but toward the middle zombies will show up, followed by werewolves, aliens in what look like Imperial stormtrooper knockoffs. MadWorld is like a bizarre anime in that it satirizes several genres of storytelling with clever stereotypes, but never strays too far from its own central theme and style. Each level also has a miniboss, hidden Death Watch challenge and the ever-entertaining midlevel Bloodbath challenge.
Once you rack up enough points through random stylistic slaughter, a stereotypical pimp character will introduce the level’s Bloodbath challenge. These are minigames where you must toss as many enemies into a trap before the timer runs out. These range from a speeding train, human fireworks, a giant crushing hand that rises out of a bottomless pit, and even bottles of fizzy “mad juice” which you shake up with the Wii remote, jam down an enemy’s throat, and then watch as they spiral off into the distance.
Do well enough on the Bloodbath challenge and you’re probably close to unlocking the boss fight. I don’t want to spoil any of the bosses for you but rest assured that every one is a lot of fun to fight, with some truly epic finishers to end each battle. You’ll see a lot of gesture prompts during these boss battles, which initiate quick-time “power struggle” events but these are often the most spectacular and extreme parts of the game, and again the gestures work very well. You’ll also get a couple linear motorcycle levels to break up the on-foot stuff, and while these sections are the weakest part of MadWorld, they do offer a nice break from the action which, simply through the concentration of ludicrous violence, can get a bit exhausting.
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