Friday, July 9, 2010

Good to Know review Show #2

A: MadWorld (Wii Game)

The Nintendo Wii is a great success that seems to be reaching its limits. Clearly Nintendo has enjoyed the most success when it comes to sales and even more importantly, at a cultural level. For a third or maybe even fourth time Nintendo has brought home (and portable) consoles to everyday people. From children to the elderly a Wii system is something that can just turn up in all sorts of homes across many different backgrounds and types of people. You can own and enjoy a Wii without really being a "Gamer".

It is however, not to say that a "Gamer" would not or should not own a Wii. It has some great and enjoyable games some of which utilize its motion capture technology and some that do not. Games like Smash Brothers, Zelda Twilight Princess (or so I heard), Mario Galaxy (ditto), Smash Brother Brawl (yeah!!!), and a gigantic pay-per-download digital library of ports (which exists on other consoles too). It is somewhat ironic that the "casual" and often fairly crappy "shovelware" tend to make better and more imaginative use of the Wii's motion capture technology then the "hardcore" games that tend to be better on average.

This is of course only as accurate as the Wii's library for the date of Aug 14th, 2010 but I do feel it will remain partially accurate even if the new Zelda, Kirby, and Metroid games are well received as I expect them to be. Kirby in particular is one I have a lot of hope for because he's just a happy little guy and you cannot help but love him.

The problem is that this is too far and few between. The Wii is more geared towards the non "gamer" or the dreaded casual which may be a shallow way to enjoy video gaming but is certainly not something worthy of scorn. For their influence on what kind of games are deemed potentially profitable enough to be made can be problematic, without their money the entire industry is not last. We, the "gamer", the hardcore, just do not have enough money to put into this now somewhat mature industry. Which is way the, ugghh, "internet indie freeware scene" is so promising despite how painful it is for me to summarize it into four words. Forgive me.

Madworld is an exception in that it is both a high quality "gamer" gamer and it utilizes great use of the Wii technology. It does all this while simultaneously not being a first party (Nintendo developed or at least produced) game. So of course it was a lackluster commercial success because people really like their Party Babyz but it has received most of the critical respect it deserves. It is certainly a unique product on many different levels beyond its gameplay and presentation. You just have to get past the gore which is not asking much for the average gamer. There is something primal and default about violence in the human mind which makes it one of the easiest interactions to engage in without thinking about it. MOre on that later, brah.

Madworld was developed by a small, Japanese, art-house company owned by Sega. Many of their employees are refugees from the too beautiful for this world art-house game company Clover, who were originally owned by Capcom. Clover developed three widely beloved games Viewtiful Joe (I,II), Okami, and Godhand. I still have yet to complete but will someday because I love them. Okami and Viewtiful Joe are fairly innovative when it comes to breathing life into action gameplay and the third is more of a throwback to scrolling beat em ups that are little too limited for modern tastes. It makes up for it (and in a way I think beat em ups have to today in order to continue to exists) with personality. All three of them have a lot of character and personality quite frankly but Godhand benefits the most from it.

Madworld is as fun as it is polished (which is a statement you can agree with if you happen to hate this game). The basic premise is that a city is shut off from the world at large in order for a huge blood sport tournament to take place, filmed and broadcast in real time globally. You are Jack Cayman, a grizzled deadly cyborg who doesn't help people, he kills them. It's up to you to save the mayor's daughter and put an end to this Madworld. Also, there is a virus or something but whatever the story is a good enough background for interesting characterization which is really more important then lining up a sequence of events to the conclusion. At least to myself.

The streets are filled with deadly weapons, hazardous traps, and dangerous freaks. Madmax style urban barbarian gangs, private military security, zombies, and ninjas roam the streets, castles, dojos, secret government laboratories, context free "post/meta" ethnic humor laced east Asian American neighborhoods (ssrsly) and casino floors (double ssrsly). More on that later. It's your job to kill enough mooks to earn enough points for the boss battle. If you want to advance in good time, you need to get creative and intricate with your bloodshed. This is where MadWorld shines, the main reason why it is worth writing and thinking about again over a year after its release.

Much of the environment (which is colorful despite ironically being in black and white) can be used to kill your opponents. It is as (usually) easy as throwing someone into a gigantic tempura batter frying pan, down a grand diner table into a scorching fireplace, into an UFO propulsion turbine (a normal jet turbine too), into an oncoming subway, into a giant reanimated monster's hand, onto a catapult that launches them into the moon (somehow), asshole first onto a giant spike, face first into a toilet, onto electrical panels/wires, into swirling blades, into raw naked outer space (though I have yet to find this), or multiple times onto spikes, spikes, spikes, spikes, spikes. You can also chop them with your chainsaw arm, cram signposts (multiple) into their necks, blow them up with oldschool Chinese fireworks, various intricate routines involving katanas, double chainsaws, (big ass) knives, a spiked bat, a golf club, and a magnet beam. You also have a tendency to finish off your opponent with his or her own weapon. Nice touch. What makes it so great is how intuitive it is. The controls are great and you can pull off all sorts of crazy, depraved shit just by a swing of the Wii-mote and an idea. There is a downside to this as well.

Violence is such a simple basic behavior to engage in. Witness infants crush insects or pull the tails of puppies without (so far as we know) intention. This translate to video games quite well, as a maturing but still fairly young medium/media. Violence, pain, and death are such simple but profound concepts to convey that they were apparent in even the earliest, most basic of games. From calculating the trajectory of a missile, to destroying asteroids, to avoiding murderous ghosts and searching for medication that will allow you to consume them (temporarily), these things can be expressed in a simple flashing or disappearance. That dot, that person, animal, monster, whatever the game asks my imagination to buy is here, right now, I the player consciously moves over to it and 9/10 times back then and now maybe 7.5/10 times today I;m going to either hurt it or kill it. True, there are many games in the past and today where its more about beating or overcoming the non player characters but that is still conflict. One could argue that conflict is the nature, the crux of all stories but video games are a pastime that can have stories but do not need to in order to be a success. Just like songs, and some of the best ones, are narratives filled with characters and a resolution, but the story is essential.

MadWorld is a success on its own but one hopes that it will open the door for new ways for the player to interact with the environment and the NPCs beyond violence. And no, I'm not (at the moment) thinking about sex but rather cooperation with A.I and customization of the environment. Little by little we are seeing gamers games that use these concepts. It is ironically, much more prevalent in the "soft core", "casual market" particularity in browsergames. Developers of games for the more dedicated video game hobbyist can learn from their more shallow and accessible counterparts.

Beyond the game of MadWorld is its awesome, hilarious, and unique style. What impresses myself in particular is that fact this is a very Japanese game developed for Western audiences. Even though the main story itself is disposable if you want it to be, the little touches and in particular the characters are great. Each boss is colorful and filled with personality. Despite the fact that your really do not see much of them outside the fight, you get a sense of who they are and you wish you could see more of them. No matter how mad you may be at them for being so difficult. Jack himself is pretty cool too voiced by Steve Blum with a good mix of badassery and detachment. He's seen it all before but he still makes it interesting. The real stars of the show are never seen. They are two radio announcers who comment on every blow and drop of blood. Howard "Buckshot" Holmes (voiced by comedian Greg Proops) and former DeathWatch (the name of the violent gameshow you play in) fighter Kreese Kreeley (John Dimaggio taking Bender to an even more twisted level). It can be hard to hear everything they say and you will have to adjust the other ambient sounds (mostly screaming, swearing, and industrial machinery tearing flesh and bone), and the music. They repeat themselves often and that's just inevitable. They still have a wide variety of comments and jokes. Your mileage may vary but I thought they were funny. Particularity when they talk about how the semi-offensive violent theme park stage "Asian Town" was created by "throwing a bunch of stereotypes together, they (the DeathWatch) didn't know what they were doing". Being a Japanese game developed solely for Western players, it makes you wonder who is making fun of who.

The game also engages in a little edgy, ethnic humor in the form of "The Black Baron", a bombastic and deadly MC pimp who seems to be invulnerable. He even has his own leit motif! He is voiced by Reno Wilson who was fairly recently criticized for his characters in the Transformers movies Franchise Frenzy and Mudflap. They were accused of, for lack of a better word, being "wiggers" which in a throw away comment in the last fight, falls upon the character of the Black Baron too. You would be hard pressed to find another game that makes a tasteful joke about a blackface but then again, I'm speaking from the super comfortable and fun to live in Caucasian/Anglo perspective. As Rebbecca Mayes put it, "it feels so good to be in the majority/it feels so good to be a white straight man". (her being someone who possesses two of those fortunate backgrounds) This fact continues to be true no matter what little this has to do with my personal merit, personality, or competence, or the good of the world at large.
Awwww yeahhh.

The soundtrack is incredible. At first when the trailer came out, gamers wondered if hip-hop would mesh well with an action game. Beyond Grand Theft Auto, whatever 50-cent is pooping out lately, racing or sports game with soundtracks, and the excellent Def Jam Vendetta series, there is little rap in video games. Donkey Kong 64, aside.

This game has 20 tracks of upbeat, "progressive hip-hop". Well over the majority of these songs are great. I could write a whole other review just on the soundtrack. These tracks utilize a lot horns, drums, clarinets, guitars in their beats. S.O.U.L Purpose's "Survival" is one of my particular favorites. "Get it Up" by Ox, and "Look Pimpin'" by Sick YG are two greats as well. Even though most of the lyrics are written for this game and consisting of themes like chainsaws, blood, and DeathWatch it is still a very enjoyable introduction to indie, upbeat hip-hop. Go onto Youtube and load up a couple tracks. Its well worth your time.

In the end MadWorld is a great game and I predict it will pave the way, directly or subconsciously, to new ways to interact with the digital environment and the npcs. Wii's are available in stores now, you won't have to pay $400 on ebay like this cowboy did a couple of years ago. Toss Platinum Games a few bucks and pick this bad boy up. You will not regret it.

B: Charity (noun/practice/philosophy)

A donation is the act of giving aid to someone or maybe a group of someones you are not related to. "Aid" being the key concept here as it has to be something positive and not something awful like a hard time or AIDS which is touched upon in the first review.

Human beings as a species are particularly skilled at disagreeing with one another which makes the idea of what is good, what is a beneficiary aid (single) a huge problem. From the act of blessing Somoans with sitcoms and bodily self image complexes, broadening the horizons and immune systems of indigenous north/central/south Americans (with varying degrees of intention), and teaching people who search for meaning and a sense of Earthly duty that should instead be ashamed of themselves we often do the most damage when we want to do good. We barely understand what's best for ourselves which makes aiding others a random and sometimes tragic act.

C: The United States (Country 1776-20??)

The United States is a country located between two sensible places like Mexico and Canada. It was founded fairly recently by uppity nouveau riche and built mostly by African slaves, Irishmen, and Chinese people. Its citizens if you can even tell who nowadays, (amirite?) pride themselves in their great tradition of Democracy which is a result of it being a constitutional republic. Its official language is terrible and its currency is the Yuan.

Although a diverse nation, most American lifestyles fall into five different types: cowboys, single moms, guidos, basement dwellers, and Mormons. Sub categories exist and provide a rich cultural tapestry for you to explore if you would like to pay us a visit. We could really use the money.

There are three economic classes in the United States of America: Obscenely wealthy, overworked debt ridden "middle" class angrily evaporating into formless existential, dread, and poor ass motherfuckers. Sheeeeeeeiiiit!

The United States is one of the largest and most influential nations in the world. It is filled hundreds of millions of people who cannot stand the way they use the freedom they themselves enjoy to live their lives. Nations all over the world depend on their aid, military, and technology while devouring/aping their culture all while hating them for it. The United States is the only 1st world country with 3rd world leaders, voters, and children.

As a nation, the United States gets an 8/10 because guess who lives there? This Cowboy; right here. Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah Baby!

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