Dark Side of the Wii
Over the top blood-soaked Nintendo action
By Joseph Luster
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The name Nintendo has been associated with the lighter side of gaming for as long as most people can remember, and that's not gonna change any time soon. Many will recall the disappointment of owning a "superior" version of Mortal Kombat on Super Nintendo, only to find arena walls just aren't as menacing when slathered in... spit. Or sweat. Or whatever the hell that was they used to replace those comically huge globs of blood.
Despite these family leanings, third parties are more than happy to satiate motion-control bloodlust among the platform's audience, even with all the risks involved. Nintendo consoles have always had a puny but proud share of developers and publishers willing to test the limits of splatter's success, though the creativity present on Wii titles from the likes of Sega and Ubisoft is more notable than, say, that of your average survival horror game. This is frivolous action madness, with exclamation points tacked at the end of every motion, most of which end in a shower-spray of blood that would make Ogami Itto pack up his cart and roll home.
Platinum Games' MadWorld is perhaps the best example of a game that's so wildly original, so shameless in its presentation, and is suited perfectly for Wii despite how severely the system's capabilities detract from the visual flair. It's tough to run through the insane, black-and-white comic environments of Jefferson Island and not think of how incredible it would all be on a system that could not only do the aesthetic justice, but reach out to a larger audience that really cares. At the same time, it's also an example of motion control done right, and much of the intensity would be lost without the flailing, rotating and slicing that turns the opposition into disgusting mush while color commentators do their best to trivialize the mayhem.
No More Heroes—published by Ubisoft and developed by Grasshopper Manufacture with wild man Suda51 AKA Goichi Suda (Killer7) at the helm—is another action series that gleefully blazes down its own violent path. It even stars a bonafide otaku in the form of Travis Touchdown, which is absolutely one of the best protagonist names ever concocted. No More Heroes is one of the fortunate few to be afforded a sequel, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (which we reviewed in the latest issue, the very reason you may be reading this right now!). However, even Travis was prepared to take his fight to greener pastures where he may get a little more attention; a home where he can take a crap in peace (and in high-definition). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we'll be getting the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 ports (subtitled Heroes' Paradise) here in North America, but here's hoping. Unlike MadWorld, No More Heroes is a title I would prefer to play sans motion controls.
There's a certain trepidation with releasing titles like these, and for good reason. Such bravery is to be commended, though, because without it we wouldn't have stuff like The House of the Dead: Overkill. Sega's fifth entry in the long-running zombie-zapping rail shooter was also the first to be exclusively released on console, making it sort of a double whammy for Wii owners fond of the genre. And who could deny its charms? A Grindhouse B-movie aesthetic that struck when the look was aaaalmost at its most marketable, relatively speaking. Lots of cursing and violence; basically everything most people don't expect from a Wii title. The fact that the game sold 45,000 copies and still managed to meet Sega's expectations speaks volumes of said expectations.
That, my friends, is the ultimate downside to all this fun. We may be left with some genuinely awesome action titles, but it doesn't do much for anyone if nobody's buying them. Sega certainly isn't too happy about the performance of some of their would-be heavy hitters, with Sega's Mike Hayes recently calling MadWorld a "mismatch with the Wii audience." Hayes speaks both in terms of what people actually want to play on Wii (especially when they own other systems), and what the console can pull off in general.
Maybe the solution is that simple, but it would also be a disappointing revelation to have about an entire console's potential library. If titles like MadWorld perform so poorly regardless of near universal critical praise, you can bet less and less third party publishers will be willing to take the risk involved in putting content like that on Nintendo's system. What can you do? Well, if you enjoy the effort put into no-holds-barred action contained in games of this ilk, buy them. They may never pull New Super Mario Bros. Wii numbers, but for a few dollars more, they'll at least have more of a future than none at all.