How could a game ever be a hit if it doesn’t feel like a hit?
I finished the heinously violent gameshow-of-death Wii game “MadWorld” over the weekend and liked every part of it except for its rape joke and the black-face art direction for its most prominent black character. It’s not because of those things that I can see why the game wasn’t a hit.
I can’t mention those things and skate right to my point, right? Ok, then quickly: a game that has the player chainsaw other people in half or spike and re-spike someone bloodily onto a fence has already violated many decent standards. It’s hurried along that way by its two gameshow announcers who narrate the events they see the player do in the most jokingly profane way possible, with frequent references to murder, sex and moms. For some reason, most of that feels expected. But a “joke” about how (paraphrasing now) “No means yes, and yes means anal” is not funny to me. Who makes jokes about that, even if these guys are supposed to be satirical targets for a popular culture in love with violence. A rape joke is repugnant.
As for how a black character, the Black Baron, is rendered: just as white characters’ lips are rendered as black in this cartoonish black-and-white game, the Baron’s are rendered white. He looks as if he is in blackface and plays the slapstick fool while dressed as a pimp and strutting around with a scantily-clad white women. That’s every vaudeville stereotype of a black man wrapped into one character, I think. At least the game has a second, positive black character rendered more positively, to balance that out.
And at least the game’s supposed to be a satire.
I didn’t just address those matters “quickly,” I know. But it can’t be helped.
So why am I surprised that this game wasn’t a hit? Not because of what I wrote above.
Because there’s not a lot of content on the disc.
Yes, it’s an M-rated game on a system — the Wii — which is primarily owned by people looking for E-rated and T-rated fare. That probably hurts it.
Yes, it’s in black-and-white, which probably scares off some people.
But worst of all, I’m guessing, is that it presents itself as a slight package. I know that the brevity of a game isn’t always obvious to prospective consumers. No one looking at the game on a shelf in GameStop will know that the game can be completed in under four hours, nor that, within those four hours, they will experience some of the most clever visual design I’ve seen in a game.
People considering “MadWorld” as a possible purchase won’t get the message that they might get from “Grand Theft Auto” — this game is long and I can talk about it for a long time with the many people I know who have it. They won’t get the vibe they may from considering “Wii Fit“: this game can last me months as I use it to get in shape. Nor might they think of it as they may “Call of Duty” — this game has the kind of multiplayer I can keep going back to.
“MadWorld” can’t express those things because it doesn’t have them to express. It is, at best, the equivalent of a good mid-spring art-house crime movie, an experience that won’t land it on a best-of list for 2009’s top games. It’s a diversion, an experiment, a left turn. It’s a brief exit from everything else, not a lopng vacation to a new place.
I heard on the “Listen Up” podcast that it should be a lower-priced game sold as a download on Xbox Live Arcade.
That sounds about right.
Say what you will about “MadWorld”’s values. And you can say a lot about them.
But as for value?
I’ve played it. I’d recommend people try it to experience its amazing visual design. But even with its multiplayer mini-game challenges and its offer to replay its brief campaign, it does not strike me as a game that can command full price.
Why’s it not a hit?
Perhaps because it’s not grand enough to be one.