Sega Grows Up
A quick search for Mature-rated Wii titles on EB Games’ website yields 11 entries; Nintendo’s official site displays 18. And both lists include yet-to-be released games such as Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop. Comparatively, the results for E-Rated games are a whopping 160 and 242 at EBGames.com and Nintendo.com, respectively. Granted, these Internet-researched results aren’t entirely accurate—neither site includes the long (and best) forgotten M-rated gem Target Terror, but the out-of-whack ratio is still glaringly apparent. Of course, anyone who owns a Wii—or has seen its TV adds sporting spry old folks playing Wii bowling—is already well aware of the console’s family-friendly reputation. And for most of the Mii-making populace, this demographic imbalance is just dandy. But for many Wii owners, especially those who earned their gaming stripes during the NES and SNES eras, the kiddy-loving console just isn’t cutting it; longtime Nintendo supporters, tired of cooking with Mama, training their brains, and—gasp—hula hooping on the balance board, are clamoring for quality, adult-aimed content: games for gamers.
Thankfully, help is on the way. And it’s coming from the unlikeliest of places. Sega, the publisher and developer best known for its cute, blue-furred mascot, is beginning to emerge as 2009’s go-to developer for mature-focused content on the Wii. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh God no, not an M-rated Sonic the Hedgehog!” Not to worry, while a smoking and swearing Sonic would make for an interesting experiment, Sega, despite what history will tell you, is capable of cranking out more than their annual dozen or so Sonic-starring games. In fact, the three titles garnering the best buzz on their upcoming slate don’t feature any furry critters at all.
MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill, and The Conduit not only look like Sega’s best Wii offerings to date, but also three of the system’s best games, period. Each, in their own way, are bringing something to the console that core gamers have been craving since first picking up a Wii-mote. Up until now, a single publisher releasing three mature Wii games in such a short period of time (all are expected to land by summer) was unheard of. It's pretty impressive when you consider the last M-rated entry worth wielding the Wii-mote for was the over-a-year-old No More Heroes.
Speaking of Travis Touchdown’s beyond-bizarre adventure through Santa Destroy, MadWorld totally looks like an idea that could have spilled from Suda 51’s carnival ride of a brain; its super-stylized visuals, ultra-violence, and twisted humor are right in step with the likes of Killer 7 and No More Heroes. This promising entry, however, is coming from Platinum Games, the newly formed studio with a strong pedigree tied to Okami and Devil May Cry. If you’ve seen the game in action, you already know it’ll be the bloodiest thing to hit the Wii since your grandma slipped off the balance board and required stitches. Fighting through a life-or-death game show, players incorporate a variety of environmental objects to pull off stomach-turning kills. Tossing brutes into industrial-sized fans or introducing their backsides to a spiked wall is just a Wii-mote swing away. Chainsawing or head butting them into bloody, pulpy piles is also a hoot. But it’s not all severed limbs and disemboweling; MadWorld also adopts a mostly black and white—except for all that bright red blood—artistic style, that’s refreshingly unlike the candy-land palette usually painting Wii games. The striking sight of bloodbath action unfolding against a comic book-like canvas is reason enough to check this one out.
Less artistic, but just as gory is the latest in the on-rails zombie shooter franchise, House of the Dead: Overkill. It’d be a mistake, though, to simply dismiss this one as a phoned-in sequel looking to cash-in on its past success. You see, developer Headstrong Games are taking the series in a direction that should appeal to adults and zombie-cappin’ little punks alike; rather than treading the easy headshot-happy path, they’ve actually put as much effort into the inspired presentation as they have in creating endless shambling hordes for us to shoot at. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of mindless zombie blasting, but the real draw is the title’s authentic grindhouse style. Taking a cue from Quentin Tarantino’s attempt to revive the cult genre, Overkill adopts what the developers are calling “pulp funk horror”, a style that oozes cheesy b-movie dialogue, 70’s style music, and retro vibes. It’s a smart shift in style that saves House of Dead’s latest from being just another me-too entry.
Sega’s most ambitious project may not be as fueled by pure balls-out violence, but it’s clearly a title that has gamers squarely in its sights. The Conduit is a sci-fi first-person shooter that pushes the Wii hardware to new, eye-popping levels; it’s one of the console’s best looking titles to date, incorporating the kind of techie effects usually reserved for games landing on the “other” consoles. It also spins a fun conspiracy yarn, utilizes intuitive FPS controls, and promises to be the premier online shooter for the Wii. While all this is enough to push The Conduit past the competition, it’s the game’s incredibly deep customization that really shows its love for longtime gamers. In-game—without having to back out to the main menu—players can access an unbelievable amount of options, from detailed nunchuck and Wii-mote mapping to the ability to place HUD elements wherever you like. I’m guessing it’ll be the only game on this list to not get slapped with a proper M-rating, but its dedication to core gamers, both in its serious treatment of the genre and its strong suite of customization options, earns it an entirely different kind of maturity.
Walking away from a recent Sega press preview, I wasn’t struck by any one individual game as much as I was the company’s unexpected new direction. I’ll be the first to admit that Sonic’s handlers have done little to impress over the last several years, but their newfound commitment to bringing appealing adult games to a console that so desperately needs them should be commended. In a time when studios are falling victim to an unstable economy, it’s refreshing to see one take a risk that could not only pay off for them, but also for their customers. Plus, it’ll finally give me an excuse to shovel that mountain of dust off my Wii console. Actually, that job may call for a snowblower.
[Editor's Note: since the penning of this story, Sega has seriously dampened the hopes of Aliens game fans by pushing back one game and killing another, putting RPG developer Obsidian Entertainment at risk of having to close their studio. It did seem like Sega had just a few too many Aliens-related projects going, but let's hope that the best makes it to store shelves and that Obsidian can keep operating.]