People have been competitively stuffing their gullets with exorbitant amounts of various foods for over a hundred years, but not until the release of Major League Eating: The Game on WiiWare has this activity been immortalised in a videogame. Now, before you ask yourself whether or not you’d want to try a game about something as repulsive as filling your stomach to the point of near-violent regurgitation; consider that there are few sports with a greater need for a virtual replication than competitive eating. Since there is an absolute limit to the amount of food a body can ingest in any given time, potential competitors need alternatives to prevent the probable physical and financial cost of over-training (or training at all, for that matter). In this sense, Mastiff has attempted to do a service for aspiring gurgitators everywhere by releasing MLE on WiiWare.
MLE is as much of a fighting game as it is about competitive eating. Much like Street Fighter, it is all about picking a fighter/gurgitator and going head to head in battle. However in this case the goal is to stomach more food than your opponent or force them to regurgitate theirs within the two-minute bouts. There are a total of ten characters from the real life Major League Eating franchise to choose from; each has varying skills, strengths, and food of choice. The various skills improve your characters' ability to cram food faster, keep food down longer, chew quicker, or settle the contents of their stomach easier. This lends a fair bit of strategy to the choice you make as it pays to choose a character well suited to a particular task. Once you’ve selected a character you’ll put their digestive system to the test in a series of competitions against the CPU or a friend. You can even take your battles online with the Wi-Fi connection mode against friends or strangers.
There are twelve specific kinds of food that are divided into one of three categories based on the motion required to put it in your mouth. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and burritos require a simple gesture upwards with the Wiimote as if you were stuffing your face with imaginary food. Smaller foods, such as peppers and meatballs are tossed into your mouth with a flick of the wrist, the larger the flicking motion the higher the toss will be. Finally, foods like corn on the cob and spare ribs require a “typewriter” motion where you move the Wiimote back and forth (presumably in front of your face) for the desired effect. Each type of food requires a slightly different: for example, spicy foods cause havoc with your stomach if ingested too fast. The challenge is how you get all this food into your stomach, and manage to keep it there.
Once you’ve moved the food from your plate to your mouth, it’s time to chew each piece twice before swallowing. Your mouth is represented in the upper corner of the screen and divided into seven sections. Accordingly, each piece of food is represented in your mouth by a rectangular shaped morsel. As you fill up your mouth, a cursor goes back and forth across the food. Pressing the B button will cause you to chew the piece of food highlighted by the cursor. If you accidentally try to chew an area of your mouth without food, you’ll bite your tongue and stun your character for a second or two. After a piece is chewed twice you’ll automatically swallow it and your stomach, which is represented by a gauge towards the bottom of the screen, will begin to fill up.
If your stomach becomes too full, your character will return his or her meal to the chef and you’ll lose the match. To prevent this unsavory turn of events you must hold down the A button and wiggle the Wiimote to jiggle your character’s body, which allows the contents of their stomach to settle and make room for yet more food. Cramming your mouth full while chewing and jiggling is a hectic balancing act. This activity is more akin to a rhythm-action mini-game than anything else and it all works surprisingly well as a virtual interpretation of competitive eating. However, for better or worse there is significantly more depth to the concept than merely out-eating your opponent.
In practice, MLE is littered with power-ups to help sway a contest. As you grab food off the table occasionally a power-up will appear at the top of the pile triggering a race to grab it first. Once a player puts that item into his or her mouth the power-up will appear in their inventory and can be activated by pressing either the left or right on the D-pad. Effects range from toxic flatulence and nuclear burps to antacids and counter-attacks. Some of these power-ups are well thought-out and effective while others are just plain annoying (food that tastes like poo) or even nearly game-breaking (ie, "ketch up", which automatically gives you the same score are your opponent). Generally, these power-ups do add a sense of strategy to MLE; however, there is an unfortunate reliance on stockpiling and using them in succession to push your opponent over the brink.
Likewise, against the more difficult opponents speed eating almost goes out the window entirely, as using these power-ups is seemingly the only way to beat them. When they work in your favour of course it’s not so bad, but when you are throttling someone and they luck out with a nice string of power-ups, leaving you no recourse but to succumb to their effects, it’s simply too random to do anything but annoy and confuse. And, unfortunately, this isn’t the worst of it. Some power-ups even transport you to a separate mini-game- - either a burping contest or the old favourite, hot potato. Whilst these mini-games add variety to the mix, they are mostly just awkward and unnecessary and distract from the core gameplay.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, is certainly MLE’s strong suit provided you can find some worthwhile competition. Both local and online multiplayer are exactly as you’d expect with the one worthwhile tweak being that you get to use a power-up when you pick it up rather than when you put it in your mouth. It all works without a hitch and provided you can find some people online, it’s a blast to play when competing against someone of a similar skill level. The online mode offers leaderboards, random matchmaking and the ability to play your friends, though only if you both exchange those pesky friend codes!
Many people will no doubt get a kick out of MLE's light-hearted and largely adolescent approach to competitive gameplay. It offers a unique blend of concepts wrapped around a somewhat distasteful premise and vulgar humour. Challenging your friends to virtual eating contests is undeniably fun although the power-ups do often spoil the otherwise surprisingly solid mechanics: the fact that you can’t turn them off for a standard eating contest serves to undermine the integrity of the whole premise. As it stands, the developers decided it was best to leave everything on the plate and invite gamers to accept a meal with perhaps one too many flavours. Due to the repetitive nature of the gameplay the long-term value of this game is questionable, but make no mistake -- this game is certainly better than you might have assumed at first glance.