Review: MDK2 (WiiWare)

Maniacal. Deadly. Killer.

If we had to sum up Interplay's MDK2 in one word, we would choose "old-school." With a silly sense of humour, unforgiving difficulty and enough bullets to take down a small country — or in this case, alien invasion — MDK2 is a "game for gamers" through and through. And while it shows its age a little, it still proves to be one of the strongest titles yet to hit WiiWare.

BioWare-developed MDK2 picks up right where Shiny's 1997 original left off with our three protagonists celebrating their victory over an alien invasion of Earth, only to discover a threatening presence that escaped them in Canada. Hero janitor extraordinaire Kurt Hectic, donning the series' signature coil suit, is sent down to take it out. Players step in as Kurt to see what's what and give the aliens what-for, but discovers a larger, rather silly threat and must deal with it.

By and large, this is the same game that released as MDK2: Armageddon on PlayStation 2 in 2001. No content has been cut from the main game and the only real compromise comes in the audio and visual departments, where it loses some of its nicer bells and whistles. The sound is noticeably compressed, but that's a necessary sacrifice to squeeze a CD-ROM title into a claustrophobic 40Mb for WiiWare. Thanks to strong art direction the game still looks nice — although characters appear rather blocky for this day and age — but the lack of shadows, which helped smooth over the rough spots in the original release, are missed. The framerate runs at a very smooth clip, too, with no slowdown apparent among the hordes of enemies, explosions and alien worlds. Widescreen support, however, is sadly missing.

As it stems from Armageddon, the WiiWare version includes the selectable difficulty levels absent from 2000's Dreamcast and PC release. The choice of difficulty is welcome because, man, this game can be brutal. Much of the challenge can be attributed to overwhelming opposition (of which there is plenty) as well as insane level design. Platforming feats expected of you can be downright diabolical at times as you try to leap between impossibly thin girders or across a gap that is inches away from certain doom. Some may find themselves having less fun here as these portions can become quite aggravating, a problem that we didn't feel as strongly during the equally challenging but more entertaining task of battling overwhelming hordes of enemies. Judicious use of quicksave/load helps alleviate some of this frustration.

Between miraculous feats of platforming and seemingly endless streams of bad guys in places, death is inescapable, much in the vein of shooters like Contra or Metal Slug. What sets MDK2 apart from these — besides actually being fun in 3D — is variety. Each of the three characters comes with its own abilities and rhythm to mix up the blasting. Kurt's coil suit is equipped with a ribbon parachute for gliding as well as an arm cannon that doubles as a helmet with built-in sniper rifle. Max has six limbs and a jetpack, allowing him to quad-wield weapons and zip about in the air. Dr. Hawkins lacks combat strength but makes up for it in crazy science, creating nuclear toasters and leaf blowers out of materials strewn around the environment. Unfortunately, Hawkins' stages tend to rely on non-combat scenarios and he proves the most frustrating character to play, feeling like a tedious detour from what makes this game enjoyable.

It also doesn't take itself in any way seriously. Between the aforementioned toaster gun, cigar-smoking dog, potty humour and an antagonist named Shwang Shwing, the game is heavily marinated in a campy, playful sci-fi vibe sorely missing from a lot of titles nowadays.

We were slightly surprised to see just how responsive and quick MDK2's controls are: pointer aiming is a natural fit and feels very smooth and accurate. You can only adjust turn sensitivity, but honestly we'd be surprised if many felt the need to tinker with the default settings at all.

Conclusion

MDK2 is at its best when it goes nuts with large, crazy enemies and bullets galore through its strange environments, but not so much when it comes to puzzle-solving or platforming. If you can put up with or simply muscle through these very weak sections then you'll find MDK2 a great blast from the past.