Reviewed: January 10, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Party games are certainly nothing new to the home video game consumer, although it is still one of the smaller, more niche-like genres in the overall scheme of things. My personal experience with party games dates back to the mid-90’s when Panasonic launched the “doomed-to-fail” 3D0 system and a little title called Twisted. Part board game, part TV game show, Twisted offered live action video combined with CG graphics to create a wild and crazy party game that was a favorite at every gathering I had. It is perhaps one of the few reasons I still have my 3D0 lying around today.
Since then we have seen an emergence of new and varied party games like Chef’s Luv Shack on the Dreamcast or Mario and Shrek party games on Nintendo’s systems. Even NAMCO’s recently released electronic board game, Pac Man Fever could be considered a party game.
Presto Studios has recently closed their doors but as their farewell parting gift they have left Xbox owners with a new party game called Whacked!. Much like the aforementioned Twisted and Chef’s Luv Shack, Whacked! takes place in a TV game show setting complete with obnoxious host and a cast of insane but loveable characters. While those other games taxed your knowledge on trivia or perhaps your dexterity in a variety of simple mini-games, Whacked! is a pure frag-fest. The only way to win is to score big and the only way to score is to eliminate (or whack) the competition.
The game show atmosphere is strong in the opening movie and player introductions and there are hilarious commercials that pop-up between the levels, but once you are into the game you lose all sense of participating in a TV show. Gone are the stage, curtains, lights, and podiums. Whacked! simply becomes an arena combat game much like Funcom’s No Escape. That’s not to say the game isn’t fun; but rather it loses much of that game show flavor that those other titles were able to maintain throughout the entire game. Any pretense of a game show is totally lost in multiplayer whether online, linked or split-screen. Whacked! reverts to a twisted variation of Unreal Championship with cartoon characters and outlandish weapons.
Whacked! has been around for awhile now. It was released back in early October, but since this game was designed around online play using the Xbox Live service I’ve been sitting on this review until I could take the experience online and give the game the full attention it deserves. As much fun as I had with Whacked! playing alone or even with others on the same system, there is something about taking this experience online with voice chat and trash talk that is just so much better.
After the energetic intro and cast introduction by the flamboyant host, Van Tastic, you get to pick your character from one of the seven available contestants, only four of which are unlocked in the beginning. This is purely a visual choice, as the character selection has no bearing on how the game is played. Regardless of how many humans are playing, there will always be four contestants battling in each arena with the computer filling in for any missing players.
Once you have your contestant you move to the staging area where you will find three doors. Behind each one is a different level with a different game mode. Arenas and game modes are independent of each other so you might not always be doing the same thing each time you find yourself under the Christmas tree or fighting in and around the kitchen sink.
There are 13 challenging levels or arenas you get to play in and six variations of gameplay. This may sound limiting, but the six games are all quite inventive and a blast to play.:
By design, the single-player game is a pass/fail experience. There is no score and no second place. If you don’t come in first you lose and must retry until you do manage to win. While this is acceptable in the multiplayer games, it takes a lot of the fun and all of the game show flavor out of this title. You simply resolve yourself to an endless stream of mini-games until you finally frag your way to the finale. Whacked! is definitely a game that you will want to primarily play with other humans.
Playing Whacked! online gives you much greater freedom over the game. You can pick the level, the game type, the characters, and even the goals such as timer settings, required stars, weapons, etc. Whacked! uses every bit of the Xbox Live service including the friends list, voice chat, and voice communication including the voice masking options to digitally alter your voice to fit your chosen character. There is nothing more gratifying that trash talking the opposition as you tear into them with a variety of weapons. Those of you who have already signed on with Xbox Live already have the demo version of Whacked! that came with your kit. That’s only a small taste of what you get with the full package.
There are a few things that are locked or hidden in Whacked! You start off with only four of the seven contestants available and winning with each unlocks another including your wacky host. New weapons will become available as you progress through the levels, and arenas are unlocked as you finish them in the Game Show mode. If you play the game online using Xbox Live all characters, weapons, and levels are immediately available and ready for action.
Your main reward, or should I say “incentive” for winning is the varied and often hilarious assortment of commercials that are played after each level. These are primitive in design, looking like low-tech Flash ads you might see on the Internet, but that doesn’t detract from their satirical or often demented nature. While some of these are funny enough to send streams of milk jetting out your nose (even when you haven’t been drinking milk), others will leave you holding your controller in stunned silence saying, “Huh?”. Once you have unlocked/viewed a commercial you can view them at anytime from the main menu and share the laughter with friends and family.
Whacked! isn’t pushing the Xbox to any new limits or even taxing the nVidia chip too heavily, but it does look very nice. The graphics are wildly exaggerated with plenty of vibrant and overly saturated colors creating a festive cartoon-like atmosphere. The simple nature of the backgrounds only enhance the sophisticated special effects such as smoke trails, fiery explosions, colored lighting, and even some good particle effects.
All of the characters are exaggerated caricatures that look like they were taken right out of the Ren and Stimpy universe. One look at little Charity with her golden pigtails and you will instantly place her in those famous “Log Commercials” or even “Powdered Toast Man”. The only contestant who doesn’t have a twisted visual style is Lucy, but even her character is given a hilarious spin when she loses her clothes in the introduction and is forced to wear black censorship bars for the entire game. Lucy is sure to generate as many online inquiries for a nude cheat as Lara Croft ever did.
In a word, Whacked! has “style”, and its simplistic, yet charming design is perfectly suited to the theme of the game and the party genre in general. Regardless of whether you are playing alone, online, or even in a split-screen, the framerate is continuously smooth which makes for great gameplay.
The music in Whacked! ranges from the typical game show opening number to the cheesy jingles of the commercials. When the action starts the music takes a definite backseat to the sound effects and continuous one-liners the characters will be delivering.
The speech is hilarious with Van Tastic sounding like the adopted love child of Gary Owens and Don Pardo. All of the other characters have unique voices perfectly matched to their appearance. These characters all have an impressive library of trash talk for all situations. You will hear special comments when you grab a weapon, when you die, when you win, or when you lose. Sure, you will keep hearing many of the same comments over and over, but they are just as funny the hundredth time you hear them, as they were the first. The only narrative that did wear thin was the announcer who has a limited vocabulary and talks too many times each round.
Sound effects are inventive and fun. The weapons all sound great and are as unique as the designs themselves. The levels all have appropriate ambient effects like the chugging toy train that circles the Christmas tree level. To top off the excellent audio presentation, you get all of these excellent sounds in a wonderful Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.
As a solo game, Whacked! will keep you busy for 8-10 hours, but anyone who buys this game to play it alone probably buys Monopoly or Scrabble and plays them alone. Playing on the Xbox Live service isn’t mandatory. You can have plenty of fun just challenging friends on one Xbox or even linking two together (does anybody really do that?), but your fun factor will multiply exponentially if and when you take this game online.
Given the limited number of games currently available for the Xbox Live, Whacked! will probably do quite well. When it launched in October, more than a month before Xbox Live, it was hardly worth the $50 price of admission, and even now this is a game more suited toward a $30 price tag. Luckily, for those who have waited, that is what you can find this game for at just about any store.
If you are looking for some intense combat action, demented fun, or just wanting a new online challenge, Whacked! does a great job of meeting all of these needs while offering one of the better party games available on the Xbox – granted there aren’t that many. You’ll have plenty of fun online or off. Just make sure to have a friend or two handy.