Thursday, September 24, 2015


Are you going to let the aliens destroy our planet??

Let's look at one of my all-time favorite classics, the original 3D successor to Shiny Entertainment's Earthworm Jim!

VGR: MDK or alternatively MDK1, also known as Murder Death Kill or Mission: Deliver Kindness
From Shiny Entertainment/Shokwave (Mac)/Neversoft (PSX)/Playmates Interactive Entertainment/Interplay Entertainment
Played on PC
Also available on PSX

Type 3D action shooter/Run & gun
Year 1997

While Shiny Entertainment left the Earthworm Jim series in the hands of their parent publisher company Interplay Entertainment, the original team went on to make their very first 3D action game... while Interplay was making an original 3D entry in EWJ series! Much of the original developers being Jim returned, including composer Tommy Tallarico!

Since Shiny's game was going to be a big departure for them, they wanted to develop an entire new concept and IP. That's how they came up with MDK.

Released in 1997, MDK is also the same type of "run & gun" action shooter. This one being played from a third person perspective. It was also published by the same company Playmates Interactive Entertainment with an eventual option to produce an entire toyline out of the game - like the original Earthworm Jim. Only that partnership wouldn't last much longer, and in Europe MDK ended up published through Interplay Entertainment instead.

The game was developed for PC, with later ports for Mac and PSX.

Why was the game called MDK? Well, it's a fairly strange and random reason. Officially it was just a temporary name, that finally stuck. It never had any real meaning. Although depending whom you ask that question they might have another explanation for that. It appears to be a nod to the "Murder, Death, Kill" expression coined by the film Demolition Man. But the actual story of the game refers to the mission to stop the alien invasion in the game as "Mission: Deliver Kindness". A file in the installation of the game alludes to the fact it might mean whatever you mean, for example "Mother's Day Kisses". And the Japanese release of the game as "My Dear Knight" on the back cover! So what is it? Just a silly codename for the project they never ended changing for the final version of the game. The sequel would actual provide a much better explanations allowing you to play with all the main characters meaning MDK stood all along for "Max-Doc-Kurt". But in recent years Shiny's own David Perry has gone on record saying the title was always supposed to be "Murder Death Kill", but that might have caused some issues with Playmates for the eventual planned toy line, and using MDK would allow to avoid using those words.

Our story begins on Earth.. before going to space. And then back planet-side.

It all began with this scientist, Dr. Fluke Hawkins. Dr. Hawkins made an outstanding discovery a few years ago, some new type of matter floating in space... but nobody believed him! Ridiculed by the entire scientific community, Hawkins decided to exile himself to space! He built a space station, the Jim Dandy. He bribed this laboratory janitor Kurt Hectic (with promise of goulash) t come along for the ride. Hawkins promised to never return... at least until he would finally come up with "some really good stuff". Up there the Doc built a robot dog called "Bones", which Kurt nicknamed Max.

But our heroes would be forced to come back sooner than expected when, one day, aliens invaded planet Earth!

These aliens are called the "Stream Riders". They're under the command of Gunter Glut - aka "Gunta". They've invaded countless worlds until now, stripping each one of them of their natural resources. The primary force of the Stream Riders are the Grunts, robotic-enhanced lizards in armor which come in all kind of shapes and sizes. Sometimes armed with mounted weapons or tanks. They've already deployed several generators to call for the rest of the troops. They've come to our world to strip it of all its minerals resources!

But don't worry, our heroes will return to save Earth!

You see, our brilliant professor created this fantastic supersuit (just like Earthworm Jim before), the Coil Suit! A weird alien-fabric skin-tight bulletproof body armor, which is perfect for a quick atmospheric re-entry. It comes equipped with an arm-attached chaingun with unlimited ammo that can turn into a sniper rifle! But the Doc is too old for the suit, and Bones has way too many limbs to enter it. Kurt Hectic must become a hero!

Our reluctant hero is dispatched on "Mission: Deliver Kindness". The objective? To bring death from above, and shot your way through this violent badass adventure! Going after each alien one by one, until you reach their leader Gunter Glut for one final chase into their own alien homeworld (to free Bones later on).

These giant fortresses called the "Minecrawlers" are already heading towards the major cities! There's 8 of them, as Kurt Hectic you must play through 6 missions to destroy all these Minecrawlers and put a stop to the Stream Riders invasion. The first one is about to reach Laguna Beach (fun fact, that is where Shiny's studios are located).

The game is action packed, but also pretty funny with plenty of self-referential humor.

Each levels begins with a quick orbital jump! Using the awesome "Coil Suit", Kurt is forced to drop off space directly into the flying Minecrawlers and avoid getting hit in the process.

Once you get to the ground, MDK's gameplay is that of a fairly familiar third person shooter... well, except once you enter the sniper mode (more on that below).

Kurt has a access to a wide range of weapons. You start off only equipped with your trusty (and infinite) mounted chaingun. There's a few upgrades and power-ups. Doc keeps sending you a few items like a "decoy inflatable Kurt" to drew the attention of the Grunts away from you.

Whenever you need to make a big jump, you can use the built-in ribbon chute to glide around or hover above updrafts.

The levels are fairly huge actually. You can try avoiding confrontation or rising alerts as much as possible to infiltrate the Minecrawlers to simply go guns ablazing. On the way you must deactivate all the generators you find. Once you reach a control center you must face a boss fight, usually the local commander. Each Minecrawler has its own distinct theme and aesthetic, representing the personality of their commander.

It's not all just shooting, though. There's a fairly big amount of puzzles and platforming to perform as well as part of the challenge.

The Coil Suit is a fantastic gameplay mechanic!

Not only does it give the game an extra iconic imagery and several little control gimmicks, it also works as a way to switch from third to first person.

When you enter the "sniper mode" the gameplay differs a little. For one you get a different set of weapons and power-ups from the standard gameplay, but you get a completely different HUD through this camera.

It allows Kurt to zoom in on enemy targets and outside the few situations where you're kind of forced to use that, it can be really useful to pull off impressive headshots.

Plus spotting the aliens when they haven't noticed you yet is always funny.

In addition to the standard third and first person sequences, there's also a few mini-games to break up the pacing here and there.

Aside from the main atmospheric re-entry jumps, the game will often feature a small mission to perform of different controls from time to time (kind Earthworm Jim 2 actually). Like having to drop a bomb on the enemies, a snowboarding sequence, an infiltration segment disguised as a robot, etc.!

Completing one of those missions that often pop up on screen might result in Hawkins sending you some special weapons (for example if you grab all the stuff the Doc sends during the skydiving introductions, you will obtain all these items in your inventory in the following level).

Levels are fairly long, composed of different sections. There's the main "fight arenas", which are often connected from one another by tubes or platforms.

After destroying a Minecrawler there's a whole escape scene in the fallout of that explosion.

At the time, the game was really impressive. While the 3D was kind of basic compared to some other games, the game did run perfectly smooth and fast on even the lowest RAMs. Thanks to Shiny using sprites on several in-game elements. After the skydiving, Kurt's 3D models leaves the stage for a 2D pre-rendered sprite (pretty seamlessly might I add!). There's also some really nice impressive reflections in the last few alien levels (even if Kurt doesn't appear to have any reflection).

MDK was Shiny Entertainment's big follow up to Earthworm Jim at the time.

It relies on a lot of similar ideas. The same type of quirky humor and edgy art direction. And like Jim before, it turned out to be a pretty successful game. Their first venture in 3D was a success.

The game might appear to be a bit more serious than Earthworm Jim was, but it really has the same type of bizarre twisted sense of humor.

Actually, Earthworm Jim even has a cameo in one of the stages. An entire stage features EWJ "1-up" head icons to collect and cows even drop on your enemies!

Dave Perry was still working at Shiny at the time (he stayed up until the two Matrix games, before forming Double Helix) and Douglas TenNapel was just briefly consulted during the development.

For such a weird comedy game, MDK has some great scifi concepts in my eyes. The Coil Suit alone is easily one of the best most iconic suits I've seen in modern games in years (and let's be frank, it's probably less generic than Master Chief's from Halo which is just a more detailed Doomguy).

There's a lot of attention put into details, a great art design.

Even the entire manual (remember those?) was given special care. It was entirely written (and translated all over the world) in the form of the diary of eccentric inventor Dr. Fluke Hawkins!

MDK is a fairly simple enough game, but it comes with some great concepts and ideas. It's easily one of the best action shooter from the early 3D generation of gaming. With some pretty decent platform to boot. It's a classic game everyone should experience at least once!

The game ended up a bit shorter than it was originally meant to be, despite the huge maze-like levels. They originally intended to have 8 levels  (as many as the 8 Minecrawlers in the story), but because they tried making each one of those hue and unique they didn't have enough time for the whole game and had to cut down those to 6. (Apparently no work was ever done to those 2 missing levels).

The game can be a bit challenging at times due to the lengthy stages. Plus there's no save! You need to do those stages in one sitting!! They were meant to have mid-way breaks but that was also scrapped for some reason. Plus there's those annoying time limits to work with like old school retro games... And some enemies are way too tough...

But it's a great game all things considered! It received a highly positive reception back then. It was a great answer to those countless cutesy 3D platformers such as the likes of those Mario 64 or Croc games. It's really fun, violent, action-packed and even packs plenty of original ideas. It's challenging, has a few odd puzzles and quirky challenges to do, it can be really funny with a lot of humor. It's just an enjoyable game!

Also there's a completely random hilarious clip you get once you complete the game! It's just a black & white music video featuring promotion clips of MDK to a remix of a French pop song ("Non Non Rien N'a Changé" by Billy Ze Kick). How appropriate!

Speaking of, the game's soundtrack was composed by the first and foremost talented video game music composer Tommy Tallarico. His music for the game was fantastic! Shiny put a bit more emphasis on the score in this game. It's a real blast to play through this game with this orchestral score pumping you up, playing to this weird mix of rock and synthesized beats to keep up the pace. But it also knows when to be more subtle for the ambient. In fact it was even released separately along the game's release in 1997.

Overall, MDK1 is a really funny, wacky, over-the-top, surreal and at times even abstract experience!

Both MDK and Earthworm Jim 3D (released around the same time) were really fun parodies of platformer/shooter games. With MDK Shiny Entertainment offered us the real successor to the sidescrolling Earthworm Jim series.

The game can be pretty difficult at times because of its lack of a save feature, but otherwise it's a great all-time classic, Highly Recommended title! It's a great mix of genres (platform and shooting elements) and controls (both the third and first person perspective). The action can be frantic at times. There's some fun puzzles and minigames to break the pacing sometimes. It has some great iconic memorable parachute sequences. Plus the enemy AI was actually pretty smart, often trying to avoid being gunned down one by own, they would take cover and run (which Bungie sort of took as the inspiration behind Halo 1's own Grunts clearly).

Despite its age, it's still a very fun title thanks to a fast-paced gameplay and pretty fun stages.

The Playstation port was done by Neversoft in 1998. It's pretty much the same, a really impressive port. They were able to keep most of what made the PC game great, all the levels for once and even added a few little bonuses. My only issue with it is that they were forced to downgrade the graphics and the framerate might drop occasionally. Sadly it's also missing the random music video clip ending (but you can always watch that on the web nowadays).

MDK would be followed by direct sequel, completely handed by Interplay "in house" so to speak, and not the original developers. MDK2 was developed by BioWare and released in 2000 for Dreamcast and PC first. The sequel was a much more hardcore difficult game which did a fantastic job expanding the universe and the characters like any good sequel always should. MDK2 also added the opportunity to play as Dr. Hawkins and Bones (now fully called Max in the story).

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Quacks!

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