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Sega hasn’t had the easiest time lately. Its parent company, Sega Sammy Holdings, is laying off 560 people — 18 percent of its work force — and is closing 110 arcades in Japan. But the company says it has a strategy to distinguish itself as a smaller publisher among the industry’s giants.

One of the main pillars of this plan is Mad World, a comic-style black-and-white game with lots of red blood. Rated M for mature (17 and up), the title is slated to debut for the Nintendo Wii next month. And it certainly has a unique look and feel. The only time you see color during game play is when you’re cutting a bad guy in half with a chainsaw or crushing someone under an iron plate. This seems like an odd mismatch for the child-oriented Wii and already has some anti-violence groups upset.

But Simon Jeffery, president of Sega of America, says that’s a misreading of the market. The Wii has become so popular that all age groups have embraced it — and those adults who own the Wii are craving something meaty to play after the kids have gone to bed. To ban mature games from the Wii is akin to banning violent TV shows because kids may have access to them. At least that’s Jeffery’s argument.

“The Wii has become this generation’s version of the PlayStation 2, reaching all parts of the market and selling tens of millions of units,” he says.

The over-the-top humor in the game lands it in the “mature light” category, rather than “mature dark,” he explains. This reminds me of the line Electronic Arts used to draw between the games it would produce and those it wouldn’t. (The company has historically refrained from making games like Grand Theft Auto, where cop-killing is an integral part of the storyline.) But Jeffery compares the bloody Mad World to Monty Python and the Holy Grain when it comes to tone.

Still, I doubt parents will laugh it off when a character shouts “F@*$ing-A” during a successful beheading. This is a game where you can rack up “style points” for finishing off your enemies as brutally as possible, or choose to play against your friends in a “blood bath” match.

But Sega is on a roll with the blood and guts. Just last week, it published mature-rated zombie title House of the Dead: Overkill for the Wii. The game takes advantage of the Wii’s controller to keep players on the edge of their seats swatting and shooting zombies. Another Sega mature game coming to the Wii is The Conduit. This is all part of the broader strategy to create adult games tailored specifically to the Wii platform.

With these titles, and the upcoming Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games, Sega hopes to have a good year and break away from the middle-tier publishers. The previous Olympic game sold more than 10 million copies last year, thanks to the tie-up between Sega’s lead mascot character and Nintendo’s. The joint venture continues this year, with Sega developing the game and Nintendo’s top game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, overseeing it.

Sega is investing a lot of time and energy in this new Olympic package, which will offer events that could be full games in their own right, like skiing and speed skating. The goal is to create a deeper experience that appeals to hardcore gamers, hopefully earning it and Sega better reviews that the first version.

The plan to focus on these Wii-centric gamesis expected to bolster Sega’s unique content (read: Sonic), and earn it traction in the underserved mature Wii marketplace. The company is approaching 2009 very seriously — and cautiously due to the tough economy. It reportedly just killed a game dubbed Aliens.

While Jeffery declined to comment fully on the situation, he said that Sega has had a tough time competing in the first-person shooter market for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, where there are strong independent developers (Epic, id Software, etc.) and established brand names that are hard to beat.

After four to five years of experimentation, Sega is committed to exploring its new genre. Rather than trying a wide variety of titles, it will only pursue what works, Jeffery says. At the moment, there are no plans to make Mad World available on other consoles. So, the Wii it is.

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