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April 22, 2016

"Rated M" Month: No More Heroes (Part 1)

The trend with M-rated games is to make them more explicit, more sexual, more vulgar, more violent. As if any of that actually made the games more mature. I mean, everyone knows that adding vulgarity and random sex jokes is a cheap way of making something more suited for adults. Having more mature themes may help, although most themes can be brought up even in works aimed at children – the best example is Zootopia, the recent Disney film, which discussed racism in a more mature way than you’d ever expect a Disney movie to. However, a common trait of M-rated games is that they’re openly sexual and offensive, just for kicks.

Not only are these games violent and vulgar, they know they are violent and vulgar, and are not ashamed to tell you. The characters of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, which I reviewed in the past two weeks, slip blowjob and transsexual prostitute jokes at the drop of a hat, when they’re not in the middle of plotting to kill each other. The announcers of MadWorld, which I played (but haven’t completed yet), make more offensive remarks than you can shake a stick at. It’s like South Park’s influence, to be as vulgar as humanly possible in order to get laughs, has perverted all of adult-rated media. The difference being that South Park usually adds an interesting message about society. Even the so-called “comedians” using video games as basis for their songs and parodies join in; Egoraptor’s band Starbomb is using those as if they were afraid the Apocalypse was coming and the only way to stop it was to make as many dirty jokes and innuendos as possible. Case in point, the old man in the cave wants Link to give him a handjob, and Luigi and Mario are on a race to see which of them gets into Peach’s privates first. Both catchy songs and the animation’s pretty good (and yes, it is rather funny), but completely immature.

"Destiny" here refers to a wrinkly old dick.

Another common trait of M-rated games is that they don’t hide any trace of cynicism about the world. That’s a theme I’ve seen in both Chinatown Wars, MadWorld and today’s game: Cynicism and fatality. These worlds are dark. These worlds are depressing. They’re full of monstrous people who are only the villains because your character is marginally better than them. And sometimes, not even better. There's nary a good guy in sight. These stories are deep on the cynical end of the spectrum. Violence is a part of their world, it’s an undeniable fact of life, and no matter how cartoony it may become, it remains disturbing, often unpleasant too. The comedy is there to counterbalance the horrible world shown to us. Want some idealism? Go watch some Disney. Go play Super Mario. There is no place for idealism here; Today, I’m tackling No More Heroes, one of the darker Wii games. Gear up, this will get bloody.

Geez, that's almost worthy of being called a rapey face.
Meet Travis Touchdown. Geek; scratch that, extremely geek AND otaku, with a passion for trading cards, cheesy foreign films (and suspicious VHS tapes in general), and video games featuring near-sexualised underage girls. Follows his own dress code. Foul-mouthed, but that’s no surprise. Doesn’t even live in a house, instead he lives in a motel room. Considered a loser by the world at large, because obviously all geeks are automatically losers in Fiction Land, am I right? Not a virgin, he had that one time with a chick, but it didn’t last; though if the following events are any proof, he’d do anything to get laid once more. Wasted his money on some sword he found on eBay. It turned out to be a real, honest-to-God Beam Katana, which can be deployed at any moment and emits a laser blade that can cut through almost anything; a Star Wars dude fan’s wet dream… well, outside of Leia in the slave bikini, of course. All that weapon needs is to be shaken up and down a bit to recharge its batteries.

*sigh* Least satisfying porn ever.

Guess the hardest part in becoming an assassin is to
avoid losing your head.
He eventually found a job as an assassin, and proved to be rather good at it, even taking down the eleventh best assassin in the town of Santa Destroy. Sounds like the name of a place you’d want to go to, huh? I mean, it sounds so much more interesting than Liberty City. He gets accosted by this Sylvia Christel, who announces his ranking in the United Assassins’ Association (UAA), and encourages him to make his way to the top by killing all assassins ranked 10 to 1.

The weapon clash; a fun mechanic that adds a little
something new to the battle system.
Thus Travis comes out of his hotel room, climbs on his badass bike, and heads out to the home of Assassin #10, Count Townsend, better known as Death Metal. He slices the head off mooks, breaks the door with a swing of his beam katana, and enters. This is a bit of a Tutorial level, so you can get used to the particular controls of the game: You attack using A, and when an enemy’s health is down you can finish them off by swinging the Wii remote in the direction indicated on-screen, leading to enemies getting split in two, and blood spilling everywhere. Good thing Travis has a red blouse. Sometimes your blade will clash with a mook’s, in which case you need to prove yourself stronger by spinning the Wii remote. If you’re quicker than the enemy, he’ll be pushed back, allowing Travis to deal a death blow. You can center the camera behind Travis by pressing C, or have it spin around him with the Left and Right buttons on the Wii remote. You use Z to target an enemy, but when you’re holding it you can also use Left and Right to roll out of the way of an incoming attack. Which is useful against many opponents, but especially the ones equipped with guns. Yet, for some odd reason, most guards around here have swords. I know, it baffles me too. Last but not least, you can kick an opponent with B.

When an enemy gets dizzy (from receiving many hits in rapid succession or getting kicked), when nearby you can press B to have Travis do a wrestling move on this opponent; commands will appear on-screen, showing in which direction you must move both the Wii remote and the Nunchuk, at which Travis will start the move; then a second command, in which Travis deals a strong blow. These wrestling moves, also called Suplexes, are learned by Travis during your first playthrough of the game, and are some of the more useful moves as they can deal more damage to the bosses than constantly hitting with the beam katana.

And thus approaches the fight. Travis receives a call from Sylvia – and what’s awesome in this game is that, when Sylvia calls, her voices comes out of the Wii remote. As in, your Wiimote IS Travis’s cell phone. Cool idea there. That doesn’t make her speech entirely clear, but still, that’s pretty nice. Sylvia invites Travis to heal himself before heading out into the fight, and stop to save his file – a double entendre that doesn’t mean he’s gonna go and jack off, it means he’s gonna go take a dump. No, really, Travis saves by going to the can. I’m not making that up.  But if you want an innuendo about jacking off, look no further than the way Travis recharges his beam katana… In fact, I’m not sure we can even call that an innuendo, it’s too obvious for that.

Wait. What was that? That's not from the game! Um… let’s move on.

One of the more interesting elements of No More Heroes is the ranked assassins themselves. Each one has a unique, awesome design; a personality that shines when you first meet them, and leaves a great impression; a fight that is suitably difficult for assassins like them, as they can take dozens of hits; and of course, most of them have a memorable, epic theme song. Have I mentioned that the music in this game is incredible? No really, it’s one of the best video game soundtracks out there. Many tracks are odd mixes of genres that still manage to work together.

And he gets booty for free?
Damn lucky dude.
Travis arrives and meets Death Metal, who’s surprisingly well-spoken and philosophical for a rock star. He takes this fight in stride, revealing his own weapon; a giant razor with a laser over the blade. That’s almost too awesome to be true. Also, mid-fight, he’s for some reason able to summon clones of himself to hit Travis more often. Thankfully, those are weaker than the real guy, but still, they can be a bother. Soon enough though, Death Metal’s HP falls to 0 and Travis cuts his hands off, and then his head. The thing is, Travis says that he doesn’t do this for fame or anything, he does this because he wants to be #1. Which is a rather weak justification in and of itself, if you ask me. But that’s what he wants: He wants to be the very best, like no one ever was. To kill them is his real test, to track them is his cause. Gotta slaughter them all. Sylvia and the cleaning men of the U.A.A. show up to deal with the messy aftermath. This is where Travis convinces Sylvia into the deal… that she’ll do him if he kills every other ranked assassin. Once again, the promise of sex goads a guy into doing something stupid.

Back at the hotel room, where Travis lives with his cat Jeane. Outside of the Ranked Battles, No More Heroes is actually a wide-open sandbox game, just like GTA Chinatown Wars; however, while there are many things to do around Santa Destroy, you don’t have the total freedom that you can feel in other examples of the genre. There are still many options, starting with the things available in Travis’s modest domain:
-A toilet, so you can save at any moment;
-Travis’s collection of wrestling trading cards, which you can collect throughout the game. There’s 150 of those, 5 per level per difficulty in the game (which means that to truly achieve 100% completion, you need to beat the game at Sweet, Mild AND Bitter difficulties). The cards won in higher difficulties are concept art and interesting info about the characters;
-Jeane, his cat; he can play with her a moment, causing cuteness overload in the player. Seriously though, as much an asshole as Travis may be, he has a cat and takes good care of her. Maybe a hint that he’s not quite as bad…;
-Fridge, if you need a quick energy refill;
-TV, which is a special case; Travis can watch videos that he gets at his good friend Bishop’s rental store. Those videos can teach Travis new Suplexes. You can also watch the original trailer for the game, from back when it was called Heroes, and play a shoot-em up minigame featuring Travis’ favorite game, Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly. The least we say about that in-game series, the better, though we can say Travis has a weird appreciation of the underage girls in it… And already I said too much;
-Moving on to Travis’s bedroom, we can see a telephone, which can be used to check if Travis has any messages. Since most “messages” are shown in cutscenes, it’s not needed much;
-A map of Santa Destroy, in two versions; one that lists all the hot spots, both the places of interest to make money; and the other shows locations of the Ranked Battles and other assassination gigs.
-By looking in the drawer under his bed, Travis can equip any other beam katana he comes to buy during the game. There’s Doctor Naomi living almost right next door to him, who builds new beam katana models with more laser blades (up to 5!) as the game progresses and sells these new models to him, with upgrades.
-Last but not least, Travis’s clothing is fully customizable, with the possibility to stop by the clothing store to buy more clothes. He can change the color of his glasses, and he can also put on a new jacket, a new T-shirt, new pants, or a new belt.

I say we go into the Ranked Battle against assassin #9, shall we? It takes place at the Destroy Stadium, located at a distance from Travis’s hotel. However, before Travis can leave, he gets informed by Sylvia that he needs to collect money to get to the next Ranked Battle. And not just any small amount either; 150,000 of the game’s currency. That’s fucking huge. In fact, that’s one of the lesser aspects of this game; in order to move the plot forward, Travis needs to go around collecting money. I’ll go back over the many places of interest in Part 2. You collect the money for the next Ranked Battle by completing assassination jobs and doing small mini-game chores around town. Since every gig and job can be done as often as you want, you can settle on certain chores that offer big rewards, although since the jobs and chores are unlocked as the story progresses, you might not be able to rack in money very quickly. Thankfully, all the jobs and chores you unlocked in a playthrough will still be unlocked in the next, making the money-collecting at least a little quicker.

Okay, we’ll waste time on the wide open sandbox aspect in Part 2, right now we have a rendez-vous with an assassin, a gunslinger, a cop, a doctor, an excellent singer and a terrible father, all rolled into one weird guy who goes by the name Doctor Peace. Destroy Stadium is used for baseball games, and thus when Travis gets there he is welcomed by a horde of baseball players wielding bats, balls and, in some cases, their own beam katanas. Travis runs through the stadium’s rooms, killing all the enemies in the way, and reaches the diamond. Doctor Peace is there, singing a beautiful song. What a tenor, too. Impressive. Almost touching. Peace talks about his life, and Travis is outraged to find out that his money, the entrance fee to get into that bloody battle in the first place, has been given to Peace and he already spent most of it. Gee, that’s just great.

So now the fight starts, and let me tell you, Doctor Peace didn’t steal his reputation as a gunslinger. It’s still pretty easy, as Travis has to come closer to hit Peace and get in plenty of hits, and you merely need to dodge the bullets. As I said, suplexes will also help. Soon, Peace is defeated, and Travis ends him by slicing his hands off. Again. And thus Sylvia shows up, announces Travis’s rank-up, and Travis leaves.

How about we continue this Monday?