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April 25, 2016

"Rated M" Month: No More Heroes (Part 2)

Missed Part 1? Go read it here. But don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. Outside of explaining Travis Touchdown and going over the first three plot-relevant kills (the 11th assassin, Death Metal, and Doctor Peace), not much happened. So now, Travis has to get ready to face the eighth ranked assassin, but before that he needs to collect the money required for the entrance fee.

See, No More Heroes is a wide open sandbox. It’s not nearly as intricate or detailed as Liberty City. Still, Santa Destroy has a few places of interest. I’ll take a moment to list them here.
-Near the No More Heroes Motel, there’s Beef Head, Bishop’s video store where Travis can buy different new VHS tapes (true collectors don’t care about DVDs!). Watching those tapes can give him new suplex moves, which can help quite a bit against the bosses of the game.
-Just around the corner, behind the motel, there’s Doctor Naomi, gadgeteer extraordinaire, who will work on new beam katana models and upgrades for Travis, given that he shills out the amount of cash she demands. She can make a beam katana with five laser blades, the best weapon in the game. Also, getting the final, true ending, requires that Travis buys everything she has to sell him. You might say she’s hot, really hot… but beware, she’s 63.
-The ATM used to pay the entrance fee for each Ranked Battle is located on a building in front of the No More Heroes Motel. Travis can easily run there to pay his fee and go back to the motel to get ready.
-The Thunder Ryu Building is owned by Travis’s old wrestling coach and mentor Thunder Ryu. At any moment, you can go there and, for a small sum of money, Ryu will train Travis to increase either his beam katana combo attack, his overall strength, or his Life Bar (represented by a pixel heart).
-Area 51, a place where Travis can buy all kinds of jackets, shirts, pants, given he has the money of course. This is not GTA, you can’t just kill the store owner – nor can you put a bucket on his head – and steal everything, as tempting as it may be.
-As the game progresses, blue Ms will appear on the map. Those are bonus fights, similar to the Rampage! mini-game in GTA: Chinatown Wars, where Travis must kill as many opponents as possible without getting hit once. There are neat rewards for completing these.

One of the more interesting and important side-quests here is the search for Lovikov Balls. Inside the Gold Town Bar, located behind Thunder Ryu’s building, you’ll meet a drunken Russian guy (how not stereotypical), who goes by the name Randall Lovikov. He will offer to teach Travis new moves each time Travis brings him seven Lovikov balls. There are 49 Lovikov balls to find around Santa Destroy, and Randall has seven things to teach Travis… though they all involve beating up Travis somehow. The Lovikov Balls are not marked on the Santa Destroy map at first, but meeting Lovikov reveals them on the map with orange dots. You can spend quite a bit of time looking for them as you travel around town. Lovikov will then teach Travis a few things of interest:
-How to display the position of enemies on the small map in the corner;
-How to perform a jumping slash by shaking the Nunchuk;
-How to run by pressing B (and unlike Huang in Chinatown Wars, Travis can run for a while, and regains energy when he walks instead of running. Travis is also pretty fast when he runs);
-How to increase Travis’s Dark Side Mode limit (those are quick power-ups that Travis can gain after defeating an enemy, if he's lucky);
-How to increase the range of Travis’s wrestling grab;
-How to know your maximum chain of hits at the end of a Ranked Battle;
-How to perform a jumping down attack.

There’s also K-Entertainment, the building where Travis gets his assassination gigs. By heading to that building, he can select a mission, after which he leaves K-Entertainment, heads to the location of the mission, and does whatever was asked of him. These usually give out great rewards. New gigs appear after every ranked battle, and the ones that have been completed don’t vanish, so you can replay them as often as you want, which is really useful near endgame, where the entrance fees for Ranked Battles get rather high. Although I really wonder how often I’m gonna have to kill that fucking pizza place owner for him to get the hint that we don’t want him around. I mean, there are three missions centered on that!

Collecting coconuts till the next kill.
Similarly, there’s the Job Center, where you can choose between nine different jobs; those are mini-games that reward you based on your performance, and range from mowing a lawn to picking up garbage to capturing cats who have escaped to picking up scorpions. Every time you go do a job, you’ll be greeted by some guy who worships a god of whatever you’re about to do. Eh, it’s still better than Scientology. In both cases, gigs and jobs unlocked during your first playthrough will not have to be unlocked again in all subsequent playthroughs.

In the big table of fighting elements, beam katana
beats flaming baseball bat. Come at me, bro.
We head to Ranked Battle #8, which takes place… in a high school. Uh oh. Travis kills many opponents on the way, mostly lumberjacks with axes and other enemies equipped with flaming torches (Why were they all in the school? We never find out). One uses his flaming torch to activate the sprinklers on the ceiling, which short-circuits Travis’ beam katana, leaving him open to attacks and shocked. Thankfully Travis can find his way into the school’s systems and deactivate them to prevent his enemies from pulling the same trick twice. He then recharges his beam, and heads into battle again, going into a gym where he battles a rather big group of enemies, then finds the next opponent, Shinobu.

I... I don't feel right fighting a high-school girl...
I mean, she's a killer like the others, but....
I guess I still have to, let's keep it up...
What the fuck? Wait, is that a picture from the film… No! Not that! Okay, so the entrance to the boss fight is actually the entrance of Shinobu's classroom, where she's in the middle of assassinating classmates. Oh joy, even the teenage black girls with afros are psychotic in this world. Plus, it’s heavily implied that she kills them merely because they found out about her role as a professional killer… After finishing her business, Shinobu and Travis move to a place better suited for their fight, and when Shinobu sees Travis’s beam katana, she goes crazy. She believes Travis killed her father; even though he didn’t and was actually a big fan of Shinobu’s father, who was a… TV star? Professional wrestler? A hero? It’s never really said. Pissed, Shinobu attacks. For the record, this is the first fight in the game that can really fuck you up. Shinobu is a fantastic opponent, very strong with her sword. She also knows a move that can almost certainly kill you in one hit if you’re not careful. Thankfully she doesn’t have a lot of hit points, so a few wrestling moves will take her down. When she’s defeated, Travis refuses to kill her – he doesn’t want to kill girls.

Wait wait wait. Travis, cold-blooded killer with a beam katana, who will breeze through armies without breaking a sweat, and showed no mercy whatsoever for Death Metal and Doctor Peace, wants to spare a young girl who could very well kill him? As in, he has a “moral code”? Tssk, that’s so out of place in the NMH world. You want a moral code, go read a Batman comic. Oh no, wait, Frank Miller fucked that up. Um, you want a moral code, go watch, uh... Superman? Oh no, the recent films fucked that up too. Go watch... I don't know, DuckTales or something. Anyway, Travis decides to spare her, only cutting off her hand.

...No. I have the feeling that you'll grow up to become an
amazing American ninja-like assassin with a huge body
count, and quite frankly, I cannot deprive the world
of your talent. Who knows, you might even help Travis
later on.

Even when Sylvia and the UAA cleaners show up, Sylvia wonders why Travis kept Shinobu alive. He replies that he’ll wait for her to get stronger, because he’ll only be satisfied when she becomes a greater challenge, and only then will he kill her. When Sylvia tells Travis that he is crazy with his blood knight ideals of fighting against people stronger than him, Travis replies that she’s crazy too for arranging these fights… Aha, right in your bitch mouth, Sylvia! Seriously though, you do end up hating Sylvia by the end of this (and you’ll find out why by the end of the story). But in the No More Heroes world, everyone’s wrong anyway.

Drop your gun! Come and fight me with the weapon of a
real man, like your pals down there who also had beam
Travis collects and pays the fee for the next ranked battle, and Sylvia’s call is definitely more panicked than usual, like she’s under attack somehow. What’s more, when Travis leaves, he finds a rather threatening letter. For the seventh ranked battle, we get on the subway to reach an abandoned movie studio. In the subway and in the studio, many opponents show up, including some equipped with guns. They're the most annoying type of enemy in the game because those fuckers shoot, Travis has to dodge (thankfully bullets don’t do much to him) and then they run further to avoid getting a beam sword in their nutsacks. Joke’s on them, Travis can still kill them easily. They can’t escape; Closed arena advantages, bitch!

Come on, as if I was gonna fall for that trap!
Two seconds later: *falls for that trap*
Travis reaches the seventh assassin… a mailman. I would make a "going postal" joke, but you would all see it coming from thousands of miles away. The mailman manages to convince Travis to turn around so he can prepare… then Travis narrowly avoids a blast of energy. The mailman is gone; now Destroyman stands. Probably the nastiest assassin met so far, judging by how he goes from amicable and friendly and “honorable” (I know, that word just doesn’t fit an assassin) to a laughing maniac. He even tricks Travis into shaking his hand, and electrocutes Travis!
A boisterous baddie blasting a blue beam... bleh! Good
thing it isn't the red one that comes from Destroyman's
crotch, that would be a whole new kind of groin attack.
Now, Destroyman has a wide array of weapons, including enough strength to break the ground, a constant yellow beam, a constant blue beam, shooting energy balls… but he can only do any of those by saying out loud what he’s gonna do. Something about his costume being voice-activated or something. Oh, also, he has a big red shining light on his crotch and one of the lasers shoots from there. Halfway through the fight, he even uses cheap tricks to lift himself off the ground, out of Travis’s reach! This is a pretty tough fight, since Destroyman sure knows how to protect himself. At the end of the fight, Travis plants his beam katana through Destroyman, and when he pulls it out, Destroyman quickly turns around and tries to bring Travis down with guns… that came out from the nipple areas of his costume… but Travis, between the shots, just cuts Destroyman in half vertically. Well, here’s one more guy we’ll never hear from again!

Travis, you idiot, you need to remember the vital rules
of life! Don't wizz on the elctric fence, dont step on the
obvious mine, don't barbecue your neighbor''s dog, don't
spend all your time whining abour video games...
Let's cut to Rank 6 immediately. It takes place at Body Slam Beach, a military training ground. See, the Rank 6 assassin, Holly Summers, is a badass army woman. During this level, many soldiers come down from helicopters to attack you; they’re equipped with beam katanas and firearms, but by now you should be used to all that. However, the beach is also home to a lot of field mines waiting there for you to step on. And you WILL step on them. Even if you don’t, and miraculously avoid all of them while you play, Travis steps on them during cutscenes. Three of them, to be precise, because if a single explosion does almost nothing to Travis – because this guy is somehow more resistant than the regular human – then three will certainly do even marginally better against him, right? What’s next, a grenade thrown in a hole where he fell? He's riding a nuke and surviving the explosion?

...Yeah, like that.

No screenshot of this battle can
do her justice. On the right is her
promotional art picture. Remember
her, she's the first one to knock some
sense into Travis.
Travis reaches Holly Summers, a really sexy woman who fights in something that covers barely more than a bikini, yet she somehow survives getting hit dozens of times with the beam katana. Also, she has a mechanical leg with which she shoots a bunch of missiles at Travis. A mechanical leg, for Christ’s sake! The beach you fight her on is covered in sand traps that Travis can fall into at any moment, since you can’t tell where they are at first (though after Holly re-makes them, it leaves a darker trace so you can see where they are). And if you do fall in a hole, she’ll gladly toss a grenade in there - I knew it was gonna fucking happen! -, as revealed in a cutscene that you’re guaranteed to see. Oh, and of course, when you’re nearby she can either whack you with her shovel – a surprisingly effective weapon – or throw sand in Travis’s face.

This girl is not playing fair in-battle, but she’s one of the more level-headed assassins out there, even questioning Travis on why he does all this. I mean, just getting into some kind of game where you have to kill very real humans? All this time, Travis gives no fucks about who the other assassins are, all he cares about is to see their heads roll. I mean, who would be fucking stupid enough to go headfirst into a competition and not give a damn about killing people?

….That’s… Hackman, oh fuck… I don’t want to remember this… Okay, look, I’ll go back on this later. Is that fine? Alright.

"Never forget me."
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the game.
Anyway, Holly Summers’ words don’t reach Travis, he is too caught up on his selfsh desire to be #1 to listen. After the fight takes place and Travis finds himself having to kill her, he doesn’t want to. Once again, he doesn’t want to kill a woman. Holly tells him that in the world of assassins, there’s sadly no place for such “moral high grounds”, and that an assassin who loses has to die. “"Open your eyes and never look back. Promise...never forget me." And as she says these words, she takes out a grenade, pulls the pin, sticks it in her mouth, and lets out a final smiBOOM


I can'r make a joke about this scene. It's beyond me.
Travis gets shaken by this. Even as Sylvia arrives, he can’t stop thinking about those words Holly said. When Sylvia announces that Travis is now officially Assassin #6, he says he wants to know Holly’s name, after which he gives her now headless corpse a proper burial, on the beach where this battle took place. Well, you know what they say; A heartless man can grow a heart, that doesn’t mean it’ll grow fast. But hey, baby steps. This encounter is the first real step towards Travis’s character development. Considering we're almost halfway through the game, you'd think development would have happened sooner.

But of course, as long as this quick ceremony is over, Travis decides to keep up on his quest to become the #1 assassin. Why? Hasn’t this shaken you enough, man? Won’t you stop there? I mean, there has to be more to this quest of yours than this flimsy reason! You don’t become the #1 at something just because you want to! Except in video games! And dude, just because you're in a video game doesn't mean you must treat your own life like a video game and- and- and and and-.........  and...

I think this review is going to take a lot of turns that I don’t like… but you’ll have to keep reading, as there are still five assassins to go, and much more of the story to unravel. See you Friday for Part 3.