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April 29, 2016

"Rated M" Month: No More Heroes (Part 3)

So…… Yeah, go read Part 1 and Part 2 of this review if you missed them. As for now, we still have five assassins to defeat, and… yes, that’s what awaits. And… not much else, really. There will be a lot to say here, so I’ll jump right into the plot if you don’t mind.

Most boring level ever. But the Sith-like enemies
are pretty cool.
After collecting the entrance fee, Travis heads out towards Assassin #5, which takes him in an underground passageway, a very, very long underground passageway with sparse but strong enemies. All this time you are weirdly following a guy in a black trench coat that keeps running away from you as soon as you get close. At the end, our protagonist (I ain't calling him a hero!) receives a call from Sylvia, as usual before the “boss battle” against the ranked assassin. You’ll soon notice that she isn’t very creative with these messages. Her calls always follow this simple formula: “Travis? The next fight is now! Win and you gain a rank; lose and you go to Hell. (Sometimes insert a comment about the next opponent here) Go to the bathroom (to save), take a dump in the can, then when you’re ready, step into the GARDEN… OF MADNESS!” Seriously, that’s how she ends each of her calls. Totally not hamming it up there. It’s almost like she’s making it all dramatic to hide something from him. She really needs to get more creative.

Travis gets to Assassin #5, Letz Shake (no, really, that’s his name), and the fight “starts”.

With all the pictures of him that I'm using, you'd
believe he's important or something.

Ah yes, a rain of red. I've gotten used to it by now.
But holy shit, this guy split a giant weapon in two!
Letz Shake is equipped with a giant weapon with a face and what looks like a brain; an earthquake producer I think? I’m not too sure because the rest of the fight is Letz Shake charging this giant weapon and preparing to send the mother of all earthquakes at Travis… but just as Shake’s countdown is about to reach zero, someone drops from the sky, cuts the giant machine in two, and also kills Letz Shake. Hey, my kill!- er, I mean, mysterious guy, you bastard! Travis confronts this well-dressed, cool-looking guy (who seems to have around the same age as Travis, and the same appreciation for beam katanas), but before a fight occurs Sylvia gets in the way. She says that Travis cannot get into a fight with another assassin outside of those that are ranked. And the mysterious stranger quietly disappears.

Holy shit, this guy has a beam katana with four beam cross guards!
AND he's in ann awesome suit! ....Wait a fucking second, he just
stole my kill, why do I act like a fanboy all of a sudden?

Well, Travis did get up a rank, but he didn’t get the fight he wanted. It’s like what he really wants is not the satisfaction of being #1, but just to fight others to prove that he’s the best, like some competitive video game player. And the others are just obstacles to overcome.

Okay, who’s doing that? I’m starting to get really fucking tired to be reminded of the film called Gamer! Who is editing those images into my review? WHO? No answer? Sigh… too bad, I’ll just move on.

So, we collect the money for the entrance fee by doing jobs around town. You want to know two things that annoy me about this game? For starters, for a “wide open sandbox”, there is very little to do. There’s that side-quest with the Lovikov balls, this can take a few hours of your time, that’s good. There’s the Rampage missions, which are pretty challenging since you’re left with a single HP against ten or more enemies. But there are no city-wide quests. And the upper half of Santa Destroy has almost nothing of interest. You could do random assassination gigs or odd jobs… but here’s my issue #2 with this. To enter an assassination gig, you have to drive to K-Entertainment, pick a mission there, then drive through town to reach the place where the assassination takes place. Travis’s X-Wing-themed bike is fast, but it can still take you a minute or two to reach the location of the assassination. You MUST pass by K-Entertainment, there is no other way, because those gigs don’t appear on the map until you pick a mission. Okay, I can kind of understand that, it would add a lot of signals to the map.

No man has been both this cool and dorky while mowing
the lawn since Weird Al in the White And Nerdy video.
However, the same applies to the Job Center; to enter a mini-game to earn money, you need to go to the Job Center, pick the job you want to do, then head out to go play the mini-game. It’s long and tedious, and things would be a lot simpler if all the odd jobs were always available on the map as soon as you unlock them; you could do them to your leisure, without having to drive around this boring, boring city for a few minutes before you can earn the money to get to the next ranked battle. So there, the wide open sandbox in this game is actually rather poor. Now I’ll close this parenthesis and go on with Rank #4.

Paying his entrance fee, Travis gets a call from Sylvia that invites him to watch a show. Said show will be the battle against assassin #4. So Travis takes the subway to get there, and on the way has a weird dream about his favorite game series, Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly. The mini-game is fine, but the less we discuss the context around that mini-game the better. Travis then arrives at his destination.

He seems friendly alright... too bad this game is about
killing people. In Tomodachi Life, we could have been pals.
Rank #4 is Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii. I think I spelled that right. The guy is a stage magician, so Sylvia and Travis watch his show, then Harvey invites Travis on the scene to participate in the final number. Once again, you’d think Travis wouldn't fall for a simple trap like this. And yet, he does! Though he escapes before getting killed. Of note, before the number, Harvey asks Travis Touchdown his full name, and says his parents had flair, that this is a great name. Travis replies that his parents are dead. And he doesn’t seem to mind all that much. Actually, that sounds like the kind of info we should have gotten much earlier…

I don't think that was part of the show. Get me down!
This fight is weird because Harvey likes to teleport left and right between attacks, to avoid Travis. He also likes to play around with the very physics of the game world and flip the screen upside down, also flipping the controls and making it harder for Travis to find his way. As if that was not enough, Harvey has a bunch of annoying attacks, including one where he spins around with his two blades, and another where he throws a barrage of pigeons. Wherever he is right now, John Woo just had an orgasm and he doesn't know why.

Oh, by the way, it’s heavily implied that this whole battle is taking place before an audience. Making a show out of murder, for the enjoyment of the mindless masses. Showing all that violence that we lap up because it looks fun – I mean, I have fun so far playing No More Heroes, but that doesn’t make any of the events any less horrifying. Now where have I seen a similar concept before...

ALRIGHT! FINE! FINE I WILL WRITE THE FUCKING COMPARISON! HAPPY NOW? I WILL GET INTO THAT! In a moment. So, despite Harvey’s various traps, Travis comes out as winner. The laser katana cuts Harvey’s eyes, then his assistants strap him in that same death trap Travis was in at the beginning, and Harvey gets cut in half as the curtains close. And thus Travis becomes assassin #4.

Now, here is what this whole review had been wanting me to say. Multiple times. Fucking flashbacks to that piece of shit film. Now, you might be quick to point out that No More Heroes is actually closer to something like the Scott Pilgrim series; for one, numbered enemies. Second, these works feature two main characters who are not exactly “heroes”, going against people who are even worse, in some kind of quest to serve their interests above those of others. Third, both works try to humanize the opponents by showing more about their personalities, even if they pass by only for a fraction of the whole work.

Yeah, these two guys are not so different.
I can't say one is worse than the other.
But in actuality, No More Heroes has many more similarities with another video game movie, Gamer (which I reviewed, if you guys are interested). In it, death row inmates have control microchips implanted in their brains, which let them be used by gamers in matches of a game called Slayers. And thus we follow John Tillman AKA Kable, a man who has no qualms about ending lives. He doesn’t do it because he likes to, he does it because he has a goal in mind: To retrieve his wife and his daughter, and to rain blows on Ken Castle, creator of those microchips and all-around psychopath. In-game, Tillman is being controlled by Simon Silverton, a jackass teenager who is a brilliant gamer, but also Awful Human Being #978 in the dystopian world of the movie. Let’s be clear here; Silverton knows that the game pits real humans against other real humans, and doesn’t mind that his fame as a gamer has been earned by killing dozens of people through Kable. Yeah, death row inmates who would have been sent off to die anyway, but still; making a show out of murder. In fact, neither Silverton nor Tillman ever consider their opponents as human beings. What’s worse, though, is that Gamer shows a world population that, instead of boycotting the Slayers game and its questionable morals, actually revels in it. Slayers is a big deal, the matches are shown on TV, and very few if any even seem to question anything that is going on. The second side of the coin is shown with Society, where other chip-controlled humans are taken into doing anything disgusting or sexual that you can think of, again for the pleasure of the sex-crazed masses. And we’re shown a gross, obese man controlling a woman, and probably getting her into sexual situations just to jack off, not unlike some real-life video games on other consoles that feature a lot of sexual scenes, only for the Hell of it.

Fuck! I thought I'd never see this guy's face again!
Well, outside of Old Spice commercials, that is.
However, Gamer has little to no self-awareness about this. The general public is still depicted as a bunch of people who willingly watch murders and people being used. We follow Tillman, a dangerous killer who just happens to be in a struggle against an even worse shit stain of a human. And the film still wants us to root for the guy! That he has a wife and daughter don't matter, he's still a willful murderer. The only hints of self-awareness come up when we see the “gamers” behind the characters, and that is also done pretty poorly.

Who knows what kind of creepy fetishes he jacked off
to in that armchair. Neither do I want to know how many
tissue boxes he goes through each month.
No More Heroes is aware of its violence. It knows about its own content. What’s more, it knows its audience. Travis Touchdown is an otaku, a loser who keeps a box of tissues by his armchair in front of the TV, and it's not because he's watching a lot of romantic comedies. He’s so desperate to fuck that he’d cut through hundreds of enemies with a laser beam if this got him into a chick's pants (yet with the thousands of bucks he makes out of assassination gigs you'd figure he'd have enough to pay for such services). He swears like there’s no tomorrow. His motorbike is decorated like an X-Wing, the beam katana is basically a lightsaber. He’s too broke to get a house (or even an apartment) and instead lives in a motel room, which he decorated with dozens of figurines and other anime memorabilia. Travis is also an unrepentant asshole who delights himself in the violence he inflicts, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if he maintained a boner through all of his rampages. Just remember this: Travis is a gamer, a geek, an otaku. He’s described in the game itself as a loser. And I don’t know if you noticed it, but that’s the sad stereotype about gamers and anime fans in general; that they are losers.

It doesn't help either that his opponents are fountains
of blood.

Quote from the actual intro of the game: "What do you
say, bro? Join me. Let's see how far we can take this. And
for you there, holding the Wii remote right now? Just press
the A button. Let the bloodshed begins!" The game hasn't
even started and he already sliced apart the fourth wall
with this beam katana!
What’s more, Travis himself is self-aware. He knows that he’s in a video game, and he often breaks the fourth wall, like he is talking to the player. In fact, the player follows Travis around (obviously) and participates in the murder sprees by doing the finishing move against weaker enemies (by swinging the Wii remote the way Travis swings his beam katana), and also moves the Wii remote and Nunchuk when Travis pulls a wrestling attack. For all intents and purposes, these movements are meant to let the player emulate what Travis does on the screen; Travis IS the player. And the game keeps the same attitude towards him, pointing out time and time again that he's a loser. This game, No More Heroes, is calling YOU a loser for enjoying the gratuitous violence it shows.

Just change the names to those of the Gym
Leaders, Elite 4, and Champion, and
switch from "killing" to "beating in
a Pokémon battle" and you can
see what I mean here.
Thankfully, Pokémon also does its best
to humanize its "bosses".
Travis’s quest to become #1, to become “the very best, like no one ever was” (note the Pokémon reference I just made), mirrors many other video games out there where the goal is similar; a flimsy excuse to fight to the end, just to be at the top. All this to gain some feeling of self-gratification. When you think about it, fighting to become the best one at a game, especially one that doesn’t pit you against human opponents, doesn’t matter; this is just a video game. An unimportant piece of fictional media that you interact with. What’s more, the violence it shows should be treated as disturbing, even though the game makes sure that it stays over-the-top and awesome. Most assassins are given backstories, motivations, reasons to be what they are now. But Travis doesn’t see them as characters. He sees them as obstacles to dispose of. Travis has no regards for the lives of the people he kills, yet the game makes sure that for the little screen time these assassins get, we can notice a lot of interesting details about their personalities, something that separates them from the nameless mooks that get slashed in two before the boss fight. And this is the kind of thing that only starts getting noticeable after the fight against Holly Summers: The first opponent that Travis truly respects due to learning more about her, in their final exchange… that is, before she sticks a grenade in her mouth and blows her own head off. When Travis was treating these characters like people to kill and nothing else, Suda51 was calling YOU out for approaching the game with a similar, if not identical mindset; that same mindset that you take for many other violent games out there.

All this violence is wrong, and you should feel ashamed for liking it; that’s the message behind this game. And yet it glorifies its own violence with all the faceless opponents that you kill before a boss fight and during assassination gigs, and makes the violence appealing – and fun – despite the message. The message is hypocritical in its own context, but I guess that’s why they break the fourth wall; to point out the hypocrisy of their message. And to make it clear that they’re talking to the player, that according to this game the player is just as wrong in enjoying this as the game’s developers were in making a show out of murder. Yes, this is fiction, but it can be seen as a denouncement of violent media in general, and calling out those who enjoy it… Not as far as being an insult, but it's definitely the theme that comes out upon analysis of the events of the game. There was no such message in Gamer, where the violence was equally glorified with little, if any, indication that Tillman was as wrong as his opponents. And while Gamer did call out the gamers, those were such ridiculous stereotypes, such strawmen, that they couldn't be taken seriously. Only when a gamer was actually controlling an actual killer, in an actual video game where murder is given center stage, that this message could make any sense. Okay, are we done now? Good? Will I stop seeing pictures of that shitty film now? Yes? Thanks! Let’s FINALLY move on to Assassin #3.

...By the way, sorry for the long tangent. I got carried away.

Just a quick reminder that despite all his depravity,
Travis is still the proud owner of an adorable kitten.
Who happens to be plot-relevant against Assassin #3.

After getting the money – where does all that money go, anyway? – Travis heads out towards Assassin #3, who lives in Speed City, a neighboring town. Travis has to take the bus to go there, but he doesn’t notice his kitten Jeane following him all the way to the bus station, then on the bus, then on the battlefield. Seriously though, how did she do that? Did she hide on Travis’s bike when he was driving to the station? Travis has to be freaking blind not to see his kitty here. Anyway, who’s Assassin #3? Speed Buster? Sounds like a cool name. What, he has super-speed like Sonic? Oh wait, it’s a woman, really? Huh. That’s good, a nice change of pace. Is she cool? What does she look like? …Oh, it’s an old, fat, man-hating woman traveling around with a shopping cart? Um… you gotta be kidding me, right?

No! Thunder Ryu! You were the most reasonable human
being in the entire game! even more so than Bishop,
Naomi, and Holly!
Nope. When Travis gets to the desolated Speed City, he sees his mentor, Thunder Ryu, in the middle of a fight against Speed Buster. You want to know why this woman is Assassin #3? Her shopping cart…it contains a goddamn giant wave-motion gun. It’s, like, longer than a fucking house. I mean, if this was a guy I’d ask if he's compensating for something, but the joke kinda doesn’t work here… Anyway, the kitty Jeane distracts Thunder Ryu. Travis freaks out and goes to get his cat, but Speed Buster uses her big gun and shoots at Thunder Ryu, who parries the blast with his katana and tells Travis not to fear, as Travis is ready for greatness… after which the blast pierces through and utterly vaporizes Ryu. Okay lady, you asked for it!

That's not even half the length of that cannon. Seriously,
it's like, 300 feet long. Minimum. A cannon this long
should be too heavy to stay in midair! How does it stay up?
That's a riddle for the ages.

Yes, that was a nuclear antimatter beam.
Courtesy of an old woman.
Now, this boss fight is… particular, to say the least. The fight is not you slashing at Speed Buster time and time again… you have to reach her. She’s very far away, but don’t worry, her wave-motion gun’s blast can and will reach you, and can and will kill you almost instantly if you don’t move out of the way. Thankfully, she can only shoot in a straight line, although the blast covers the entirety of this corridor, so Travis can survive by hiding in the openings on both sides. There can be some enemies to defeat in those decrepit homes, so be still ready to fight if need be. And make your way towards Speed Buster, the long way towards her… you can parry her attack with the beam katana, but it uses up a lot of battery and pushes you back quite a bit, so your best bet really is to hide on either side, and move forward while she recharges her gun. Soon Travis knocks down a pole that knocks down another pole, causing a domino effect resulting in another pole falling on the gun. And as Speed Buster tries to get it to work, Travis comes in and splits the cannon right down the middle.

I don't care who Speed Buster is. This has got to be the
most awesome attack I have ever seen in a game.
This old lady is Badass.

"I'll be as good as Thunder Ryu was? Sorry, I'm not a
hero. Not even an anti-hero. I'm closer to villain
protagonist, or even nominal hero. But hey, we nevcer
know, things might change."
For an old ugly woman whose first words of banter were “Fuck you, ya little prick”, she sure becomes a lot more polite after Travis says he was Ryu’s apprentice. You could say she accepts defeat – and her death – with open arms. Travis beheads her, and thus ends the fight. As a result, Travis earns Thunder Ryu’s Japanese katana, which he can then bring to Dr. Naomi, just behind the motel, so that she can build the "best" weapon in the game out of it.

Okay, this was not a “boss” in the normal sense of the word, but damn, this was fucking awesome. Well, like I said earlier; the game and its violence are actually pretty cool, there's just that underlying feeling of wrongness that never goes away. However, this review has been going on for too long, so I’ll cut here for today. See you in Part 4 this Monday.