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May 2, 2016

"Rated M" Month: No More Heroes (Part 4)

Well, through the last three parts, Travis made his way to Rank 3. He only has two opponents to defeat now, on this strange quest of… revenge? After all, it’s strongly implied that during Travis’s first encounter with Sylvia, she offered to help him deal with whatever he was hoping to achieve... Okay, so we bring Thunder Ryu’s katana to Naomi, who’ll build a new beam katana based on it. Then, we collect the money to pay the entrance fee for the battle against Assassin #2. Finally we head out towards this fight, which takes place at Destroy Stadium.

"We are interrupting this rerun of a Canadians-Bruins
hockey match to show a baseball match where
something actually fucking happens!"
Travis gets into the baseball stadium with his bike and mows down hordes of baseball players. Aw yes, I knew this game lacked some good vehicular rampage! I mean, you could hit passersby while driving around Santa Destroy, but nobody cared, not even the fucking cops. When all the baseball players are defeated, a trap opens on the diamond, and Travis jumps down and gets the call from Sylvia, except this time she makes it really short, and she recites the same things she ever says, almost in a mechanical way, like she’s tired of saying these things. To be fair, she’s been saying the same basic message nine times by now, so I can see why she’d be fed up. Anyway, Travis goes to the stadium’s basement and meets with Assassin #2, Bad Girl.

Yes, that's a large cleavage. Yes, that's a bloody baseball bat.
Don't aim for the former if you don't want to be bludgeoned
to death by the latter.

Just kidding. Even if you give no
damn about her boobs, she'll still
go and kill you.
Least creative name in the entire game, but to be fair, she’s not trying to put on a show, unlike some other assassins. She’ll be fine just bludgeoning you with a baseball bat until your face no longer looks like a face. Have I mentioned that, even compared to ALL of the other assassins seen so far, she’s fucking insane? If you thought the others were bad, just wait till you see her. She doesn’t have a backstory or a motivation, she just wants to kill anyone and everyone. "They're all going to pay. With their fucking lives", she says.

Incoming FastGimp Special! It's a Home Run!
Bonsoir, elle est partie!
How crazy is she? She spends the fight completely hammered with booze, yet is still extremely capable. When Travis points out that she’s not an assassin, just a perverted killing maniac, she replies that it’s the same; well, she may be nuts, but she’s got a point. Midway through the fight, she lights her bat on fire. At one point, she will feign to be wounded and start crying, and if you get close to her out of pity, she can grab her bat and deal to you a one-hit kill. There’s apparently a cloning machine in the next room that constantly spits out men in bondage suits (Bring out the gimps!), and Bad Girl is first shown killing some of them just for fun. She can even throw them at you, in which case the gimps will turn into mooks that you need to kill. She’s HARD no matter the difficulty, with a lot of hit points.

"Shit, I almost died with a boner. ...If I cop a feel, does it
count as necrophilia?"
Hell, even when Travis beats her and shoves his beam katana through her belly, she starts smashing him with her baseball bat some more. And she smashes a lot, too, until she finally dies from her wound, while she’s on top of him. Travis wins, but barely. The UAA cleaners show up, sans Sylvia, and say that Travis is now ranked second. Sylvia mysteriously couldn’t be there? Gee, after all the shit I’ve dealt with, she just up and leaves! Well, at least there’s only one opponent left.

Travis collects the money for the final entrance fee. Here it comes, the final battle. But this time, Travis receives no call, so he dials Sylvia’s number. Someone else answers; an older woman. When Travis asks about the United Assassins Association, the woman replies that Sylvia is a professional con artist, and the UAA is a scam she put forth to steal a ton of cash out of assassins, by pitting them against each other. Ah, the fucking Sylvia bitch! I want to see her head roll by the end of this game! The woman, who reveals herself to be Sylvia’s mother, still asks Travis how far he went into Sylvia’s plans, and when he says he’s #2 in rank, she still convinces him to go forward and kill the #1 assassin. It’s not like it makes any difference now, does it?

Who the Hell puts crates on the highway?
Okay, fine, we’ll go. Travis leaves his motel room, only to find a guy stealing his motorbike! Whatever Travis does now, he has to do it by foot. He retrieves his bike almost at the other end of town, near the interchange, and finds himself having to follow bikers onto the highway. The highway chase is pretty difficult until the path cuts off into a forest area, and Travis’s bike has to jump over fallen trees. At the end, Travis also has to take his bike to top speed to make a risky jump over an open bridge. Into the dark forest, Travis’s bike crashes and he has to continue by foot.

Hello, Thunder Ryubi-Wan-Sensei. Now that you're a
ghost, I feel your teachings will be a lot more ethereal.
Hey, I just realized, this feels an awful lot like Star Wars in a weird way. I mean, look! Thunder Ryu’s spirit is over there, showing Travis which path to take! All the enemies on the way towards enemy #1 are equipped with beam katanas and wear scary masks like Siths! Including the final section where four of them attack at once! Finally, as he approaches the final battle, Travis sees Ryu’s spirit vanish, leaving behind a note (in pretty bad English, too), saying that Travis has to choose whether to become a hero or a villain. Travis moves forward and gets a call from Sylvia. She says she would like to love him, but that she can’t, because he’s a fucking loser otaku/geek who will remain a loser even if he reaches the top of the food chain. She never intended to let Travis fuck her. She was gonna bailout no matter what he was gonna do. She still invites him to push forward, save, and get ready for the final fight…

I swear, the next time Travis sees this bitch, he’ll go Queen of Hearts on her. Off with her fucking head!

Cool story, Mr. Dark Star. Now please, may I know where
you got that purple dye? I really want to make my mullet
as purple as your beard. ...Just kidding, you look like a clown
that tried and failed at being a businessman.
We get to the final battle, in front of a giant castle. There he is, Dark Star, the obvious Vader rip-off. He even tries to pretend that he’s Travis’s father, and tries to make him remember his parents. All Travis can remember is that his parents were killed, and not by anybody, either… by the girlfriend he had at the time. He still remembers Jeane. And just as Dark Star tries some more mind tricks, a fist blasts through his crotch from behind, instantly killing him. ……No, really.

Dark Star falls to the ground, revealing a girl around Travis’s age…. And it’s Jeane. For the record, Jeane was Travis's only girlfriend up to that point. Travis is ready to fight his parents’ murderer, but Jeane leaves a whole bunch of plot exposition that would raise the game’s rating beyond what’s acceptable on the Wii. And so her speech is fast-forwarded. No, really, look!

In the afterlife? Will dark be bright, will cold be warm,
Will the day have no night in the afterlife?
Will the blind have sight? In the afterlife?

Here's the sequence, slowed down so that you can understand what she says.

Travis is Jeane’s half-brother, and she only found out they had the same father sometime after they fucked. The same alcoholic, violent, wife-beating asshole of a father; so she killed him. And Travis's mom, too. And the reason Travis went up the ranks was to hopefully find the assassin who did this. I mean, holy shit. And Travis named his cat after that girl? Man, that’s just sad. This is the final battle, better get ready.

As an MMA fighter, Jeane is really quick and can easily dodge your attacks. And she has enough hit points to be annoying, so she’s really hard to defeat. She’ll respond to your attacks with punches and kicks, and your best bet is to slash and roll out of the way, repeatedly. She has three “phases”, and gets stronger with each. I found that this battle was a lot easier if you used the second-to-last beam katana (the one with five beams) instead of the last one (which lacks attack power). The battle is still pretty difficult, but not as bad as it could be.

Shinobu! I knew I had a good reason to keep you alive!
Yes, Travis-Senpai will notice you.
At the end of the third phase, when Jeane’s HP are down to 0, she tries a final attack and grabs Travis’s heart with her hand through his body. Yeah, I figured she could so that after she punched through a guy’s pelvis. However, as Jeane is about to win, SHINOBU (remember her? Assassin #8?) shows up out of nowhere and cuts Jeane’s arm. Showing pity for his half-sister, Travis wishes that her next life is better than this one, and ends the fight by cutting her up. Shinobu leaves without a word, Travis recognizes that his quest is over; his family has been avenged. Not in a heroic way, but it's done.

I hate to see brothers fighting.
When he’s back at home, Travis saves on the can, as usual… Except someone cuts through the door with a beam katana and attacks. Now that our protagonist is First Rank, everyone who wants to be First Rank are going to attack him! Of course, on the john Travis doesn’t have access to his own weapon, so he’s trapped. That is, unless you have bought every beam katana upgrade, in which case someone else pops up behind the First Rank wannabe and kills him, giving Travis a chance to get up. The new guy is none other than the assassin who killed Letz Shake, a guy called Henry Cooldown, who also uses a beam katana (except his weapon also has beam cross guards; and yes, this was years before laser cross guards would make it on official Star Wars lightsabers in The Force Awakens). Henry lets Travis get ready, then waits him outside… for the bonus boss battle. Good luck with that, as Henry is a character of about equal strength to Travis. Except from hit points. Henry has an INSANE amount of hit points. And if you’re not careful, he can take down all of yours before you’re halfway into taking down his.

A real badass can take hundreds of hits and his suit
is never gonna get torn, ever.

Even when you defeat him, the two keep fighting, and Travis asks Henry to explain who he is. Get ready for a dump of exposition: Henry is Travis’s twin brother, as well as Sylvia’s husband for a decade now. Deciding that this crazy game world is too crazy, Travis and Henry choose to end it all, and jump to try and kill each other. Sylvia says she doubts there’ll be a sequel to the game…

And she looks so happy
about the whole thing, too.
And then Desperate Struggle came out, so… yeah, that mindfuck ending was just to mess with the player. The whole game is messing with the player, really, from its hypocritical message to its plot that goes almost nowhere for more than half the game, and only wraps up in the last few fights (and even then, most is done only moments before the final boss). The most we can say about this game’s plot is that, as a satire of “Reach The Top” games, it does an okay job; it calls out the player on treating the opponents merely like obstacles, not like separate characters, and it actually attempts to humanise these opponents. Travis is a deeply flawed nominal hero, who’s only going against opponents who are worse than him (and in some cases, actually better than him), and his motivations are flimsy all the way to the end (Hell, the last part is basically the game dropping a couple of drama bombs just because it needs to get wrapped up!).

No More Heroes shines however through its battle system. It is very simple on the surface, yet there are multiple little details that have to be discovered by the player. Anyone can press A to have Travis hit his opponents repeatedly with his beam katana, and pull the finishing move by moving the Wii remote in a direction. Add to this all the evasion techniques (and the Dark Step), the many Dark Side powers that you can use as you progress through a level (those can be earned at random while killing enemies and change the gameplay to let Travis do some absolutely amazing stuff), the wrestling moves, and you get something unique and enjoyable. What’s even better is that you are using this battle system against creative opponents with cool designs and even cooler movesets. It is this combination of knowing how to use your weapons to the best of your abilities, and how to respond to their own attacks, that makes it worth trying.

The Ranked Battles are fun, there’s no doubt there. They are the meat of the game. But to get there, you need to collect the money in the wide open sand box of Santa Destroy… which, as I explained in Part 3, is a pretty poor example of the genre. Although, that was kind of the point; as a spoof of ultraviolent games (which, for some reason, many wide open sandbox games tend to be), the actual wide open sandbox sections are actually kinda boring. The K-Entertainment assassination gigs and other job mini-games aren’t bad, although having to constantly drive back and forth between places gets pretty tiring. Collecting money to participate in the Ranked Battles is one of the longer tasks in the game, and it feels more like a chore by the end… and only at the end do you find out that all this money you sent to the UAA was spent by Sylvia in music shows, spa visits and other personal stuff. Just to twist the knife in some more. Well, there's still the quest for all 49 Lovikov balls...

Also, I don’t know if I’m the only one with that problem, but sometimes Travis’s bike is unresponsive. Considering the size of Santa Destroy, you WILL want to use the bike to go anywhere, and you often need to do sharp turns by pressing B before turning left or right, yet for some incomprehensible reason, in my game, when I do that the bike always turns left. Even if I wanted it to turn right. It’s a minor issue, but a very annoying one nonetheless. Thankfully, if the bike gets stuck somewhere, you can call Bishop and he’ll arrive with your bike, wherever you are.

My favorite weapon.
And my least favorite.
Another problem I have is with the final beam katana. Is it awesome? Yes, it doesn't need a metallic support and the beam somehow stays the same length. It also has better range. It's the closest you'll get to a real lightsaber. The downside? It's expensive, its upgrades are expensive, on your first playthrough that weapon is available only for the last few bosses (and thus you can't practice much with that weapon). Plus, compared to the five-beam weapon that came before it, the Tsubami MK-III is actually pretty weak, and the main combo Travis does with it are just impractical. It's really hard to use against Jeane, and especially against Henry.

The graphics are pretty great (the cel shading style gives the game a pretty unique look, less cartoony than The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but more stylized than most CGI games out there). And the game’s soundtrack is Fan. Tas. Tic. Many awesome pieces of music in there, usually the boss fight themes.

In the end, No More Heroes is a game to try. Is it good? Yes, it’s a good game, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Many parts of it have to be experienced rather than watched. The battle system is great. I could complain about the gratuitous foul language, although it’s justified by the story and its characters, and I can’t complain about the blood since it’s a part of the game’s commentary. However, I will gladly poit out the hypocrisy in the message, being a game that glorifies its own violence while trying to get into your head that so much violence is wrong. The morals are... muddled, to say the least. No More Heroes can get very challenging, as on Mild and Bitter difficulties you often HAVE to know all of the techniques, but the result is definitely enjoyable. It's far from perfect, it has a number of issues, but I definitely suggest that you try it at least once.

And now, this closes “Rated M” Month, probably the only time I’ll ever do such a themed month. I mean, what are the other M-rated games that I own? No More Heroes 2? MadWorld? Resident Evil 4 for the Wii? The first two will probably find spots somewhere in my reviewing schedule next year, and the latter will probably be reviewed one October. In the meantime, I’d sure take a break from M-rated games now… let’s go back to something else…

Hmmmm… Okay, time for some more Mario this Friday.