Travis Touchdown saves the game by taking a dump. And Jack? Jack… he’s a psycho maniac. The irreverent humour of No More Heroes and MadWorld is just so bad, it’s good.
No More Heroes‘ Travis Touchdown and the series’ oversexualised and stylistically violent gameplay surprise for being so over-the-top. These games could be serious, but then there’d be no point to them. The killfest which began in 2007 with the first game has a familiar premise — ranked assassins killing each other off to be number one. It sounds good enough, if not a little bit been-there-done-that.
The cleverness to No More Heroes, though, is in everything it does to present an ultraviolent world, by having it delivered through the foul-mouthed Travis. Travis is so far removed from being a functioning, responsible and normal adult, that it’s easier to believe that he fits right into whatever crazy scenarios the game throws at him. Lightsabers? Why not. Ninjas? OK.
It’s not a strange leap to imagine that he’s suddenly great enough to move through the ranks. Travis, after all, is a gamer and anime consuming enthusiast. He’s well-informed on how life works in video games, as we are. This is a point the game presses when it consistently breaks the fourth wall to let us know that it knows that we’re performing all these feats.
The writing is so tailored to appeal to elements of this particular culture of anime and gaming that it does so in its soundtrack, too. There are retro pieces to fit the 8-bit styled games Travis plays to make money in No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, the sequel in the series. There’s also Margaret Moonlight, one of the assassins Travis has to kill. She’s a gothic lolita — a full tribute to the culture, through style and a really, terribly good theme song:
The lyrics school Travis (and us as players), while giving some insight into the fight. It’s harsh, and funny. A tribute and a jab mixed into one.
Then there’s MadWorld which takes itself a little more seriously.
It’s not at all serious, but in its world it’s a serious situation peppered with some not-so-serious gameplay activities. It’s another game in which Ranked Deathmatches is the basis of its premise. Jack, unlike Travis, is efficient because he’s trained to be so by career choice, not because he knows he’s apart from the real world, under video game terms. The self-aware humour isn’t as direct or obvious with MadWorld as a result, but it’s there. It’s there in its commentators who take extreme pleasure at breaking down every disgusting play-by-play in the Deathmatch game.
MadWorld may feel, ever so slightly, more brutal for its use of violence because of this. Until that is you start listening to its soundtrack, and realise that it’s a literal translation of all your actions, in addition to the commentators’ own remarks.
Take a listen to this song:
The on-the-nose lyrics are awful when you think about how it’s telling the story twice — you’re living it in real-time, and the song is egging on all your actions and taunting what you’re experiencing. It’s almost too literal to be fun yet that’s exactly what it is. It helps that it’s so catchy.
This continues throughout the entire game. Here is another example:
Well, now we have a perception of Jack as we’re living it. Hooray! We’re terrible people. But doesn’t it feel great? Once again, this highlighting of every move made along with the social commentary is so stupid but so brilliant at the same time.
The two games are gems of the Wii’s library (with No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise on the PS3). They’re pointed observations on gaming culture, made just for us — handled best for people who don’t mind plenty of violence, stylish gorgeous art, overused cursing, some clever fights and a little bit of self-deprecating humour.