Monday, 30 March 2009

Violent Femme-Fatales

It's increasingly important these days to find time to relax. By "these days", of course, I mean "during the desperate struggle to finish my thesis and not have it totally blow".

Currently, much of my relaxation time is spent hacking people to death with a quadruple-bladed lightsaber. Sorry, "beam katana".

I speak, naturally, of No More Heroes.

People much smarter than me have already put forward the theory that we are rapidly reaching the point where video games are liable to be constrained not by technology, but by imagination. Even comparatively early into its life, the Playstation 3 has delivered visuals so jaw-dropping it makes an old-timer like me weep in awe and confusion.

What this means is "realism" (and I've pointed out before what a strange obsession the entertainment industry has with the term) is more or less within our grasp. Again, I can claim no originality in pointing out that "real" then becomes an aesthetic choice for a game's designers, rather than a desperate hope.

(This is a bit of an aside, but I don't like realism in video games. Real life can fuck off, quite frankly. I want escapism. I don't want to play a game and think "Wow, that must be what fighting a war/piloting a fighter plane/driving in a rally is really like." I would much rather think "Wow, I can't believe I took out an insect-piloted hovertank with just a twin-barrelled rocket-launcher and judicious use of my jump-pack." It's a personal choice. More to the point, it's a personal choice about the kind of fiction one chooses to engage in).

One of the aspects of video gaming I appreciate most is the deliberate attempt to make a game according to a coherent artistic vision (Christ, I feel like such a prick typing that). Games like XIII, for example, which set out to create a video game comic (there was a Megadrive game that did something quite similar, but I can't remember it's name; any suggestions welcome). With No More Heroes, the artistic vision is "retro gaming", although the coherence is somewhat missing. Or maybe it's coherently incoherent, which now makes me feel like a prick and an oxymoronic into the bargain, but you get used to it.

The basic plot is fairly simple, you play Travis Touchdown, the 11th ranked assassin in the United States, who wants to be number 1, a desire which necessitates the brutal murder of the ten people above you. Since all ten are members of an assassins union (or maybe it's more like a club; work less, make more), you have to pay to arrange title fights. In-between, you have to raise the necessary dough in a succession of mindlessly repetitive subgames (nothing says retro like mindlessly repetitive subgames), which become increasingly bizarre (capturing kittens in the streets of Santa Destroy being a particular highlight). The nostalgic feeling of joystick-waggling (surely what the Wiimote was designed for) is accentuated by the various tinny musical stings, which sound like they could be coming out of an Eighties arcade. It's glorious.

This mining of the Eighties continues into the "plot". Travis is the ultimate extension of the desperate loser who wants to be a hero, the reductio ad absurdum of Travis Bickle or . This is a man who dreams of being a samurai, though given the skewed logic of the game said dreams manifest themselves as a vertical-scrolling which you naturally get to play [1]. When he's not firing out ludicrous macho dialogue (his first word in the game is "Fuckhead", which he shouts seemingly at random after dispatching a hapless goon), he's desperately trying to screw his handler, a willowy French girl named, what else, Sylvia Christel (at this point, two-thirds of the way through the game, it looks like she's going to put out, but we'll have to see), who spends most of her time in various states of undress for no good reason. Again, this is all very 1984 (the year, not the dystopian vision of a totalitarian future); if there isn't a scene set in a strip club by the end of the game, I'll be pretty surprised.

(That's the most clothes she ever wears, by the way.)

We need more games like this. Games that aren't just a chase for the best graphics (which the Wii is never going to be a contender for in any case), but are based around a definable concept.

Plus, on a personal level, a little bit more of this degree of total insanity would be a good thing for gaming in general. I had to apologise for being late to Blacklung's flat yesterday afternoon on the grounds that it had taken longer than expected to massacre a psychotic Polish magician, and that's the sort of excuse that should be heard more often.

[1] Once again, this revels in the idiocy of Eighties gaming titles, your samurai starts off fighting target boards, but pretty quickly they start shooting back, and then spaceships suddenly arrive and it makes no sense.


Pause said...

The MD game you were thinking of was probably Comix Zone.

There's an interesting aside to be had here about what it means to be "retro" given the youthfulness and rapid speed of development of gaming hardware (nobody would watch Citizen Kane or listen to the White Album and (without a meaningful nod and a wink) say they were having a retro evening in; or at least nobody I'd not find insufferable after about 5 minutes), but I'll not be the one to make it.

SpaceSquid said...

Yes, yes it was: thank you.

I'll have to have a think about your wider point, I think there's something interesting to be said there.

Plus, obviously: thanks for lending me the game in the first place. Sorry I haven't gotten it back to you yet.

Pause said...

No worries; there's no rush. Between L4D, Mass Effect, Okami and Fire Emblem I'll not be needing it any time soon.

Funny term, retro. Rose-tinted specs on one hand, an obsession with moving away from what it represents on the other.

Gooder said...

The game is the work of 'Suda 51', who is something of a videgame design autuer and know for off the wall games

SpaceSquid said...

I shall have to have a look at some more of his/her games, I think. Isn't Killer 7 from the same person?

Gooder said...

Yep, I beileve so.

Pause said...

You can borrow that too if you don't have it.

It's certainly a more focused ('coherent', I suppose) experience, but it's also much more limited as a game. But then that's the point; whether you like playing it or not (and an awful lot of people quite understandably don't) is almost irrelevant.

It also features more Travis Touchdown.