Sometimes video games embarrass me. I get an uneasy feeling that I'm a grown man lurking around the "Young Readers" section of a bookstore. I don't belong there. Those books aren't meant for me. But I consume them because the other shelves in the store are barren.
Oddly, I don't get that feeling playing Animal Crossing or Paper Mario. It hits me when I play a 'mature' game like Gears of War or Modern Warfare 2. I endure the lurching stabs at profundity and empty ruminations on the futility of war - the stuff adolescent teens mistake for insight - hoping they will only briefly interrupt the shooting and cover system that keeps me playing.
If you're like me, you've probably made similar accommodations for countless games over the years. We roll our eyes and plunge ahead, hopeful that whatever save-humanity mission we're assigned this time will be a minor (and possibly skipable) distraction; a disposable wrapper around the real gaming goodness inside.
Lots of talented designers are working hard to eliminate that wrapper. They want to integrate game/story/visuals/controls and leverage the power of games to reposition the player as creator and interpreter of his own experience. It's hard to find the seams in Fallout 3 because all of its pieces fit so tightly together.
Goichi Suda sees things differently. Suda loves the wrapper. He's not interested in eliminating it, nor does he ask us to accommodate it. Suda wants to decorate that wrapper, hang lights on it, set it to music - and then blow it to smithereens in a bloodbath finale.
The wrapper is Suda's cocky 8-bit soft-core sociopath Otaku graffiti, artfully spattered all over his bloody action-brawler, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. It evokes and exalts the same adolescent kid most games make me feel embarrassed to acknowledge. Gears of War is pitched at the 15-year-old who thinks he's playing an adult game; No More Heroes targets the adult who's got a hormone-addled 15-year-old lurking inside, farting at a funeral.
Travis Touchdown (even his name sounds like a kid made him up) is 42-year-old Suda's adolescent heterosexual male fantasy hero: a lanky, contemptuous, self-absorbed assassin with a permanent air of disinterested cool. Travis is wrapped in Suda. He plays the NES-era video games Suda played when he was Travis' age; he wears the same clothes; he collects Lucha Libre masks.
Travis is our conduit to Suda, and he's also our avatar. So the player's experience in NMH2 is heavily mediated by Suda's hyper-stylized vision of Santa Destroy, wrapped around a game about a assassin drawn into a game designed to entertain a game-obsessed audience. All held together (wrapped if you will) by a core design that repeatedly delivers high-voltage blasts of naughty, unrestrained, berserk catharsis - the very stuff your inner-adolescent craves.
Miles of style add up to substance in No More Heroes 2, and in my next post I'll try to explain how and why. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to get your hands on this game. Your inner-adolescent will thank you.