No More Heroes (Wii) review
"In reviewing No More Heroes, it’s a natural instinct to compare the game to its spiritual predecessor, Killer7, but that won’t get you anywhere. The two games share a similar cel-shaded visual style and are both products of Suda 51, but that’s the extent of their similarities, save for the identical reactions they inspired from me: I don’t know what it is, but I like it. "
In reviewing No More Heroes, it’s a natural instinct to compare the game to its spiritual predecessor, Killer7, but that won’t get you anywhere. The two games share a similar cel-shaded visual style and are both products of Suda 51, but that’s the extent of their similarities, save for the identical reactions they inspired from me: I don’t know what it is, but I like it.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair. Whereas Killer7 prided itself on being cryptic and incomprehensible, No More Heroes is actually pretty straightforward as far as its plot goes, and while some have uncovered traces of social satire in its stylized dialog and over-the-top characters, I see the game as little more than one big geek fantasy. The ridiculously named Travis Touchdown buys what is basically a lightsaber and vows to become the greatest killer on the planet, and turns to an organization that keeps track of the world’s most skilled assassins and will even set up matches for an absurdly high entrance fee. Travis thinks he’s a lot cooler than he really is, first dressing like a pimp, and then employing the overconfident one-liners you’d expect to hear from a man who thinks far too highly of himself. A quick look inside of his apartment reveals otherwise, and when Sophie (the hot French chick who acts as Travis’s consultant) asks him to rub oil on her body while she’s sunbathing, he stutters and hesitates, like… well, like a video game nerd who’s just been asked by a hot French chick to rub oil all over her body.
In a shocking turn of events, Travis reveals during his first assassination that he’s actually a very adequate fighter and probably has what it takes to make it to the top of Sophie’s list, but his status as a lazy, unemployed slob who sits around all day watching porn doesn’t mesh with the high entrance fees required for progress. As such, Travis has to continuously rely on part-time jobs and less prolific assassinations to earn the wages necessary to keep up. It’s all tied into a sandbox environment that is ultimately No More Heroes’ one major shortcoming.
I said it’s pointless to compare this game to Killer7, and in some ways the two games are exact opposites: Whereas Suda 51’s previous title earned its share of naysayers for restricting its gameplay and limiting player movement to tracks, No More Heroes is, if anything, too open-ended for its own good. The sandbox environment of Santa Destroy is peppered with framerate issues and excessive pop-up, and the exaggeratedly enormous motorbike Travis uses to navigate the city controls like ass: It doesn’t turn in a discernable radius, and the hit detection is laughable – I think it’s safe to say that I’ve crashed into more invisible walls than corporeal ones. It’s a glaring issue in contrast with the game’s slick, stylish presentation.
But even putting aside the technical mishaps, the open world aspect of No More Heroes falls flat for one simple reason: There’s no point. I guess we’re at the peak of the sandbox age where every game wants to be Grand Theft Auto, but if you’re willing to go through the trouble of creating an open world environment just to emphasize player freedom, then at least DO something with it. By the end of a really good sandbox game, I can travel to key areas by memory, without the use of the little radar at the bottom of the screen. Not so for No More Heroes, which made little attempt to really involve me in its world or give me the opportunity to get to know Santa Destroy. Aside from the optional tidbits (you can buy new videos or clothes), No More Heroes’ sandbox world exists as a means to extend the gameplay, which becomes frustrating when you’ve got to physically trek from one mission to the next. A tighter, more focused structure would have benefited the game.
That said, while the grinding aspect of No More Heroes could have been painful, it isn’t. For one thing, you won’t have to do much of it – you’ll earn so much money for each major assassination that you’ll only have to partake in a few side quests to earn the necessary funds for the next big assignment. But even then, the part-time jobs are actually pretty fun, all of them mini-games designed to make unique use of the Wii remote. You’ll be doing things like twisting the remote to direct a lawnmower or mimicking the motion of picking up trash (or scorpions, inexplicably), and while none of the mini-games really materialize as anything you’d want to complete more than once or twice, you’ll never need to. Finishing a job unlocks an assassination mission, and that’s where No More Heroes is at its most compelling.
The battle system is the perfect compromise between a control scheme that isn’t overly reliant on Wii’s motion sensing capabilities and a developer that is still content to make the most of the hardware. Most of Travis’s basic attacks (slashes and stuns) are performed using the two main action buttons, while the physical position of the beam katana corresponds to how you’re holding the remote. Furthermore, each foe is brought to his end using a finisher activated either by swinging the remote in a prompted direction, or, when a “wrestling move” is required, maniacally waving both the remote and nunchuk simultaneously. Of course, the physical inputs for these moves offer instant gratification thanks to No More Heroes’ abundant gore. No one just dies; they split open and unleash geysers of blood, more so than any human body could ever contain. Even those foes who have been wrestled to death somehow find a way to explode.
I suppose it’s impressive that, for as little as the combat actually changes or evolves between the beginning and end of No More Heroes, the swordplay remains fresh and exciting throughout. Maybe the smart blend of old-fashioned hack-and-slash gameplay and Wii motion sensing is such an inviting experience that it holds my interest until the end. There are really only two enemy types (those who attack with swords, and those who attack with guns), so in reality, No More Heroes should be viciously repetitive, so it’s a testament to how well-executed the combat is that the game doesn’t come off this way. The challenging bosses in particular offer the game’s most intense battles, ascending beyond simple swordfights and slyly incorporating even more context-sensitive remote inputs. These encounters are varied enough that I was actually disappointed late in the game when, after a lengthy intro sequence, a boss I was about to face got killed by a rival assassin just as I was about to step in. I wanted to fight him, dammit!
(My patience does run thin, however, for one-hit kills. One particular boss near the end of the game – a drunken girl with a baseball bat – had me hammering away at her excessive health meter for nearly ten minutes before she sat down on the ground and started to cry. Any logical person would think this would be a good time to attack, but when I approached her, I somehow triggered a cutscene in which she leapt onto Travis and beat him over the head until he died. What the hell? And this is a boss whose special attack is to bat gimps at Travis. Gimps! I would not badmouth her if I didn’t have to.)
Of course, one must take into consideration that Suda 51 – one of gaming’s most unstable minds – was the brains behind No More Heroes, and as such, even putting aside the design itself, you can expect the game to surprise you around every turn. (Even those who hated Killer7 had to admit they’d never played anything else like it.) The man’s apparent love for old-school gaming is evident in frequent graphical touches and 8-bit chip music littered throughout the soundtrack, and the game’s seeming obsession with its visual presentation, while not as overbearing as it was in his last game, is still its main selling point. Those who dug Killer7’s exploration of the gaming medium as a form of art but were turned off by its restrictive gameplay will probably find No More Heroes hand-tailored to their liking: Still as occupied with style as ever, but functioning as a better game in the meantime.
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