Review: No More Heroes
Anime assassin action from the makers of Killer7.
It’s a weird thing to be anticipating the spiritual sequel to one of the oddest games released on a Nintendo platform, especially when that platform is presently the Wii. Killer7 was as strange as Capcom’s decision to make the Resident Evil series exclusive to the GameCube – and as successful. It was also the marmite of videogames, inspiring thirty percent review scores and fifty-page plot analysis. If you’d have told the end result of my expectation would be something not too dissimilar to Bully: Scholarship Edition, I’d have been surprised to say the least. I was expecting some completely unique, but I should have remembered that no art exists in a vacuum.
San Andreas and Oblivion both scored highly in the major Japanese magazine Famitsu last year and the controversial sandbox game has been selling phenomenally well for in Japan. The Western-looking developer at Grasshopper Studios, Suda 51 has clearly taken inspiration from the Scottish crim-sim and made his own twisted version of the USA (specifically somewhere along the Mexican border), naming it Santa Destroy. Unfortunately, he developed it for the wrong console (finally speaking) and it flopped in his native country, going on to do better in a less uncensored (gruesomer?) version released in the States – incidental this review is of the uncut import. Killer7 was eventually ported to the PlayStation 2 and I can only hope that NMH (or any future Grasshopper games) finds a home with the definitely more hardcore-appreciating Xbox 360 audience. As you’re about to find out, it’s deserves to appreciated.
Despite looking like a Johnny Knoxville knock-off, you’re main character is clearly an otaku (re: uber-geek) with an anime anti-hero vibe about him. Residing in the No More Heroes motel with his pet kitten, surrounded by moe (re: lolita) figurines and Lucha Libre (re: Jack Black) masks, Travis Touchdown (for that is your name, sadly) has no other ambition in life than to kill the top ten ranked assassins of the UAA and become A No.1!
He intends to achieve this with a beam katana (re: lightsabre) he won off Ebay. And that’s as much sense as this game makes. Along with the flimsies excuse for a story, the exaggerated scenario is moreover used as a canvas for social satire/gaming convention parody in as much the same way as Grand Theft Auto or Bully’s are. Travis is a gamer who takes his violent fantasies into the real world. The unresponsiveness of pedestrians is a commentary on the inability of Japanese games designers to allow violence to be used as casually as it is in the west. The retro stylings are a sardonic snook (re: it’s a word!) in the face of the inane modernity of the Wii. Ect; ect; ad nauseum. Basically, if you lap up surreal shit then you’ll loviko the balls off of this.
Fortunately, unlike Killer7 before it you won’t find the game simply a means to a cutscene. The story is surprisingly thin on the ground, so the freedom is there for you to choose how and when you progress ala Assassin’s Creed. Unfortunately the tasks are just as tedious as they were in that game, but at least they go by quicker.
Money flows fast and loose in Santa Destroy and it won’t take long before you have enough to set up the next hit. Any extra dough can be used to train or to deck out your main man, though he’ll invariably always end up looking like an otaku (re: bellend). At least that beam-sabre gives him street cred, eh? Not when he has to do a wanking motion to charge it, it doesn’t.
Being a huge fan of Killer 7, I’ve been highly anticipating the release of this game ever since I saw the first trailer. While Killer 7 was very much a rather niche, on-rails shooter, this is a hack ‘n’ slash-em-up with a bit of free roaming and driving thrown in and is far more accessible. The free-roaming sections in the city can become rather tedious but the city itself is only there to serve as a hub to access the various missions, shops and jobs. The real action happens in the assassination missions and the eventual boss fights.
No More Heroes contains some of the best character designs in years and is arguably one of the most stylish games you will ever play. Everything – from the 80’s arcade-inspired menus to Travis’ otaku shrine of a motel room to the pixelated HUD icons – oozes quality. The removal of blood from the PAL version (and yes it was removed, not added to the American, checkout the first trailer and early screenshots for proof) makes the game no less playable, but much of the games visual impact during the fights and particularly the boss death cut scenes is lost, I’m glad I picked up the American version.
Amongst all the generic FPS games nowadays (and the vast number of tedious mini-game collections on the Wii itself), No More Heroes is a breath of fresh air. Grasshopper Manufacture once again shows that, like Killer 7, they have the balls attempt making a game that most other developers wouldn’t even think of. More games like this please.
Secondary Score: 9/10
Speaking of the light-katana, my initial major disappointment that it didn’t register individual swipes of the Wiimote (it only reconsiders a high or low fencing stance) quite quickly wore off once you realize how much fun the sword fighting is anyway. Whether you’re pawning fools vertically in half or playing it defensive and opportunistic against some of the most proficient swordsmen in gaming history (bar the Sith in Jedi Outcast), you’re constantly engaged with what you’re doing, which is where the Wiimote will always have an advantage of the standard remote (I’ll forgive it giving me the wanker’s wrist). The level design is tailored complete to combat with the minimum (almost absurdly so) of lever switch or any other surprises that make use of the motion sensor.
The Schepel Tiger (re: bike version of the DeLorean) also makes very good use of the Wiimote, single-handedly justifying the overworld required to get from A to B; besides trash cans full of T-shirts. Flicking it up allows you to leap over traffic, and braking while simultaneously flicking it sideways performs an indefinite donut for those tricky corners. It’s a shame that the town itself it so lifeless (not to mention blocky as Ico), like a piece of 60s pop art. Oh sure, it’s nice to admire from an aesthetic standpoint, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Ironically enough, the critics whose problem with Killer7 was the fact that it was a gorgeous world with exploration limited to a 2D plane are the now accusing of the fully 3D world of NMH of being vacuous.
Of course, I do share many of the same criticisms that have been voiced: mainly that this is style over substance; and that if the style (Kill Bill) isn’t to your fancy, then it will be hard to enjoy what substance (re: wrestling someone to the ground and skewering them) there is. But the harshest critic I’ve defended it from is myself and consequently it’s risen sharply in my estimation. Put it down to the Zelda-lite pacing of dungeon-boss-sidequest-loot-repeat, overladen with Kill Bill’s bloodthirsty machismo. Put it down to the lazy Texan sun rendered through art and not polygons. Whatever it is, it’s available in the Wii section of your local game retailer. And I find that the bizarrest thing of all.