Review by ping5000
"This is what happens when developers don't conform to the norm."
The sad fact is the Wii is deprived of original triple-A third-party efforts. Zack & Wiki remains the one exception. Now make that two. No More Heroes is Suda 51's latest directorial effort and it's easily his best outing. Combining the absurdity and style that Suda 51 games are known for with solid gameplay makes No More Heroes a great way to kick off the new year.
If you've played Suda 51's previous games, like Killer7, you should have a good idea of what to expect in terms of how off-kilter it can get. For everyone else, grab a seat. No More Heroes takes place in the fictional California city of Santa Destroy and you assume the role of Travis Touchdown a gamer and otaku who is now totally broke. So, he takes up a part-time job to kill The Drifter. Wielding a beam katana that Travis won in an internet auction, he accomplishes his task and unintentionally becomes the eleventh ranked assassin of the UAA United Assassins Association. A sultry femme fatale, Sylvia Christel (who works for the UAA), offers Travis the option to defend his title and eventually climb to the top. Travis willingly accepts and the bloodshed begins. It's a bizarre premise no doubt and everything mentioned above is capped in a five-minute intro, so it might be a lot to take in. However, the benefit of this is that you're thrust immediately into the game, and that you'll get to the combat all the more sooner.
Combat is in a couple words, fast, stupidly violent and immensely satisfying. You'd think a Wii game that uses a sword for combat will relegate swinging to arm-shattering waggle, but Grasshopper wisely maps it to the A-button. Instead, motion comes into play when you're about to initiate the final blow. Once you whittle down the punk's health, an on-screen arrow pops up, telling you which way to swing your remote. The result is a hilariously awesome crimson shower, with flecks of gold and silver coins that conveniently warp into your coffers. And after every death blow, a mini-slot machine will play in the bottom of your screen. Get three of a kind and you'll net one of five awesome power-ups that let you wreak devastatingly satisfying havoc for a small period of time. Bone-crunching wrestling moves are also at your disposal; once you stun an opponent, you'll be able to grab the clown and an on-screen indicator will again tell you which direction you have to swing your remote and nunchuck. The only drawback is that you won't initiate the mini-slots with wrestling moves, but the benefit is that the enemy is open for a quick death.
The combat initially seems simplistic, but its complexities reveal themselves and even become almost mandatory as the game progresses. Mastering the circle dodge is easily the most important things you'll learn, as it'll prove to be invaluable during the last stretch of the game and in the many side-missions. Still, it remains simple, with its various subtleties being optional (though it'll make life easier). So, what ultimately makes the combat fantastic is because of how visually frenetic it is. Every hit carries a satisfying oomph, what seems like lightning bolts flash across the screen and every kill is just so bloody beautiful that there are times when blood overwhelms the screen, making it impossible to see what the hell you're doing. It looks absolutely amazing and jaw-droppingly stylish that, even when you realize you're hammering the A and B buttons over and over again, it really doesn't matter. The combat's just too fun.
The other third of the game however, is hit-and-miss. After every ranked match, you must pay the entry fee to get into the next rankings match. This means you'll take up some weird part-time jobs and minor assassination gigs to pay up. The part-time jobs range from picking up coconuts to washing the graffiti scum that infect the city walls. These are definitely fun and are a nice change of pace, but they're one-time affairs for the most part; you probably won't want to do them again. You'll probably have more fun doing the assassination gigs. The missions have variables like, using wrestling moves only or better yet, a hundred-man kill spree that will send your framerate into a nosedive (that's a good thing).
The city of Santa Destroy is an open world, so you'll get from point to point on your slick Schpeltiger. The driving is sketchy, not because the Schpeltiger is unwieldy, but because of wonky collision detection. You'll bump into cars that you clearly haven't made contact with, accidentally wipe out because you could've sworn the park bench was out of harm's way and very rarely you'll get your bike stuck, with the only solution being to call for it again by running a great distance away from it. These are relatively minor issues, but issues nonetheless. For the most part though, driving around the city is actually fun once you learn how to do the various motion control tricks. The city itself is quite small, so getting to your destination can take less than a minute once you become a skilled driver.
It does pay to actually stop by the few buildings that you can enter, though. They're mostly there to upgrade your stats, learn new wrestling and even net new beam katanas that have their own unique animations and traits. Traveling on-foot also has its own rewards; the backalleys have trash cans that you can kick open for some really stylish digs, and the titular lovikov balls that you can give to a Russian drunk will grant you invaluable abilities for both combat and on-foot travel. And there's your motel, where you can change your clothes, take a dump to save progress and even play with your super-cute cat, Jeane.
The star of No More Heroes though, is the ranked matches. Besides the fact that it's here when your combat wits are put into full use, the assassins themselves are great characters. From the bloodthirsty, bat-wielding psycho chick to the fifty-something hag that carries around a shopping cart that duals a destructive laser gun, they're all very weird, bizarre and ultimately memorable. It's a shame they're given so little screen-time, but every moment of their existence is stock full of sharp writing, slick cutscenes, excellent voice acting and tough battles. And it's worth mentioning that Touchdown is one cool cat, even if he can turn into a bloodthirsty monster just like the other assassins. He's a great protagonist, and his simple goals and motivations prove to be endearing.
And last but not least, No More Heroes brims and eventually floods with style. The 8-bit inspired interface, flashy combat, kick-ass cutscenes and slick (really, really slick) load screens has the Grasshopper touch. The 99 t-shirts throughout Santa Destroy will also inspire treasure hunts, because these are really worth getting. It's hard to believe Grasshopper came up with all the designs, because they're good enough for retail. The game also makes numerous references to movies and games, like Back to the Future and Duke Nukem Forever that keeps things care-free and funny, making No More Heroes all the more charming. The game in general has an oddball sense of humor; sometimes it's blacker than night and other times it's just straight up funny. Compared to Killer7, No More Heroes is a lot less serious, but it doesn't make it any less absurd or bizarre.
The visuals have a lot to do with it, too. The art design has a pseudo-realistic/cel-shaded look that looks quite nice for the most part. The framerate has a tendency to hit the low-twenties when more than two goons meet their fate at the same time, but it accentuates the violence strangely enough; it's like an unintentional slow-motion effect. The game looks its worse when you're cruising around in Santa Destroy; the framerate is never consistent, pop-in is a common occurrence and it generally isn't very interesting to look at. Overall though, the visual package is still quite strong and much of that has to do with the outstanding art direction.
The aural package, on the other hand, is practically flawless. Grasshopper's previous audio works, like Killer7, were masterfully done, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The voice acting is terrific across the board and the sound effects, like the 8-bit beeps and bloops, will evoke moments of nostalgia for older players. Wii speaker is utilized well for the first time ever; the low hum of the katanas sound great on the low-quality speakers and the phone calls you receive from Sylvia sound much natural because the speaker quality again, isn't so hot. The soundtrack is unique and positively great. Special kudos to the simple, melodic tune that plays whenever you're in combat with generic thugs; it never ceases to be catchy, no matter how many variations of it plays in the background.
No More Heroes should take around 10-15 hours, depending on how much exploring you do. Once you reach its mind-blowing conclusion (depending on which ending you get), No More Heroes is easily the best third-party effort on the Wii and one of the best January games ever. The combat is satisfying, the challenge is high and Suda 51's writing and stylistic choices make No More Heroes one hell of an original action game, by any measure. This is what happens when a team of developers ignore outside influences. When a developer doesn't take the market into consideration, when a developer doesn't conform what is perceived as sensible, when a developer doesn't give a crap about what you think. That's when games like No More Heroes happen. Pick this bad boy up.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/31/08
Game Release: No More Heroes (US, 01/22/08)
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