Review by LegatoBluesommers
"One critical error aside, this is far more original and better than most 3rd party Wii games currently out there."
Perhaps the biggest problem seen so far on the Wii is a noted drought of truly full scale gaming experiences, especially from third party developers who seem mainly interested in cramming the system's library full of mini-game shovelware. Suda 51's Grasshopper Manufacture, developer of the incredibly bizarre Killer 7 on the GameCube, is bucking that trend with his newest incredibly bizarre game, No More Heroes. Aside from one incredibly glaring flaw in its design, the overall package is quite solid. NMH is one-of-a-kind, very stylish, and one of the few quality core titles for the console.
You play as Travis Touchdown (go ahead and laugh, you know you wanna), a fellow who doesn't have any real job to speak of and lives in his Santa Destroy apartment with his cat Jeane. One day, Travis meets a woman by the name of Sylvia at a bar, and she gives him an opportunity to make some quick cash: find and kill the top 10 ranked assassins in America. The game begins as Travis arrives at the residence of his first target, Death Metal. From there, the main story of the game simply follows Travis as he hunts down the assassins one at a time. This sounds a little minimalist, but the story achieves a great amount of depth through Travis's interactions with the other characters in the game, primarily the assassins. Each one is loaded with eccentricities and personality, and despite the short time you spend with each, the brilliantly scripted and shamelessly direct dialogue gives you a very clear idea of what kind of people they are. Also worth noting is Travis's relationship with Sylvia, which fluctuates wildly throughout. The game also makes a point of not-so-subtly mocking conventional plot devices that you often see in video games today (such as the long lost sibling, the deceptively innocent bystander, and so on). This, in tandem with the other facets of the story, creates a plot that is equal parts comedy, soulful commentary, and clever satire. If there's any weakness in it at all, it would have to be that it's far too brief. Taken by themselves, the plot-relevant sequences only sum to around 2 or 3 hours.
NMH's gameplay is an animal of two faces. By far the more enjoyable of these is the swordplay around which the combat engine is built. Deceptively simple in approach, Travis is actually capable of quite a bit with his beam katana (read: lightsaber). The game does not implement the fabled 1-to-1 sword motion control that many Wii owners have been pining for (and likely will never get), as the basic slash combos are simply mapped to a button. However, once an enemy has been brought to near-death, you can perform some rather gratuitous finishers with a swing of the Wii remote. Also, hitting enemies with a blunt physical attack can stun them and allow Travis to perform some old-school wrestling techniques by moving both the remote and nunchuk. Continuous use of the sword depletes its energy level, which can be restored either by finding recharge items or by pressing the 1 button and shaking the remote (the on-screen animation that accompanies this will probably provoke some chuckles). The alternate sword models that Travis can acquire throughout the game function very differently, which adds another layer of depth to the experience. Sadly, the standard enemies you encounter aren't particularly creative or challenging to defeat: simple button mashing is usually enough to dispatch them. The assassins are a different story entirely, as they almost always force you to stay on your toes, the last few in particular being quite frantically paced. It's a setup that never gets old due since everything is so easy to pull off and you'll discover little nuances in the mechanics over time.
The ugly side of the gameplay is the city of Santa Destroy, which you must regrettably deal with in between the assassination missions in order to earn the required money to move on. At first glance, it appears to have an open-world sandbox feel similar to the Grand Theft Auto games, but further examination shows that the two have very little in common. For one, you can't interact with hardly anything in this city. You can drive around town on your extremely large motorcycle Schpeltiger, knock some light posts over, and there are some collectibles to find (all superfluous aside from the hidden Lolikov balls, which actually unlock some cool abilities), but that's about where the list of things to do ends. Other vehicles stroll about, but they (like your bike) are completely indestructible, and basically only serve to get in the way. In truth, the only purpose the city serves is to be a hub for the few buildings of interest (your hotel, various shops, the gym, etc) and mission-related areas. You unlock more of these places as you move up in rank, but the routine remains basically the same. You go do the new odd job for your rank (some of these are kind of neat, but most are just tedious), which unlocks a new fighting side-mission. After that, you do the most lucrative available mission until you have enough money to pay for whatever upgrades you want and the entrance fee for the next ranked assassination mission. All said, the city sections of the game are mediocre in design and far too frequent, which unfortunately waters down the rest of the experience.
The visuals of this game are heavily stylized, which almost makes up for the fact that the quality of said visuals isn't exactly fantastic. The game draws a lot its little visual quirks from the arcade shooters of yore (in fact, the ranking screen you see after defeating each assassin looks like something straight out of Space Invaders or Galaga). There's also a very punk feel to the whole presentation. As with the gameplay, the visual creativity takes a huge dip when you hit the city, as 90% of the buildings are of the throwaway cookie cutter variety. The music of the game isn't really anything to write home about (in fact, the same battle theme plays in all fight sequences aside from the assassins), but the sound effects and voice work most certainly are. The performances are truly top notch, and really add to your appreciation for the story as a whole. As far as unlockables go, there are a lot of wrestling mask cards you can get from chests during ranked missions, which adds the mask to the collection hanging in your apartment. Also, finding similar cards in your second playthrough unlocks some neat art and some extra background material on the game.
While lacking polish in many technical areas, this is clearly an inspired game that deserves the attention of Wii owners everywhere. There's also plenty of potential sequel material, so a sequel may get some of the kinks worked out. If you're looking for that truly unique hardcore experience that the system is currently lacking, pick it up.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/03/08
Game Release: No More Heroes (US, 01/22/08)
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