Review by CyborgSage00x0
"The bloody best way to start off the new year, NMH takes the path less traveled-in a good way."
I remember about a year ago reading up on No More Heroes (NMH) in Game Informer. I was just flipping through the new game section and the title stuck out-"No More Heroes." Right away I was intrigued-I mean, that's a damn cool title for anything. Right away I began reading up on the game (which sported a small picture of the protagonist battling an enemy), and I saw the name SUDA 51 in the report. NOW things were getting interesting! Every since I've played his game KIller7, I've been a fan of his sometime insane gaming style. Killer7 was a game that had one of the heaviest (if not downright confusing) stories in any media, and offered a new punk style of gaming that wasn't afraid to stray from the norm. This game defiantly follows that trend.
After some a good amount of anticipation for this game, I finally got my hands on this nutty title. I can safely say I wasn't disappointed, and like Killer7, nothing will prepare you for how over-the-top and unexpected this game is. But one thing is for sure, this is one of the coolest titles to come about in a long while.
Probably the biggest premise for this game, the concept, defiantly drives the crazy story. I should clarify first: The concept is unlike any other, but the story is a bizarre theater-although still excellent.
In fact, in that Game Informer article is when I first got a taste of what this game was all about-and what ultimately made me buy it. You are Travis Touchdown, a laid back otaku who enjoys anime, professional wrestling, video games, and is a snazzy dresser. You also have recently purchased a beam katana off of the Internet just for the hell of it...oh yeah, it gets better. Out of cash to buy video games and other essential needs, you hit the local bar and run into a sexy seductress by the name of Sylvia Krystal. She'll help you with your money problems, if you kill the "Drifter" that is. Well, all right you say, why not? After all, you perceive yourself as badass and have a glorified light saber. Why not?
It turns out that that Drifter was none other than Helter Skelter, or better known as the 11th ranked assassin according to the United Assassin Association (UAA). You've been kind of set up by Sylvia; but then again, it's a quest that's right up your alley-kill the remaining 10 assassins to become the last one, the last "hero." And it all takes place in beautiful Santa Destroy California.
The premise at first seems so ridiculous that one might believe it to be a joke. Beam Katana off the Internet? Santa Destroy? Travis Touchdown? It has got to be one of the most bold concepts in a video game in a long while-and it's exactly what brought me in. Suda 51 has expressed a desire to make more "punk-esque" games, or ones that at least don't conform to the normal gaming standards, and this game certainly does that (he also seems to love assassins.)
Much like the concept, the story is also over the top. You actually won't know much of why Travis is motivated to do any of this much later in the game-only through before boss cut scenes and other opportune dialogue moments do you really get a feel of what Travis is like. Thankfully, he's a pretty easy going guy. His mission is to kill his way to the top, without any remorse. Does he really need another reason? Hell no, and that's what's nice about this title: you don't have to get seriously involved in the story to still find the game enjoyable.
And perhaps the greatest aspect of the story and concept is that it is one giant parody on action video games. You will encounter bosses with names like Death Metal, launch special attacks called Strawberry on the Shortcake (no, I'm not making this up), and be subjected to constantly hilarious reference to various other medias, like Star wars. It became quite clear that the story doesn't it take itself seriously, but like Kill Bill (another media that it gives a nod to), that doesn't mean you can't be engaged in all that's going on. I can guarantee that you'll have some good laughs at the amazingly funny dialogue and references, so it makes for a really easy going, yet fun, ride.
All and all, expect 4th-wall breaking, WTF? Moments, insanity, awesomeness, and probably one of the funniest times you've had in a while playing a video game.
BOTTOM LINE-You don't get more original than this; an active concept and a plot line that exists for pure enjoyment, NMH will deliver some unique and badass moments through its clever presentation.
Unfortunately, this game does have a noticeable handicap in the form of graphics. Fortunately, this is one of the least important factors in a video game to me, but the problems need to be addressed nonetheless.
First, the good: This game does get away with a lot with the use of its art direction. If you played Killer7, you were familiar with the otherworldly, cel-shaded style present in that game. This game, too, utilizes a unique style, too. The character models seem to retain some form of cel-shadedness to them, or at least they are enhanced in detail from Killer7. The character models in general aren't bad, and are very diverse in their design (to correlate with their personalities).Some certain aspects of the game also appear to have received some great attention (Like Travis' pad, Jeane the kitten, and some of the boss chambers), and it defiantly fits with the vibrant punk style of this game. And there is classic usage of 8-bit style graphics, ranging from the mini-map to even the arrows signaling when to perform Death Blows, which is a nice and creative touch. Everything else, however, ranges from mediocre to just annoying.
The city Santa Destroy is the biggest annoyance. Texture quality is extremely low, and you might even occasionally see pop-ups (as in windows on buildings, quality, and such won't become visible until you get closer, and then suddenly pop-up). This isn't overly important, however, as the city serves as nothing more than a hub, and is not meant to be super interactive. But it still isn't exactly easy on the eyes. Shadow usage is also a problem. It is constantly sunny in Santa Destroy, thus casting many shadows upon the land. And while this is realistic, it often hinders, if not completely obscures, everything in the shadows. I couldn't even distinguish a new T-shirt I found for Travis in a dumpster because of the shadows. But again, you'll only have a noticeable problem if you are roaming around parts of the city-the problem isn't present during important moments, like when you are battling, or boss fights.
Physics also are wonky in this game, even if they only apply to the time you'll spend on your motorcycle, the Schpel Tiger. If you run into a car while riding round, regardless of speed, you'll either slightly veer off course, or just stop dead upon contact (as will the vehicle). But, if you run into a building, you'll crash and disembark from your ride. But you can also plow right through trees This adds to the already odd way the bike is controlled (more on that later). And finally, even though praise was given to the character design, this only applies to Travis, a few key and frequent characters, and the assassin/bosses. The run of the mill grunts are basically carbon copies of each other, and only vary in design ever so often.
Fortunately, most of these problems are only present at only small portions of the game, or they don't distract the player as a whole. My general rule of thumb is if it doesn't ruin game play or your experience, then it shouldn't be that big of a deal. But it is clearly apparent that this game wouldn't even have seemed remarkable on the last gen. systems, graphically speaking.
BOTTOM LINE-Defiantly not this games strong point, it is clear that not much attention was paid to this games graphics. Some things do compliment the concept of the game, however.
When speaking about the strength of music and sound in a video game, keeping context in mind is key. Obviously, the soundtracks present in, say, The Legend of Zelda: OoT and GTA: San Andreas are two very different styles, and are equally hard to compare. While I prefer the harmonic melodies that Koji Kondo can masterfully make, it can not be denied how terrible both of the aforementioned games would have turned out if their soundtracks had been switched. Thus, the incredibly awesome soundtrack for NMH receives its perfect score.
Again, I will compare this game to Pulp Fiction, or any Tarrantino movie: both have some odd and varied track selection, but both fit within the context perfectly, and even help define some iconic moments.
Let's start with the basics: the main theme, aptly titled N.M.H., is addicting, simply, and a great way to open the game. Throughout the rest of the time, you'll hear tracks that fit perfectly in tune with the punk style of the game, and in the situations Travis will find himself in. Travis' pad has an awesome bass groove, perfect to listen to while relaxing. The shops around Santa Destroy have the incredibly addictive J-pop song Heavenly Star by the Genki Rockects playing in the background, and it's the type of song you'll want to track down and download (you might also know the song from Lumines II). You won't hear anything while walking around the city, but a funky track will play when you mount the Schpel Tiger. Heck, even the gym has a tune modeled after Eye of the Tiger.
But things really get kicking once you enter an area where you can cleave through enemies. Rock and techno tracks will help keep you engaged in the fighting, and goes well with the SFX. But the real winners are the boss battle tracks. They, too, are hybrids of rock, metal, and techno, and work extremely well with the over the top battles. They are also as bizarre and varied as the other content of the game-a perfect example is the boss track that plays for the #2 ranked assassin. It's an extremely addictive track, yet is named Pleather for Breakfast. Oh yeah, welcome to Suda 51ville.
Now how about the voice acting? Well what I will tell you about it is that it is spot on. Some of the early trailers for this game feature abysmal VA, and made many worry that they would have to be sticking to subtitles to get any enjoyment from the game. However, the actors in those trailers were just fillers, and the real stars are in this game. Robin Atkin Downes fills the roll of Travis personally, always hinting arrogance and badassery in his voice. You might also recognize him from MGS3-in fact, you might notice a lot of talent from other games present here, like Quinton Flynn, Paula Tiso, Dee Bradley Baker, and even Steven Blum. The personalities that these actors provide are extremely dynamic, hilarious, and vary in accents and range; it's simply fantastic. And even the grunts that you fight should get recognition-you'll often hear them shout seemingly random and hilarious taunts and screams at you, before and after being killed. One of the most well known of these is when you cleave someone right in half, they might yell Awwwww!!! My spleen!, as if their spleen is the biggest thing on their minds after having their heads lopped off.
In fact, one of the most memorable moments of the game is delivered by Richard McGonagle, who does the voice of assassin Dr. Peace. I don't want to give away too much (even though it's widely known throughout the Internet and if you've been paying even slight attention to this game), but when it comes time to fight him, Dr. Peace opens up with a solo of the fabricated song by Suda 51 The virgin child makes her wish without feeling anything. It's defiantly one of the most memorable moments of the game, and well worth looking for it on Youtube.com if you ultimately don't play this game. Heck, this game has such an awesome collection of songs that a soundtrack album was released shortly after the game. It spans 3-discs of pure win, but it is sadly only available in Japan (although that won't stop some people!).
Lastly, the SFX and other odds and ends work well. You'll hear many tributes to 8-bit styles of sounds, like when you charge your beam katana, rank up in assassin level, and a few other occasions. Classic light saber sounds abound, and what's cool is that many of these come out through the Wiimote speaker. Sylvia will even call you before each boss fight, and talk to you through the Wiimote. It's clever uses like this that makes the sound in this game such a joy, from beginning to end.
BOTTOM LINE-Sound, music, and VA that fits perfectly in this game's universe. You'll be pleased with the SFX, wanting to download the tracks, and will crack up or feel in awe at the voice work. A definite highlight.
If you've read my MP3:C review, you'll remember me noting how that while Red Steel did show the potential of the Wiimote, it did not utilize its functions that well. Gun- and sword-play are obvious elements of game play that could benefits from the Wiimote, and I was looking towards MP3:C and this game to push the envelope in their respective genres. MP3:C certainly showed just how great a FPS can handle on the Wii, but I'm not sure this game did the same. Don't get me wrong-it's obvious from the score of 9 that the control in this game works, I just need to make something known to those who might be wondering how control works in this game.
Swinging the beam katana is actually not handled by swinging the Wiimote, a perplexing thing. Perhaps Grasshopper Studios just couldn't get the timing and speed right, or perhaps it wouldn't implement well with certain combat elements, like Dark stepping for whatever reason, you control the sword strokes in a very different way. Fortunately, the way the developers chose allows for extremely satisfying game play, to be covered next.
Basically, almost all sword strokes will be handled by pressing the A button-the kicker is that your stance-a choice between either high or low-can be switched on the fly. Simply holding the controller pointed at the screen results in the low stance, while raising the controller, usually so that it's pointing towards the ceiling, results in a high stance (there is also an indicator on-screen to assist in knowing which one you are using). This allows for the player to easily switch back and forth between styles, ones that can bypass an enemy's defense and allots for long combos. It's a system that works well and does give you a feeling of game involvement, even if it's minimal compared to full movement. You will, however, find plenty of time to use motion attacks and this game, and it turns out that these are the most satisfying. For example, once you exhaust an opponent's HP, you'll be prompted to perform a Death Blow. An 8-bit arrow will appear on screen, pointing towards one of the Cardinal Directions. All you have to do is follow through with a swing motion, and BAM-you've just decapitated or cleaved someone in half, and often more than one at once!
The other motion use (besides a few Darkside instances) will be the use of wrestling moves, which uses both the Wiimote and Nunchuck with on-screen directions, and in usually more than 1 set. These are a tad harder to pull off, but again give a great feeling to the game.
The only real downside is that it may take a little time to get used to this set-up it's not difficult, just something you've never done before. Also, the controls while riding the motorcycle are defiantly a little wonky, and will require more practice to perfect.
Other than that, there isn't much to say about the controls. The buttons are all mapped well, and it's extremely nice that a simple tap of the C-button will instantly snap the camera behind Travis (take notes, SMG).
BOTTOM LINE-While it didn't exactly reinvent the wheel, the controls offer a very different way to play, but allow you to serve up a good amount of carnage interactions, and defiantly is a big part of the success of the quality combat in this game.
Game play here is divided in two ways-time spent killing people, and time spent not killing people. One is better than the other, and hopefully you can tell which one that is.
First, let's start off with the good. The obvious big selling point for this game was to be able to use a lightsab-er, I mean beam katana, combined with the Wiimote's innovation, to tear through enemies and take on epic bosses. To that in, this game works extremely well. As explained in the controls section, you'll have a variety of styles and ways to kill your enemies with, but now let's examine some of those earlier terms I was using.
For one, you can easily guard by simply using the Z button (which also Z-targets the enemy), which helps you to combat the hordes of enemies you'll often face. However, some enemies and all of the bosses posses attacks that can ignore your guard, or at least severely drain your battery. However, you can also by chance (or on purpose for the more robust player) perform a weapon clash-this is where your sword collides with a melee weapon of an opponent, and you become sword-locked. In order to win a sword-lock, quickly shake the controller to win the lock, which is followed up by a free Death Blow. This keeps you constantly reader to counter attack, and can even be used to your advantage (obviously, free Death Blows are awesome). Another important skill that really isn't covered in the tutorial is Dark stepping. This occurs when you're blocking attack(s), and you jam either left or right on the analog stick. This results in a sound-effect, the blackening of the background, and an extremely slowed down timeframe that allows for a free amount of speedy, consectuative hits.Learning how to affectively darkstep will give you the upper hand in many confrontations, especially boss fights.
Travis' Darkside mode should also be noted. Everytime you perform a Death Blow, a little casino slot machine appears on the bottom of the screen and quickly attempts to match up 3 alike symbols. Success of this results in 1 of Travis' 5 Darkside modes. In tune with the insanity of this game, some of them (really) have names like Strawberry on the Shortcake or Chocolate Cheesecake Brownie. Absurd, yes, but any one of these modes will temporarily give Travis a god-like effect, aloowing you to go on a bloddy rampage. Darkside modes don't occur too often, and you can only use Anarchy in the Galaxy against a boss, but these also help keep combat fresh.
Easily one of the funniest aspects of the combat is the ability to perform professional wrestling moves (mostly variations of a suplex). This is done when you stun and enemy, and then pressing B. You will then be prompted, as explained in the controls segment, to perform movements matching on-screen arrows. The results are extremely satisfying wrestling attacks that deliver bone-crushing sound effects and a great deal of damage. Plus, you will have the chance to learn many new ones (however, you cannot select which move you'd like to perform-in most cases, it seems to be completely random) to further up your arsenal of ass kicking. Beyond that, there is still a plethora of ways to improve your combat, including: working out to improve performance, watching wrestling tapes to learn new moves, finding Lovikov balls to grant secret abilities, using charged beam attacks, and having the ability to buy new beam katanas, ones that simply kickass (a beam katana with 5 beam blades? Yes, please!)
I mentioned before about a battery. The beam katana has a battery that will periodically drain with each sword stroke, block, or charge attacks. You then have to recharge it, in a purposefully hilarious way-shake the Wiimote up and down, which is complimented by an animation of Travis mimicking your moves. While this seems like a pain, it's not only hilarious, but it prevents you from being god-like, and makes you plan when to find time to charge it (which never takes more than 5 seconds).
All of the mentioned allow you to kill hundreds upon hundreds of enemies, and it never gets old. Foes will fall spouting gallons of blood (a la Kill Bill style), and can even propose a challenge (and often comic relief how the hell can a lead pipe sword lock against my beam katana? I'm not a rocket scientist, but I'm pretty sure a laser will cut through that.) But the real kicker is the boss fights. This is where you get to fight the top 10 Ranked Assassins to move up the food chain. Let me tell you, these are some of the coolest and sometimes hardest fights around. The assassins all have widely varied personalities, and very different styles of fighting, so you won't be facing the same old-same old each time around. No, these guys will often wield ridiculously sized swords, fire lasers, plant traps for you, possess one-hit KO moves, and can often beat you in sword locks and throw off your darkstep. Seeing as how it's the point of the whole game to beat these baddies, it certainly is satisfying to see that attention was paid to in how these dudes operate.
And finally, while not necessary to the game at all, you can change Travis' clothes, by either buying them at Area 51, or finding them in various dumpsters (T-shirts only). Gotta say, Travis has access to one slick line of clothes, and there are many different options to choose from (especially T-shirts). It's a nice little extra touch, along with the ability to find professional wrestling trading cards scattered about.
And now for the meh or not so good. If you were looking for a true sandbox type game, then you've come to the wrong place. The city serves as a hub rather than a free roaming environment-oh, you can do what you please while there, but eventually you have to fight an assassin in order to progress (not that that is a bad thing, seeing as how that's the point). See, you need money to enter a boss fight-lots of money. To get money, you can perform side jobs, assassin gigs, free fight missions, or find small quantities of cash in various places. You'll have access to side jobs after each assassin fight, and they consist of mostly mini-gameish chores. You'll do things like collect coconuts, fill up cars with gas, and even clean off graffiti. The chores pay decently well (normally coinciding with how well you complete the task) and make good use of the Wiimote, but you'll most likely find them boring and tedious. You just can't be expected to be having fun mowing lawns when you're a badass killer. There's got to be something better.
Fortunately, there are: assassin gigs and free fight missions are better, but they aren't exactly as fun as other parts of the game. You'll have access to a variety of assassin gigs after you do a side job. These gigs usually allow you to earn a lot of cash, and are much more fun that the side jobs, as they involve you killing people. They a variety of rules to them, including time-limits, kill quotas, and conditions like only use wrestling moves. A lot more fun than the side-jobs, they also allow for good practice wasting some baddies. I just wish there was more substance to it. For example, there are a few missions involving killing a CEO of a local pizza chain, but to do so, all you have to do is kill him in a parking garage with his grunts in a certain time frame. Why not make some of the mission actually have a side-story? The missions are fun, yes, but a little shallow, and are defiantly (along with the side missions) a chore in your way. Free fight missions are different, as you aren't allowed to get hit, even once, while finishing a group of people off in a set amount of time.
And beyond those few things, there really isn't much other substance to the city. I kind of wish it was set up more like Killer7, where you have to endure a mission in order to get to the assassins (and more than the little ones that occur before hand). Another complaint is the run-of-the-mill opponents you'll be slaying. While some do wield different weapons like pipes, swords, and guns, there is little different between how each on operates. It's only the fun of the sword combat that keeps you from being completely bored with the foes you'll be mowing down.
It's clear that the game wasn't intended to be like Zelda or something: it's an old-school action game that doesn't worry too much about the substance. If you know what to expect, you'll enjoy this game. If not, you'll probably find it shallow and linear. Both can be true depending on your preference.
BOTTOM LINE: The smooth combat and relentless action is what will drive this game, and it's incredibly fun to play in this regard. It doesn't hurt that events like boss battles are epic and will be the highlight of the game. However, the game doesn't take the rest too seriously, and it could get repetitive to get to the good parts of the game.
Rent or Buy?
This is a toss up, but it really comes down to if you have a taste for a game of this exotic breed. In all honesty, you might want to go with renting, if at least just to test it out to see if it's worth being a keeper. The game isn't too long, so it could be beaten in the rental time frame. I bought it myself, because I can for-see myself taking another nutty trip into this game again. But ultimately, if you're questioning this game, then renting should always be your first step. But if you're craving a zany action game and/or a strong third party title, then look no further.
+Brilliant music track and voice acting
+Controls are comfortable and work well
+Sword combat is fantastic, and reasonably deep
+Boss battles are a huge plus
+Hilarious and crazy script/story
+All-around a fun, quotable game
-Graphics are quite sub-par
-Some game play elements can be tedious and repetitive
-Other adjustments could have given this title more substance
Overall, this game could be along the lines of an 8/10 as well, but I gave it a 9 on some personal tilt (which I don't normally do, but this game is a little special). If you like your games different, then look no further, as Suda 51 proves once again that there is plenty to discover outside the norm. While not revolutionary, No More Heroes is a type of game I would lie to see more of, and was a fun trip to the very end
Thank you for reading.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/12/08
Game Release: No More Heroes (US, 01/22/08)
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