Review by nintendosega
"Amazing games like this one only come around once every console generation."
During the Gamecube era there was a game released by Suda 51 and his Grasshopper Studios called Killer 7, and it went largely unnoticed by the general public. The game, which combined on-rails gameplay with a bizarre, confusing, violent, disturbing, funny, political, and overall completely over-the-top story, managed to find a small cult following who eagerly anticipated Suda 51's (an undertaker-turned video game developer,) next project, and here it is, No More Heroes, a game that's excellent in a whole different way. There are some games that when played, just feel "right," and No More Heroes is a home run in every department, from gameplay, to the sound, to the graphics, (well...not entirely there,) to the brilliant writing and long length....this game provides an experience unlike what any other video game offers and it deserves to be played by every Wii owner whose mature enough to handle the subject matter.
Graphics; Let's start here, because it's the game's biggest mixed bag. No More Heroes features a visual style that can be compared to Killer 7's; it's a cel shaded game with characters and environments that look like they're all drawings taken right out of a comic book. Although I wasn't a big fan of Killer 7's much darker take on cel shading, (which, however, did go with that game's theme,) No More Heroes instead uses the same type of visual style and applies it to much sunnier environments that are overall much more appealing on the eyes. Hands down, No More Heroes features a great visual style and the character models are vastly superior to Killer 7's; stylistically, No More Heroes is great.
Unfortunately, the technical-side of things isn't so great. Unlike Killer 7, which was backed by Resident Evil producer Shinji Mikami and his people at Capcom, No More Heroes was developed almost entirely as an indie project by Suda 51's Grasshopper Studios, and as a result, the game was clearly a bit lower-budget. It opts out of the lengthy anime FMV's that permeated Killer 7, instead going for almost entirely in-game cutscenes. (Which still look good, by the way, and are well-directed.) The graphics just don't seem as clean as Killer 7's overall, unfortunately, mostly due to an abundance of jaggies, extremely obvious pop-up when journeying across the city of Santa Destroy, as well as many clipping issues and other graphical glitches. Framerate drops also occasionally occur during combat, but I was still amazed how much action sometimes occurs on screen without the framerate taking an obvious hit. People who play No More Heroes should be prepared for an excellent and inviting graphics style, but the vast amounts of technical glitches, especially when in the city, are too much to be ignored.
Gameplay; No More Heroes's gameplay, though, is with very little flaws. Much like Killer 7, the game begins with a tutorial and first mission that make the game seem MUCH more complicated than it is. Once I came to grips with No More Heroes's combat system, though, I began to realize that I've rarely had so much fun and satisfaction when playing a video game.
The game is set up like this: Travis Touchdown's an all-American hero: a frequent renter at Beef Head Videos, (where he records over their porn tapes and returns those instead of the originals,) and aside from his video gaming, his action figure collections, and his interest in pro wrestling, Travis also happens to be an assassin on the side. One night he gets drunk at a bar and runs into a woman named Sylvia, who sets him up in a ranked battle to become "#1." He starts at 11, and must kill each assassin above him, (using a Beam Katana he won in an online auction,) to reach the acclaimed spot of "#1." It's a fairly simple premise (nothing like the complete and total chaos presented in Killer 7's monster of a politically-charged plot,) but one that provides No More Heroes with tons of humor and of course, gets you from one memorable boss to the other. Each of these assassins have unique and interesting personalities and they are all very good fighters. No More Heroes is not a huge challenge overall but these bosses are serious; they are intense and they demand a lot out of the gamer, and several tries are often required to find their weaknesses and exploit them. Luckily, the game has a hint system that will provide you a helpful hint if you get killed by a boss, which is always appreciated. To get to these bosses, you must first hack-and-slash your way through tons of enemies. This is done by hitting the A-button to hack away at the enemy, and as their health meters reach the end, a Wii-remote gesture is prompted and Travis will either slice their heads off or even cut them right down the middle, (to a Kill Bill-like torrent of blood that rains down on the proceedings) and catching several enemies with this at once is one of the most satisfying elements of the game, and at times my vision was entirely obscured by the torrents and torrents of blood that sprayed from enemies (who yell out lines like "MY SPLEEN!!!") as they're cut to bits. There's much more to the combat system than meets the eye, including wrestling moves, blocking and dodging techniques, additional powers, a lottery system, etc. and despite the simplistic nature of it (the game's a hack-and-slash, afterall,) there's a ton of depth and strategy. It always remains completely fun and satisfying both when hacking and slashing your way towards these bosses, and when fighting these very intense fights against some of the coolest bosses in the history of gaming.
To get to these assassination missions, Travis needs to pay an entrance fee. To do this, he must complete hilariously mundane odd-jobs in the city of Santa Destroy. These include everything from carrying coconuts to cleaning up vandalism. Although mundane in nature, they're actually pretty fun to play. Successfully completing one of these get Travis some cash to visit K Entertainment to complete a "shadier" job, typically involving killing some henchmen. These pay well and of course are often extremely fun, giving us more time with the game's perfect combat system. Once you have enough cash you deposit it in a bank account and then journey to the next Assassination Mission. Traveling is done by motorbike, which controls solidly (just make sure you brake as you turn,) and the city the game takes place in is one of the most twisted versions of LA I've ever seen. Called Santa Destroy, it's home to several places to go and things to do. Need to get more strength or max HP? Head to the gym to work out. You can also buy videos (to learn new wrestling moves,) you can buy new weapons and upgrades, you can participate in several challenging (but optional) killing missions, buy new clothes for Travis, and more. You can also have some fun inside Travis's motel room/apartment, where you can interact with a lot of cool stuff. Although Santa Destroy's much lighter on activity than the cities in most open world games (and while it's home to several technical issues,) I really enjoyed these portions of the game. After the non-stop and linear action of the Assassination Missions, (including some very challenging and intense bosses,) I loved then getting to simply relax and enjoy traveling Santa Destroy, moving forward at my own pace, earning money and preparing for my next Assassination Mission. I'm confident that this game wouldn't have been nearly as complete or fun without this aspect to it.
What's also fun about Santa Destroy is the opportunity to interact with Suda 51's trademark bizarre characters. All the shopkeepers in this game speak with the weirdest dialogue ever, some of it fairly philosophical (the subject of souls often comes up,) and their small amount of voice acting is, for some hilarious reason, heavily accented Japanese (despite the whole game otherwise being voiced in full English,) and the comments they make to you, for example, as you leave their stores, are hilarious. They also have their own strange quirks, like a physical trainer that first demands Travis remove his pants and underwear before weightlifting, a paranoid t-shirt salesman in the Area 51 clothing store, a sexy femme fatale sword saleswoman, and more. All are awesome and add so much personality to a game already overflowing with it. Everything about the city of Santa Destroy is bizarre and extremely weird, and the game's world is definitely "America by way of Japan." Although the game definitely takes place in America, everyone acts in such a bizarre and strange way that it's almost like its own world, and certain Japanese things make their way into the game as well, making Suda 51's love of both cultures extremely apparent. As if the heavily accented shopkeepers weren't enough, a Japanese pop song also plays on the loudspeakers of several stores; not the type of thing one typically hears in LA stores but a very nice touch all the same. Although No More Heroes takes place in America and features all American characters, it's clearly a Japanese game, and this always shows. The theme of "rock" is also always present, as a heavy guitar riff plays every time a character enters or exits a room, and Grasshopper Studio's logo at the start of the game even proclaims "Punk is not dead!" Toilets are also a big theme here, as saving in No More Heroes is done by taking a crap at a toilet.
In a way, the game's structured exactly like those classic video games from the 80's, where the goal was simply to become "#1" on a scoreboard. No More Heroes follows the same basic design, even illustrating this inspiration with its retro menus, and even having a scoreboard (very reminiscent of something from Pac Man) appear on screen after each Assassination Mission is completed, showing Travis moving up a rank. Admittedly, this structure (which the game rigidly sticks by for the entire game; make money, Assassination Mission, boss, make money, Assassination Mission, boss, make money, Assassination Mission, boss, etc. etc. etc.) does begin to wear a bit thin at around the game's midpoint, but the game luckily comes back in the last few fights with the introduction of some new characters and some of the game's best boss fights. Video Gaming and the fact that this is a video game is a theme common throughout No More Heroes, and during the game's ending (especially if you view the HIGHLY recommended Full Ending...buy all swords to get the full ending,) it breaks the 4th wall entirely to some hilarious results.
Gameplay-wise, Suda 51 and his team have achieved near perfection with No More Heroes. The combat system's amazingly fun, it makes PERFECT use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, the characters are all awesome, Santa Destroy's brimming with character thanks to some truly hilarious NPC's, the plot's funny, and Travis is probably one of the most bad-ass heroes I've ever controlled in a video game. It also provides a lengthy quest (slightly over 15 hours) which is always a plus, especially since this is the type of game where I stayed up literally until 4:00 AM at times playing; I could not put the controller down. I really can't express how excellent this game is.
Sound; The voice acting's intentionally over the top and it works perfectly with the rest of the game. The actors weren't going for Oscar-winning performances, they were trying to be as crazy, intense, or as funny as possible, and they were successful on all levels. Musically, certain things work, certain don't. The game's main theme is remixed and played WAY too much over the course of No More Heroes, but otherwise the soundtrack here's awesome, with the music during some boss fights (Rank 2 being the most memorable) providing the perfect atmosphere. The song that plays inside the shops, the music during the cutscenes...it's all cool stuff and while none of it's quite as memorable as some of Killer 7's soundtrack, it definitely provides a slick and cool backdrop to the game's events. The game also makes excellent use of the Wii Remote speaker; make sure your speaker's on, as not only does it add lots of great sound effects to the fighting, but before boss fights Travis will get a cell phone call, (which comes out of the Wii Remote speaker like a cell phone,) and this unfortunately doesn't come out of the TV speakers if the Wii Remote's is turned off, so make sure the speaker's on.
No More Heroes is an example of a game where everything just clicked and it worked perfectly. Yes, things become slightly "deja-vu" at around the game's mid-point (a feeling that thankfully goes away as you near the end,) and on rare occasions the gesture response wasn't perfect, and also rarely poor checkpoint placement and the occasionally frustrating boss become issues, and no, the graphics aren't always pretty...but these occasional hiccups are nothing compared to what the game does right. The game plays amazingly, it flows great, it's both hilariously funny, excessively violent, extremely suggestive, (wait till you see how Travis charges his Beam Katana,) totally self-aware, and also, of course, bizarre as hell. While admittedly the plot here's not even close to being in the same league as Killer 7's (nor does it even try to be,) and while the technical aspects are not always up to snuff, the game is, overall, superior to Killer 7 in almost every other way imaginable. It's a game that was made by people with a great sense of humor and who love what they do, and it shows in every aspect of No More Heroes. It deserves to find an audience and it deserves to be a hit. Suda 51...what can I say, the man's a genius and if he ever gets a publisher who gives him a huge budget and isn't afraid to market his games, he will be an unstoppable force in the video game industry. So buy No More Heroes and, as Sylvia says, "Head for the Garden of Madness!"
Note; No More Heroes is not a game for a young audience, as it features strong violence, lots of sexual themes, strong language, and some disturbing images. But it's all done in a comic and over-the-top style that was meant to be social satire...it's very unfortunate that the blood was removed from the game for its Japanese and European releases. I'm still recommending you guys play the game, it will be awesome even with the censoring. But looking at Europe particularly, it's a shame that the current controversy surrounding Manhunt 2 being banned from release in the UK has given Grasshopper and the game's European publisher a reason to release the censored version there. It's sad because Manhunt 2 was a horrible game that was the result of developers who didn't care about anything but a quick buck...and it put another dark mark on the video game industry and prevented REAL GAMES, like this one, from being released in their true form. Games with actual substance, where the developers were actually passionate about making the best game imaginable. Manhunt 2 was nothing but a rushed "murder simulation" with as much charm as a loaded shotgun, while No More Heroes, also sickeningly violent, is a true piece of comedic satire and over-the-top cartoony violence, and it sucks that, clearly, some people, even apparently the game's developers, couldn't tell the difference.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/14/08, Updated 03/17/08
Game Release: No More Heroes (US, 01/22/08)
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