Review by discoinferno84

"Oh, little Jeannie..."

Meet Travis Touchdown. Things aren't going very well for him at the moment. He's living in a pathetic hole of a room at the No More Heroes Motel. He's practically broke, but you wouldn't be able to tell. His home is crammed with anime posters, miniature figurines (including a human-sized Gundam in his living room), an entire collection of luchador masks, and his cat, Jeane. He spends his days watching old films of anime or pro wrestling matches. He rents porn from the local video store, makes illegal copies, and forgets to return the originals. Given his poorly stocked mini-fridge, it's a fair bet that Jeane eats better than he does. Indeed, Travis is a lazy, starving geek wandering aimlessly through his bleak existence.

But hey, he's an assassin. That makes up for it.

He doesn't bother with guns, though; firearms just aren't badass enough for this otaku. Instead, he wields a Beam Katana that he recently won from an online auction. It's simple, elegant, and (most importantly) it makes all those cool whooshing sounds like the lightsabers from Star Wars. Armed with such a ridiculously awesome weapon, he chose to become a hitman to help pay his bills. He hasn't had the blade for long, but he's already managed to kill one man: Helter Skelter, the 11th most lethal assassin in America. By doing that, Travis has turned himself into a target for any wannabe killers looking for some fame. But hey, he's not worried about that; with ten other assassins currently outranking him, he now has a goal life: to kill the others and take the top spot for himself.

Of course, such once-in-a-lifetime fights don't just happen. Before Travis can even think about stepping on the same ground as his superiors, he'll have to pay the United Assassins Association an ever-increasing entry fee for the battle. Since Travis is living in near poverty, he'll have to take up all kinds of side jobs to help fund his assassin gigs. It's not like he's going to have a hard time finding employment; the deranged citizens of Santa Destroy, California are in constant need of someone to do their dirty work. Sometimes it'll be harmless tasks like mowing grass or delivering coconuts. Other times it'll be more dangerous, like clearing a minefield at Body Slam Beach, or exterminating scorpions at Atomic Drop Ward. Regardless of what the job is, it'll involve you using the Wiimote to imitate the actions onscreen. While there's nothing overly complicated or challenging about these jobs, they are essential to unlocking the higher-paying missions, like murdering businessmen, defeating an endless amount of enemies for a set period of time, etc. Considering the small fortune you'll have to dish out to participate in the assassin showdowns, you're going to be constantly revisiting these lesser jobs.

There are other incentives for you to keep you working, however. If you don't feel like rolling out the dough to progress the story, you can always spend your hard-earned cash on Travis. While he sports a pretty stylish outfit at the beginning of the game, the sheer amount of purchasable clothes, shades, and other accessories means you'll have some control over the man's appearance. If you feel like doing something a little more practical, you can pay a visit to Thunder Ryu (aka stereotypical horny old man) and use him gym (and its motion sensor-focused mini-games) to upgrade Travis's health and attack stats. Or you could just drop by the video store and rent an old wrestling movie to learn a few new moves. But if you're in the need of some extra power for your Beam Katana, the local professor/vixen can upgrade it with newer parts or replace it with something better altogether. Regardless of what you choose, you're going to be shelling out a serious amount of money (and time doing side jobs) in order to get Travis fully powered.

Despite the obvious need to get cash, the game doesn't offer much in the way of exploration. Much of the non-story gameplay involves wandering around the city in a style akin to the last few Grand Theft Auto games; you can only ride Travis's motorcycle (its badass nitros make up for the fact that you can't drive anything else) and blaze around the city. While you can roam freely around Santa Destroy, there aren't many places or things with which to visit or even interact. It looks beautiful with its cel-shaded style, but the choppy framerates, invisible walls, poor collision detection, and flickering objects make it seem like a half-assed job. Cars, pedestrians, and police vehicles are of little importance; you'll never get the chance to carve up innocent bystanders, bait the cops, or wreak mass destruction like you might expect. Instead, you'll just zoom from Point A to Point B, just for the sake of getting a job done to collect the money. If you happen to fail a mission, you'll have to trudge all the way back to the place where you were hired (usually halfway across town) to get it activated again. Such a poorly designed system will make you hate the bland cityscape even more.

But wait! All the sweat and tears you spill for the side missions are worth every drop. Once you've paid the entry fee for the assassin battle, you'll finally get the chance to put the Beam Katana to good use. You won't get to face the boss straight off; you'll get to slaughter a few dozen of his of her lackeys. The combat is brutal, fast-paced, and wonderfully stylistic. You won't get to hack and slash with the WiiMote, though; given the ferocity of the swordplay involved, you arm would tire out in minutes. Instead, you can either tip the controller up or down to indicate a high or low stance respectively. Mashing the A Button (dishing out some insanely awesome sword combos in the processes) will whittle your opponent's health until he's left in a dazed stupor. You're given the option of annihilating your victim with one of many finishing slashes or wrestling moves, all of which require you to make the appropriate motions with the WiiMote and Nunchuck. The trick is learning how to balance your offense and defense; since your Katana loses battery power with each hit, you'll eventually have to quit your onslaught to recharge it. Basic stuff aside, there are many intuitive guarding, countering, and dodging maneuvers to be mastered as well.

While such a concept might sound gimmicky in writing, it blends remarkably well with the fast-paced combat and utterly violent kills. It's a good thing that this game doesn't offer the same kind of realistic gore that Manhunt 2 or Resident Evil 4 feature; it might have been banned otherwise. There are so many decapitations, disembowelments, diced torsos, and other incredibly messy murders throughout the game. Travis is even capable of slicing his enemies from head to toe; you'll get to see both halves of the corpse peel away from each other before they erupt in a thick, glorious fountain of blood and dropped money. It's even more stunning when you're taking on multiple enemies; if you kill enough people at once, the game slows down long enough for you to get lost in a haze of chopped limbs and agonized screams. Despite this, the battle's pacing, beautiful camera work, and tight controls make the violence so damned fun.

The game's real draw isn't just based on its incredible combat, however. If you've played Killer7, you're well aware of how creative Suda can be with his games. While No More Heroes isn't a sequel, its characters and presentation certainly live up to the older title. The cutscenes are crafted exceptionally well; you might even play through the game for the sake of the plot progression, not the combat. You'll get to fight against some of the craziest assassins this side of a Quentin Tarantino flick. Between samurai schoolgirls, crooning gunslingers, psychotic goth princesses, shopping cart grannies, maniac magicians, and a great Planet Terror homage, you're going to be in for some incredibly brutal and challenging boss fights. You'll get to see the character dynamics between Travis and the rest of the weird cast, all of which culminate with some stunning revelations about what No More Heroes is really about. With tons of running gags, excellent voice acting for the hilariously cheesy dialogues, and plenty of fourth wall breakings, this is probably the most refreshing (and surreal) presentation on the Wii.

That doesn't mean that you're going to enjoy it, though. No More Heroes is a mishmash of great ideas, though some of its aspects need some serious polishing. The annoying little problems may not make the game seem worth its $50 price. The open-ended world of Santa Destroy is hardly comparable with the likes of the Grand Theft Auto games, so don't expect to get this for the sake of exploration. The shoddy presentation of the city and its driving sequences are disappointing; the flawed mission system means you're going to be enduring tons of time on the bland roadways. At least there are plenty of collectibles and stats to obtain. However, the fluid combat mechanics are what make this game so awesome; with plenty of devastating moves and slick combos, Travis Touchdown is clearly a badass in geek's clothing. Don't let the ridiculous amount of violence deter you; the quirky characters and excellent presentation make completing the game all the more worth it. But if all else fails, you get to kill people like a psychotic Jedi. That's gotta be worth something.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/28/08

Game Release: No More Heroes (JP, 12/06/07)

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