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No More Heroes Member Review for the Wii

3scapism By:
GENRE Action 
DEVELOPER Grasshopper Manufacture 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

What do these ratings mean?

I hate this game!
No wait, I love it!
No wait, I was right the first time, I hate it.
I hate it because it was mean to me.

Picture the scene; I square off against my opponent in an abandoned school. She dashes forward, her sword's razor edge glinting in the twilight. I deftly dart around her; with a quick thrust of the nunchuck I push her blade aside, exposing her to an attack. I swing the Wii remote, and deal her a mighty blow! Whoops! I had my wires crossed, that's Twilight Princess. What I actually did was hold down Z, dodge awkwardly to one side as she attacked, crash into a pillar that I couldn't see thanks to the camera angle and get twatted across the room by an attack that clearly missed me by about six inches.

No More Heroes is the latest avant-garde social satire from Suda51, creator of the critically acclaimed Killer7 and a load of games us gaijin didn't get to play. In a way, any review of No More Heroes is a review of Suda51 as well, as he's something of the auteur, but having never having played Killer7 I don't have much of a basis for comparison, so I guess he's off the hook. For now.

Before we go any further, I would just like to say that the art direction on No More Heroes is amazing. The combination of cell shaded graphics and the gleeful addition of retro user interface elements makes No More Heroes a visual treat, if you can excuse the fairly low resolution compared to other consoles.

Now that I have gotten this one scrap of praise for No More Heroes out of the way, let's get the vitriol wagon rolling with the thing that got on my tits the most - the plot. No More Heroes casts you as Travis Touchdown, an immature dickhead with all the social graces of a walrus in heat. After buying a lightsabre on eBay, Travis decides that the best use of his time would be to murder a lot of people for money. After killing a drifter, who happened to be the 11th best assassin in the world, Travis gets wrapped up in killing the ten assassins above him to become number one. For the first ten hours that's all the plot you get, which is fine in its own way, but it certainly isn't the razor sharp writing that other reviewers have been getting so excited about. The second half of the game contains a more traditional narrative, albeit one that relies heavily on an introductory pamphlet that didn't make its way out of Japan. Without the 'No More Heroes: Anime-Inspired Bollocks Explained' pamphlet, the plot makes less sense than a custard jigsaw, but even if I had done the assigned reading I'd still be annoyed. If you can't incorporate your back story into the game itself then you need to try harder. Bioshock doesn't come with a novella, Deus Ex didn't come with homework and Fallout did without an encyclopaedia, and No More Heroes is simpler than any of these titles. To me, it's lazy, arrogant and does nothing to endear me to the game. It also means that the characters, which are supposedly sharp satires of the demons of society, are totally without context. Not such a big deal with the ranked assassins, but trust me, you'll feel it later. The icing on the cake is the game's ending, which is like taking a trip to non-sequitur village to visit the king of the potato people, and is such a kick in the balls you'll wish you could erase the last 20 hours from the fabric of time itself.

The gameplay of No More Heroes is a much trickier beast to review. If you look at it critically, No More Heroes is basically a collection of mini-games segued by retarded chimp button-mashing, but nonetheless there is something compelling about it. Even when I had fallen out with the game, about half way through, I still kept playing. Perhaps this was due to stubbornness, perhaps I wanted to find out what was going on, or perhaps I wanted to be able to write a review based on the whole game, but I played it through to the end.

Let's get tangential for a moment. Before Picasso started putting rectangular noses on oblong chins he was an accomplished classical painter. "Logan, I'm perplexed," I hear you say, "What does the progenitor of Cubism have to do with No More Heroes?" The answer to that question is 'Fuck All', but the point I'm laboriously working towards is that before you try to re-invent an art form, you have to have the basics right and in this regard No More Heroes falls more than a little short.

The game is split between the ranked assassin battles and cruising around the town of Santa Destroy on the slowest motorbike since Paleolithic times earning money to enter the aforementioned ranked battles. Santa Destroy is the worst attempt at a GTA style environment that I have ever seen. There is almost nothing that you can interact with, aside from kicking open dumpsters to find T-shirts or digging for quantities of money so small they are inconsequential. Santa Destroy’s sand box style gameplay adds nothing to the experience, and should have been smothered to death with a beach towel before it ever got off the ideas board.

The main body of the game is paradoxically about Travis's struggle to make ends meet. The entry fee for each of the ranked matches is the GDP of Holland plus a 10% tip and so Travis is always strapped for cash. After each boss fight you unlock a new minimum wage job, which is one of the most bizarre rewards in gaming history. Some of these jobs are quite fun and some of them involve scorpions, but you end up doing them all at least once, as they unlock the much better paid 'assassination' missions which boil down to beating people up in car parks and alleyways. I find the part-time jobs aggravating. They are not part of the plot in any way, shape or form, and make the game feel like Mario Party 9: Mario Earns A Pittance. Also the mini-games make much better use of the Wii controls than the combat, where the only good use of the controls is when performing one of the many, many suplexes. With the sword fighting being such a focus for the game, it's a shame they didn't make more of it, as the Wii is uniquely suited to making sword-fighting games.

The 'levels' that precede the ranked battles play like Golden Axe, except without the fun of kicking gnomes to death. Each one is exactly the same: you fight wave after wave of identical enemies, all the time hoping that you get one of the 'dark side' powers allowing the player to finish the segment that much faster. These sections wouldn't be so bad if you didn't have to kill everything in a room before you can move on and the few good ideas that appear in these sections are swamped by enough repetitive dross to drown a brontosaurus. They can't even claim to be challenging, as every single battle can be completed in the initial run through using only the most basic tactics. Fighting your way to the ranked matches is like having an easy but boring job, possibly something in data entry or retail.

The ranked fights are a mixed bag. The first few are undeniably fun, but you get to a point when fighting the next assassin becomes a chore. It's almost as if the game changes gear when the 'plot' turns up. The tougher assassins will NEVER let you get a full combo off; you will be able to hit them maybe three times before they start guarding. These fights are also plagued by some really amateur mistakes. If a boss is in the middle of an animation, you can't hit them. Many times I turned the air a rich cyan as my attacks rebounded off an armour-plated hairdo. The collision detection is dreadful and you will routinely be damaged by attacks that clearly hit nothing but air. When locked on, the camera seems to be firmly stapled to Travis right shoulder, meaning that any nearby obstacle on his left hand side is practically invisible and as locking on is the only way to guard effectively, you very quickly lose your bearings when the more agile bosses start leaping around like kangaroos on pogo sticks. The game also has a fondness for difficult to dodge death blows when the bosses are low on health. More than once, at the end of a long boss fight, the game would arbitrarily decide that I was close enough to be hit by one of these attacks and I would have to start the whole sodding fight over again.

No More Heroes may be an amazingly spot-on indictment of twenty-first century culture, but that aspect is completely buried in a rubbish game. This game is like a Christmas bauble, shiny to look at, but utterly hollow. It also has a string on the top to hang it off the branches, or maybe not. My advice to Suda51 is to find someone who isn't in awe of him and hire them to hit him in the head when he tries to impart some deep nugget of truth at the expense of gameplay. I desperately want ambitious games like No More Heroes to do well, as it will lead to deeper and more interesting games in the future, but this game can die in a gutter like a piss-soaked hobo.


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