Never mind being a hero. Here’s a Beam Katana.
“What is this crap?” Every time a teenager pops in the latest example of some new genre of music, “adults” instinctively respond with a sneer of disgust and a comment as to the musicians’ fecal continence. I’ll admit that the same thought occurred to me during my first few minutes of No More Heroes, but my initial “What is this crap?” attitude soon turned into a full-souled “I love this crap!” worship. Like a nasty wart, this game grows on you.
[image1]As expected from the same development studio that created the critically divisive Killer 7, No More Heroes has many of the same stylistic quirks and unusual gameplay features. Between that earlier hallucinogen-friendly title and this latest amphetamine-friendly one, director Suda Goichi (aka “Suda 51”) and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture pumped out a couple of lackluster games based on anime licenses in order to fund these more ambitious, visionary titles. As such, No More Heroes is a labor of love or, more correctly said, a highly anticipated dump that Suda 51’s been waiting two years to take.
Make no mistake, No More Heroes is a load of crap, but it’s a magnificent piece of crap, one deserving of a central place on your mantle or in your hope chest. It’s a crap worth preserving and passing on to your grandkids. To remind you that it is indeed crap, the game starts off with the main character getting off the pot, lifting his jeans, and zipping back up after a healthy deuce. And since you save the game by finding a comfortable place to drop trow and pinch a loaf, you’ll be constantly reminded of the game’s steamy brown aspirations.
Despite the fact that the Grasshopper logo includes the phrase “Punk’s Not Dead” on the title screen, the game’s protagonist is no punk. Travis Touchdown is about as punk as my grandma’s doll collection. Living in a cheap, dirty motel room looking for a quick buck and falling for the wrong woman, Travis shares much more in common with the down-and-out detective Sam Spade than with the agro anarchist Johnny Rotten. Travis is an otaku, and in his apartment you’ll see all the tell-tale signs of his geekdom, complete with a large collection of anime shirts, a sizeable porn collection spilling off of his shelves, posters of his favorite anime characters adorning the walls, a woman-shaped pillow whose case needs frequent changing, and, of course, a requisite slacker-outlook on life.
As best as I can figure, the story goes something like this: Travis buys a “beam katana” in an online auction. Later, when he goes to buy a video game and realizes that he’s got no money, he decides to start assassinating people. As luck would have it, he had recently met a hot woman whose day job is coordinating duels between assassins. Using her as his contact, Travis starts working his way up the food chain as the eleventh ranked assassin within a bizarre organization that’s run like a pyramid scheme. The people at the bottom have to pay money to get a chance to take out the people above them. Each level in the game builds up to a duel with the assassin ranked above you. Between assassinations, you’ll wander the LA-like streets of Santa Destroy earning money by killing lesser people and doing odd jobs like mowing lawns and pumping gas.
[image2]No More Heroes looks cheap, and plays even cheaper. The combat is rough, simple, and straightforward. You want to slice people in two? Go for it. Feel like kicking some dude in the head? He’s all yours. Want to suplex someone straight onto his beady little head? The world is your oyster. You won’t find much subtlety in the combat, but if I haven’t made it clear yet, this game is not about subtlety.
There are, however, some gameplay tweaks sprinkled around for variety’s sake. You have the option of using a high or low stance by pointing the Wii remote up or down, but it doesn’t make much difference. You can also kick or punch enemies to stun them and then perform wrestling moves on them, and while loads of fun, again there’s not much added combat benefit to doing any of those extra moves. Most bizarre is that if you land a fatal blow on an enemy, slots begin to roll, and if you get three of a kind, you gain special powers like slow motion or instant kills that come with oddball names like “Blueberry Cheese Brownie” or “Cranberry Chocolate Sundae”. But really, the only real function of these powers is to serve as a short visual treat.
Still, all of these additions are there for one simple reason: they’re fun. The gameplay’s shortcomings just end up adding to the overall crap-tastical flavor. It’s not subtle or strategic or really even very fair, but it’s still lots of fun.
The game world is heavily influenced by Travis’s love for all things related to anime and games. In fact, the game itself is a virtual encyclopedia of the past quarter century of video games and Japanese animation. The dorky detritus and junk of geekdom are all brought together in a single place. Travis rides around town on an oversized, Akira-inspired bike, and he starts off the game wearing a Sailor Moon-inspired t-shirt. The HUD includes a number of 8-bit throwbacks – including a pixilated mini-map – and any time you have a timed task to perform, a goofy looking pixilated tiger walks chunkily across the top of the screen. All of the menus, stats screens, and post-level wrap ups-are presented in the style of old arcade games like Galaga, and you’ll hear an assortment of bleeps, bloops, and blaps from those old games scattered throughout. I couldn’t possibly list all of the allusions and references here, but suffice it to say, if you’ve been gaming and watching anime consistently since the early ‘80s (as I have), this game was made with you in mind.
[image3]In terms of its off-the-cuff presentation, its self-referentiality, and its many allusions to classic gaming, its closest peer is the similarly minded God Hand. No More Heroes firmly plants one foot in the video game present and the other in the video game past. Whenever you kill an enemy, not only will you see a fountain of bright red blood spattering everywhere, but you’ll also see a fountain of coins spurt from the mangled carcasses of your foes. It’s as if the game’s designers are telling you that you can have your Mario and your God of War at the same time. It’s a match made in gamer heaven.
Some of the game’s other more obvious gameplay allusions include the open-world city structure taken from Grand Theft Auto, the sword-charging mechanic from Zelda, wrestling moves from the WWE, and boss fights strongly reminiscent of those in Metal Gear Solid. You’ll spend as much time trying to identify the many allusions in No More Horoes as you will actually playing the game.
Your only weapon is a “beam katana”, which is essentially a light saber that runs on batteries and looks like a fluorescent light bulb. It runs out of juice every so often, so you’ll need to give it a recharge by holding down the “1” button and shaking the remote. On-screen, you’ll watch Travis engage in a lively, onanistic “recharge.” It’s the sort of irreverence that proves that the game is holding a big middle finger up to the rest of the Wii’s library. There’s a reason this game is called No More Heroes; it takes the heroism and fantasy of traditional gaming and shoves them out the window. I remember how amazed I was when I would leave Mario idle in Mario 64 and he’d gradually fall asleep. In this game, if you leave Travis standing idle around the city streets, he’ll gleefully start scratching his crotch. In another twist of game conventions, Travis openly states that his primary goal in the game is to get Sylvia in bed. It’s like rescuing the princess, but it cuts out all the other bullshit.
[image4]No More Heroes also screws with our expectation that games need to look pretty to be fun. It’s fittingly crappy, and you can’t help but smile at it. You’ll see a load of graphical glitches, clipping, and camera issues – all in line with the game’s brilliant “f-you” attitude. You’ll experience weird object pop-in, pedestrians who are there one minute and gone the next, buildings with partially loaded textures, and choppy frame-rates. It’s a virtual smorgasbord of anything and everything that can go wrong graphically with a game. But either these “mistakes” were coded intentionally into the game, or director Suda 51 just told his QA team not to worry about it and to take the day off. It’s to the game’s enormous credit that none of these errors break the game. Quite the contrary. All of these “shortcomings” only add to the anti-establishment sneer. It’s as if to say, “HD? Who the ‘f’ needs that? We’ve got blood, money, chicks, cars, guns, swords, and endless amounts of fun. We’ll leave the pretty graphics to the pretty boys.”
No More Heroes is simple, stupid, silly, and easily the most fun I’ve had on the console. Recently, I accused Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am of trying deliberately to be bad in order to be funny. Needless to say, it didn’t succeed. No More Heroes, however, takes the same approach and makes it work. Even if you suspect that you won’t like this game, you absolutely must try it. This is a game for, by, and about gamers. Especially if you’re a disheartened and disillusioned Wii owner who’s grown tired of the endless supply of cutesy titles and half-assed mini-game collections, No More Heroes transports you to an alternate universe where the Wii serves a different, more pissed-off master. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t try to be. It dives into its own pile of refuse and comes out the other side smelling like roses.