It light of the recent release ofKiller is Dead (here’s our review) it seemed like the perfect opportunity to reflect on Suda 51’s previous, no holds barred title, No More Heroes.
Originally released in the UK back in 2008 exclusively for the Nintendo Wii (since then a version has made it’s way to the PS3/360). No More Heroes, like many third party titles on the Wii, flopped. Deservedly so? Yes and no is the straight forward answer. Or is that still a question? Let me explain.
To develop a hardcore and violent game for the Wii (although not necessarily known at the time) was commercial suicide. In fact unless you were Nintendo developing for the Wii you were pretty much guaranteed to fail. Suda 51 did say something to this effect shortly after release but had to retract his statement:
Only Nintendo titles are doing well. This isn’t just because of the current situation in Japan, as this is happening outside Japan…..I am very surprised about the reality about Wii, because before I was making this game, I wasn’t expecting that Wii would be a console targeted only for non-gamers. I expected more games for hardcore gamers. The reality is different to what I expected“.
All of this does not mean Suda 51 and No More Heroes deserved to fail and personally, overall, I don’t think it did. The game has it’s flaws but lets sink our teeth into what the game is actually about.
Plot wise it couldn’t be simpler. Our hero Travis Touchdown is an Otaku (someone who generally collects anime, manga and adopts the whole culture) and after winning a beam katana from an internet auction, Travis is flat out broke. Oh no how will he afford his wrestling memorabilia? Luckily he comes across a beautiful women named Sylvia Christel and during Travis’ poor one-liners, an assassin named Helter Skelter intervenes and Travis has to battle him to the death. Helter Skelter is ranked the 11th greatest assassin in the world and when Travis kills him, Travis adopts the role of the 11th greatest assassin as adorned by the UAA (United Assassin’s Association). Just a box standard day in the mind of Suda 51. Travis soon realises he has the opportunity to make it to the top of the list and be the greatest (and richest) assassin in the world. Ker-Ching! Story arc and gameplay solved in one fell swoop. Only a game could get away with this loose excuse of a plot.
Travis himself is by far one of the most bizarre yet entertaining characters of all time. He is arrogant, goofy, charming, aggressive, hilarious, unstable, hotheaded yet cool and incredibly foul mouthed. If this wasn’t a game this is the kind of jerk you would avoid but for some reason, even unbeknown to me, you instantly love Travis. One of the reasons you may root for Travis is because the game itself places you in his shoes. The assassins he has to fight are at times challenging and have a tendency to provoke all of the hatred out of you as a player. You will want to defeat them because they are arrogant and they are in your way. This is the ethos for much of the game, although Travis has to go some emotional turmoil from time to time and question the incessant killing upon which he initially thrived.
The game for the most part is one crazy fight after another but players can’t just turn up on the door step of the next ranked assassin. Travis must pay the entry fee to before he can even consider going up against his next major opponent and to do this Travis must take on an odd assortment of jobs dotted around the game world of Santa Destroy. You’ll cut grass with a lawnmower, pick up litter and work at petrol stations filling up cars, should you miss the button cue on this particular task you’ll accidentally set yourself on fire. You best make a good job of it then. Players can also enter mini fights where they can take on hordes of enemies and thus practice their acquired fighting techniques, as well as filling up the coffers for every kill; because, just like Scott Pilgrim, enemies explode into a splurging fountain of coins. As well as upgrading weapons and learning new moves Travis can also hit the gym, which is essential to help build up stamina and strength for those more challenging bosses that lie ahead. Most of these exercises at the gym are timed and you can certainly build up a sweat trying to hit the amount of push-ups required. Maybe Suda 51 was trying to appeal to the casual gamer by imitating Wii Fit?
Whilst certain elements of these mini jobs are fun, they can soon become tedious over the course of a full game. Sometimes reaching the required entry fee can take time and even though you have one of the coolest and fastest motorcycles ever, you have to drive to every single location, which sadly takes time. This does severely let No More Heroes down and makes the whole city of Santa Destroy somewhat pointless. Unlike the GTA series where the cities are vibrant and full of interaction, Santa Destroy is sparsely populated, making travelling a dull affair. Whilst this may make the boss battles more enjoyable as the anticipation has certainly (and forcibly) been building, I personally would have enjoyed exploring Santa Destroy, given any kind of reason beyond that of searching for T-Shirts in dump bins. Yes the clothes you can kit yourself out in, along with other collectibles, are often found in dump bins around the city. Why any lady would swoon over our hero boggles the mind.
However, the gameplay itself is fantastic and fun. The Wii controls actually work unlike so many fighting games on the Wii. This is largely due to the fact that the game controls are visually represented as part of the main action. During key moments the battle will slow down and you will be promoted by 1980’s style flashing arrows, which indicate the motion you should use with both remote and nunchuck to finish off your enemies. But make no mistake, this slow down of special moves by no means detracts from the incredibly high paced and relentless action. For comical effect you have to keep an eye on the energy bar that feeds Travis’ Beam Katana. Should this run out during the battle you will have to recharge the Katana, however as there are no plug sockets or docking stations present, Travis has a rather unusual method to get his sword working again. Travis must vigorously shake his sword handle up and down until the beam fully extends. I leave your imagination to depict how this may look on screen. Moving on, the wrestling moves you acquire throughout the game are especially fun to administer upon baddies. Watching a full suplex in motion really pumps up your adrenaline.
The whole tone and feel of the game is unique. No More Heroes stylistically offers more than your standard comic book or manga movie. It’s stance is representative of those art forms but is distinctive enough to hold it’s own. At times you feel No More Heroes, as well as paying homage to those styles, certainly is taking it one step further and is teasingly having fun with the genre. The caricature-esque comic book graphics, the buckets of blood, the interchanging post punk/electro/jpop music and the over the top voice acting all encapsulate this story of vengeance.
Finally we come to the most important part of the game, the boss battles. Every single boss you come across seems to be crazier than the last. Every time – the fighting styles become bigger and grander and is often matched by the ever growing arsenal at their disposal. Hardly any of the boss battles are a disappointment, nor should they be after all the hard work you’ve put in just getting there. Highlights for me included Destroyman, Holly Summers and Bad Girl.
Destroyman is a overpowered, egotistical and deceptive piece of work. Along with a host of ranged and explosive weapons Destroyman has a secret weapon and yes ladies when a man refers to his secret weapon he is talking about one area only, his laser cannoned codpiece. Yes you may re-read that sentence. We told you this game was a little unusual.
Holly Summers is partly constructed of cybotic limbs and has a whole range of attacks and blocks, one of which includes firing around 20 homing missiles at you. She has also planted several sand pit traps along the beach on which you are fighting. She can be a particularly tricky customer as a result and defeating would normally bring you satisfaction if she wasn’t one of the more kind and likeable, in a genuine sense, assassins.
One of the more memorable bosses is young Bad Girl. She is around 23, has a kind of sweet Lolita vibe about her until you find out she is an alcoholic, sadistic son of a bitch (daughter of a bitch?). She has a baseball bat and likes to bludgeon men dressed in S&M gear. Whilst this would normally play out into something kinky, murder is her form of foreplay. Once again I did warn you this game is a little far fetched. Her boss battle is one of the longest and most difficult within the game, she even has a move where she lures you in by playing possum and subsequently sweeps you legs from under and finishes you off. Defeating her is unbelievably gratifying. I literally screamed at the TV in pleasure after having taken her down.
This person is obviously very good at the game.
All in all, as I said before, No More Heroes has it’s flaws but is such fun to play. The bizarre tone and over the top characters that come from the mind of Suda 51 will put many people off but if you somehow slip into the mindset of this insane game you’ll rarely experience anything like it.