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REVIEW: No More Heroes December 20, 2007

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, Reviews.

Who needs a Star Wars lightsaber game on Wii any more?

If a game’s quality can be measured by how often it makes you smile, then No More Heroes is a superb piece of software. Which is a good job, because by most other critical standards, it’s pretty average. Technically it’s all over the place, with dodgy collision detection, horrendous draw-in and an iffy frame-rate detracting from its stylish, over-saturated visuals, while HDTV owners will witness jaggies aplenty. The game’s combat can get repetitive too, while the menial tasks that take up roughly a third of your game time involve some odd jobs that recall the tedium of Shenmue’s infamous box-carrying chores. And yet, somehow, these problems seem to melt away – while you’re playing, at least.

The plot seems initially quite threadbare, if entirely unique in concept and execution. You play wiry otaku Travis Touchdown, the 11th best assassin in America, whose ultimate goal is to top the rankings – mainly so he can get to bed the dodgily-French-accented Sylvia Kristel, the woman behind the shady – and financially demanding – Assassin’s Association. Travis might look like a cross between Tyler Durden and Johnny Knoxville (indeed, director Suda 51 wanted the Jackass star cast in the role of Touchdown, but he was too expensive) but he’s clumsy and oafish around women, and his San Destroy apartment bears all the hallmarks of geekdom – manga figurines here, an N64 there, Mexican wrestling masks lining the walls…let’s just say he’s fairly easy to identify with.

When he’s wielding his beam katana (read: lightsaber, in the first of many Star Wars references) though, he’s a different animal entirely. Skilful, quick and lethally vicious – at least, in the right hands. The fighting may seem heavy on the button-mashing at first, but there’s much more to it than tapping A to perform combos. Get your enemy’s energy down low enough, and an arrow will appear, prompting a finishing move with a wave of the Wii remote in the appropriate direction. It’s difficult to overstate just how satisfying this is, and that’s before you get to blocking, parrying (circle the remote quickly to force your opponent back when blades collide), and the remote-controlled wrestling moves that you can pull off when your foes are stunned. It’s one thing to simply slash an opponent to tiny specks of black ash, quite another to suplex them into the floor and swipe their prone body into dust with a flourish of the katana. It’s all done via vigorous swipes of the controller, and soundtracked by crunchingly brutal, bassy effects that will make your speakers shudder. The various assassination side-quests are just an appetiser for the boss fights – with some totally off-the-wall characters weirder than pretty much anything in Suda’s GameCube oddity Killer 7. The routine is simple – earn enough cash to pay your exorbitant entrance fee, hack your way through an army of henchmen, receive a phone call (through the remote speaker, in another simple-but-delightful touch) from Kristel, then save your game, stock up on energy, and – in the words of the game – enter the garden of madness.

There’s just an infectious exuberance about everything here – it’s a game that’s completely in love with being a game, and that shines through in everything from the fourth-wall-breaking dialogue to the incidental details. Missions and items of interest are signposted by bouncing pieces of blocky pixel art, a rise in the rankings displayed as an arcade high-score table, and there’s a playable dream sequence in the form of an 8-bit vertically scrolling shoot-em-up. Fruit machine reels spin upon defeating a henchman, with three of a kind setting off one of several power-ups, from a slow-motion killing spree to a monochrome one-hit-kill QTE, with Travis shouting nonsense soundbites like ‘BLUEBERRY CHEESE BROWNIE’. One job has you punching trees to collect coconuts, which you carry with a hilarious bow-legged waddle. In the lawnmowing minigame, you can press Z to make Travis dance while mowing one-handed. One of the bosses is an old woman carrying the most heavily-armed shopping trolley ever. There’s simply so many tiny things put in solely to surprise and amuse. And that’s without mentioning the vast range of clothing you’ll almost certainly spend too much time and money on, just so Travis can look even more hip while he’s scrapping.

Glib comparisons may be made with GTA, but other than a slight influence on the basic interface, San Destroy is more like Yakuza’s Kabukicho in the interactivity stakes. If anything, the game that No More Heroes most resembles is Capcom’s God Hand – not just in its mechanics and bizarre humour, but also that it’s a fairly niche game where you get out what you put in. If one half of the game is more a means to an end than anything especially interesting, then it’s a necessary evil which makes the build-up to each assassination even more exciting. There’s a thrill of the unknown about it, both in the wonder at who or what you’re about to come face-to-face with, and to see how the plot will be resolved. Regardless of your tastes, the ending is fantastic, with yet more pop-culture references piled on, a revelation thrown away in dialogue you can’t hear, and an utterly inspired Duke Nukem Forever joke. In other words, yet more joyous insanity.

Your head might say no, but if you’re anything like in love with videogames as much as No More Heroes demonstrably is, then Suda’s latest is an arrow headed straight for your nerdish heart. At a hundred smiles an hour.



1. REVIEW: No More Heroes · HDTV Information, Reviews, and Deals - December 20, 2007

[…] Original post by Press Start […]

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