The release of No More Heroes was a big event for me in my younger years. My roommates and I were all avid fans of Killer7, and the initial trailers seemed to imply this was a continuation of that. It wasn’t. No More Heroes may be from the mind of Suda51, but it’s an entirely different beast. There are certainly the marks of its creator here, but it obviously has separate goals.
Nonetheless, my roommates and I ate it up, taking turns seeing it to completion. The disappointment at it not being Killer8 did nothing to stop it from becoming one of my favourite games on the Wii and, indeed, one of my favourite games of all time.
With my cards set firmly on the table, let me tell you about what makes No More Heroes great.
THIS IS DIANE FROM BEEFHEAD VIDEOS
Here we have the story of Travis Touchdown, an American otaku from Santa Destroy, California. He’s entered himself into the ranks of the United Assassins Association. This consists of a ladder of 10 assassins that Travis must climb to become the best.
It’s actually a pretty weird set up. Travis isn’t really introduced as an assassin, per se, and the cast you go up against are so bizarre that it’s hard to imagine some of them covertly killing someone. It’s also unknown why those of this profession would seek to kill each other for sport, but it’s the sort of off the cuff storytelling one can expect from Suda51. There’s something there about the bloodlust of the competitors, and there are some twists that kind of maybe help make sense of things, but it feels more like the narrative is set up to be stylish.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The characters that are introduced are larger than life, off-the-wall personalities. Travis Touchdown himself is an interestingly well rounded character. Disgustingly lecherous to the point of being hopeless, he’s presented with a suite of hobbies that make him feel relatable. He’s obsessed with anime and himself, making a lot of his speeches to his opponents a bunch of self-indulgent claptrap. It’s weird. It makes him easy to laugh at but difficult to hate.
EASY TO LAUGH AT; DIFFICULT TO HATE
Gameplay can be sliced neatly into two sections: the fight stages, and working to get to the fight stages. You heard me. Each fight requires you to pay an entry fee, and to get an entry fee you first have to work a menial job which unlocks assassination missions where you can get more money.
The working segments allow you to roam Santa Destroy at your leisure: shopping, working out, dumpster diving. This whole side of the game has you building to your next fight, which is kind of a cool feature. It’s also the most divisive part of the game, since the open world is a bit of a pain to get around in, the dumpster diving is kind of pointless, and the part-time job mini-games are sometimes lame. Worse yet, if you fail a job or a mission, you have to drive all the way back on your turbo powered scooter just to try again.
The missions are where the real gameplay happens. There’s a lot of variance here, but the typical formula sees you cutting your way through hordes of disposable goons before you finally make your way to the boss. The game has a habit of going off script, but that’s your basic setup.
STRAWBERRY ON THE SHORTCAKE
The combat is fairly interesting, if only because it’s unconventional. At its core, it’s very simple. You can angle your Wii Remote up or down to hold the beam katana high and low, then you just mash A in the direction of your target. That may sound lame, but layered on top of this is a headbutt that stuns opponents and allows you to perform a wide, wide repertoire of suplexes on them. You can also block and counter-attack, jump slash, charge your blade, and there are a growing number of beam katanas that all handle differently.
It’s actually quite dense, and that sometimes works against the game. Was there a tutorial? If so, I skipped it. I’ve played through this game at least four times, so I know all the fundamentals, but this time I didn’t realize you could dodge with the d-pad until — and I’m not exaggerating here — the second-to-last fight.
I found the combat to be pretty satisfying most of the time. I loved pulling off wrestling moves and it felt great to finish dudes off with a big slash. I have heard some very vocal complaints about the motion controls, as I’ve heard with maybe every Wii game, however I didn’t have a problem. It sometimes didn’t detect my motion, but rarely did it ever ignore me entirely. Just something to watch out for.
BLUEBERRY CHEESE BROWNIE
I put stress on “most of the time” because, while I enjoyed the boss battles for the most part, there was something about how they played that rubbed me the wrong way.
The bosses are, boiled down, heavily pattern based. They have a few attacks and it’s important to be able to watch for what’s coming up and reacting appropriately. However, one thing that isn’t clear is when you can and can’t hit them. They’re only vulnerable for certain periods; usually after an attack. However, the game doesn’t communicate this very well, so you may often find yourself flailing wildly, with your attacks doing nothing.
This doesn’t completely ruin the boss battles — it’s not impossible to get into the flow of combat — however, it does reduce the impact, and it can be confusing, especially since sometimes you’ll have an opening that looks like you can hack at the boss and it just doesn’t work.
Then you layer on top of this that some bosses have moves so deadly they might as well be insta-kill. Usually they have some sort of obvious charge up sequence (that you can’t interrupt), and they’re typically easy to avoid, but sometimes mistakes happen and it can be vexing. Don’t get me started on Bad Girl who I would dodge away from, the targeting would break, then I’d dodge back into to receive my final punishment. Eesh.
CRANBERRY CHOCOLATE SUNDAE
It’s almost stupidly violent. Slicing through an enemy results in them gushing blood into the atmosphere. It’s almost a testament to its design that it somehow doesn’t get obscured by the black clouds and raining blood of dying enemies. Their death screams are repetitive and pointless. I can tell you right now you’re going to hear the phrase, “my spleen,” echoed dozens of times by identical looking dudes.
That may be the point; that the violence is pointless. There’s definitely a slight against your typical gamers. More than once the game breaks the fourth wall to say that it’s going to skip past parts of the story to get to the point. Yet, there’s a lot of pointless exposition about bloodlust bookending every fight. It’s often goofy. Is it supposed to be? Maybe. I can’t get a pin on Suda51.
IF I BECOME NUMBER ONE, WILL YOU DO IT WITH ME?
There’s more to be said about No More Heroes, like how it always takes its time to get the small moments down, and how Silvia’s phone calls come from the Wii Remote speaker. However, I feel I need to address the music before wrapping up.
No More Heroes has a soundtrack that I’d probably break out and listen to on its own. However — and this is a big however — it sticks pretty hard to one particular theme. This theme plays on every stage in various, slight mutations. Every. Stage. It’s not a bad tune, but hearing it that often throughout the game really gives it the chance to get drilled into your head. Just a warning. Fortunately, most of the other tracks are pretty good.
So there’s my love letter to No More Heroes. It’s certainly not a perfect game, but like its protagonist, it has character for days. It’s easily misunderstood, and to some, it’s a nuisance, but it has heart in all the right places and I love it for that. This won’t be the last time that I pop this game in for another playthrough. I haven’t dropped my last suplex. No More Heroes is now a part of me, and now that I put that into text, I suddenly feel uncomfortable. That’s probably how it should be.
This review was conducted on a Wii U using a disc based version of the game. It was paid for by the author.