By Shane Bettenhausen 06/22/2007
Grasshopper Manufacture's upcoming adventure No More Heroes clearly stands apart from the rest of its third-party Wii brethren, and not just because it's neither a spazzy minigame collection nor a last-gen port with tacked-on motion control. Rather, No More Heroes differentiates itself by being phenomenally weird...let's just hope it's a good weird. This surreal offering blends open-ended, Grand Theft Auto-style missions, frantic Wii-mote swordplay, and bizarre, postmodern humor in distinctive visual trappings that bear a strong resemblance to Grasshopper's divisive cult classic, Killer 7 (PS2/GC).
We're still a bit foggy on precisely how all these disparate elements will come together in the final product, so we're going straight to the source -- enigmatic No More Heroes Director Goichi Suda -- for assistance. While he doesn't exactly reveal the true nature of the gameplay, Suda adamantly explains precisely what his new game isn't.
It's not just another Wii minigame collection
No More Heroes stands out among Wii releases by being...well, a real game. In a sea of insubstantial minigame collections, a meaty single-player adventure seems positively ambitious. It's no accident, and Suda has no shortage of opinions on the state of Wii software. "Let me tell you one thing," he insists. "I'm not looking to other developers' Wii titles as reference points during the creation of No More Heroes...I think a lot of developers are preparing original software on Wii presently, but at least in Japan, you can't deny the fact that developers are planting the soil on this new platform with unoriginal and entirely boring game concepts."
It's not Killer 7 all over again
Although we had plenty of respect for Killer 7's wildly creative storyline, its complex web of politics, religion, and insanity left most players thoroughly lost without a clue. "The story of No More Heroes proudly represents the antithesis of Killer 7's," Suda explains. "It's a story of the maturation of a young man, so the narrative should be more understandable for players." So, rather than juggling seven characters, each representing aspects of the protagonist's fractured psyche, here you only have to wrap your head around one hero, the amusingly named Travis Touchdown.
Travis begins the game as an affable everyman who lucks into a killer find via an Internet auction site -- his very own beam katana (think: lightsaber). Armed with this new weapon, he accepts a gig as a hit man...and later finds himself caught up in an international assassination competition against the world's finest killers. Sound preposterous? Maybe not -- perhaps this is a primal fantasy that Suda knows gamers will relate to. "He's actually a huge manga, anime, and hardcore fighting otaku [fanboy]," says Suda of his new hero. "Travis figures that if he's going to turn his hobbies into something practical, he's going to become a hired killer."
No More Heroes also diverges from Killer 7 in terms of structure and gameplay: That game's simple, linear stages and ill-advised "on-rails" controls have wisely been bulldozed, replaced by a wide-open world where you can travel and fight with no restrictions. The fictional city of Santa Destroy, CA provides a suitably quirky backdrop to the action and, thankfully, you're not limited to hoofing it around this sprawling metropolis. "Players will need to use Travis' bike, the Schpel Tiger, to ride from location to location within Santa Destroy," says Suda. "While he's in transit, I don't expect Travis to encounter enemies, but there might be set instances where there will be on-bike battles."
It's not Red Steel all over again
Since most of No More Heroes' combat involves slicing up fools with Travis' beam katana, prepare to wield your Wii Remote for some serious swordplay. But, as Ubisoft's Red Steel taught us, virtual sword fighting can feel awfully haphazard and imprecise. Luckily, Suda appears to be fully aware of this potential pitfall. "If you're going to make a katana-based game, you're going to run into a lot of problems unless you adopt an advanced camera system," he says. The game's dynamic camera makes it easy to determine how to best strike your opponent -- the precise motion you make with the Wii Remote isn't actually that crucial, but the height and angle of your attack are. Expect to encounter a bit of a learning curve, but skilled players will soon be able to dismember and decapitate foes, and even mix in a few wrestling-inspired finishing moves (like a skull-crushing suplex) using the Nunchuk. Overall, it's a far more brutal, visceral approach to sword combat than we've seen in the past. "The Wii is an entirely new device and requires a completely new approach to game design," says Suda. "You can't take your past experiences into a Wii game and pray they work just as well as before."