Since its unveiling Grasshopper Manufacture's No More Heroes has stirred up interest amongst Wii owners. Who couldn't be looking forward to what self-proclaimed punk Goichi Suda would produce next after the sublime, psychotic and opinion-splitting killer7? Come and join the assassin's league table to see what we thought of it during our pre-release playtest...
Players take on the role of Travis Touchdown, an otaku of the highest order who has just purchased a light saber from an online auction site, as he roams the town of Santa Destroy attempting to take down the top ten best assassins that the world can offer in order to become the best there is. Why? Because. Well, there is a girl involved...Sylvia Christel, the woman in charge of setting up ranked death matches between the assassins for the UAA (United States Assassins Association).
One thing that is immediately striking about No More Heroes is the visual style. In a vein similar to killer7 it is entirely cel-shaded; however, it is more like the style of Suda's previous game 'grown up'. It is far more detailed than the cel-shading seen in killer7, and while it doesn't stand out quite as much it is just as, if not more, satisfying to the eye. Censorship of blood from the European version (present in the American version) does not seem to have harmed the effect of the game to the extent that some have worried even with black goo/smoke/shapes/whatever it is being sprayed about the game is still visceral in its presentation. The great use of sound with gratifying effects backs up the action.
The game is segmented into a number of parts. The meat of the game, it appears, is the disposal of enemies that get in your way as you aim to climb the league table of professional killers. You must earn the right to have a match with your immediate better in the league table, and from there you infiltrate their home/base, picking up power-ups and destroying guards as you go. Once you've made your way through it's straight into a battle with an assassin the centrepieces that the storyline is based around. However, there are other things you can do. Driving around on your ridiculously-sized motorbike is a necessity to getting around the large town of Santa Destroy, and you also have to earn money as you find out to your chagrin when you request your next ranking match and an obscene sum of money is demanded in return for the arrangements. Luckily, it isn't difficult to accumulate the coin as far as could be told from the playtest. You can perform simple jobs such as collecting coconuts, which strangely fetch substantial amounts of money, and mowing lawns, that work really well and are played within the main game engine no separate rubbishy mini-games here.
No More Heroes is instantly easier to get to grips with over killer7. You move about as in a standard third-person action game by use of the analogue stick, you lock on to enemies using the Z button. The battle controls, though, are slightly different from the norm. Rather than using the motion controls for everything so that players get tired, all that's needed to swing your beam sword is a tap of A. You can target either the upper body or lower body of your enemies when attacking, something that is made intuitive by use of the Wii remote simply move the remote so that the front points upwards for higher attacks, keep it low for the attacks on the waist and legs. Only subtle adjustments are needed, but it was more fun to hold the remote aloft when going for the head. With this simple system it's incredibly easy to string together massive combos to deplete your enemies' health, but you have to pay attention to timing and the area that you are targeting so that you don't get caught off guard you'd better believe that the bad guys give as good as they get.
It's not all tapping A, though. Pressing B allows you to kick and set up for wrestling moves, but this isn't advisable unless your enemy is stunned or you could easily find yourself on the wrong side of a combo. As you dual you'll find yourself pinned in situations that you must battle out of, too. For example, your weapons may clash and lock together, whereupon a pop-up will appear on screen telling you to rotate the remote as though you are drawing circles with the pointer to overcome your foe and strike a crucial blow. In other circumstances it will ask you to sharply move the nunchuk and remote, either in conjunction or in separate directions, to carry out devastating wrestling moves such as German suplexes clearly referring to Suda's love of wrestling. Other times a swipe will activate finishing sword slashes which can lop entire bodies in half. Amongst all this there is a cat-and-mouse element, as you have to continually keep an eye on the power metre of your beam sword if it's running low, you've got to retreat for long enough to recharge your weapon as your foe stalks after you. You do this by holding down the 1 button and making rather dubious vigorous hand motions (side to side works too)...as Travis replicates the action with the handle of his weapon close to his crotch...
On that note, it has to be said how funny No More Heroes is. From the 40 60 minutes of gameplay that we saw alone we laughed more than we have with any game in quite a while. Not laughing at things that are unintentionally funny, not laughing with the sort of humourless glee experienced in Super Mario Galaxy (though there is much of this in No More Heroes, also). No, we laughed because it is just a hilarious game, and a very crude one at that. Travis Touchdown is, without doubt, a pervert. There is no other word for him. He presses himself against posters of animι girls with a seedy look upon his face. He begs Sylvia for sex, asking her that if he kills everybody, could he do it with her...just once?! - we suspect this remains his motivation throughout. He very obviously tries to look up Sylvia's skirt during a meeting, complete with eager fingers wiggling, and cries out in hysterical anguish when he's kicked out of a car after this. Sex isn't the only subject of laughs other things include brilliant visual humour in the way Travis runs after collecting coconuts, the fact that you go to the toilet to save and the overblown conversation between Travis and the first boss but it is certainly prevalent. Coupled with the foul language (some of Travis' very first words are simply a battle cry of f***head!), you can be sure that this is NOT a game for youngsters.
This most uncharming of approaches gives No More Heroes much of its appeal. It's a 'mature' title, but it goes about it in the most immature, childish way possible, revelling in it like a pig does in mud. It's very refreshing to see a game aimed at adults abandon any pretence of taking itself seriously. The other things that make up the appeal are all the quirky little touches. Travis is a complete nerd, so the HUD and any pop-ups or on-screen indicators are pixelated. The league table of killers is actually a high score screen like ones you might find in ancient arcade games nevermind that you're murdering people, you want the high score. Coins burst out when you kill, there are chests and vases to break to gain power-ups. No More Heroes is so unashamed to be a game and so cheery in all its immorality that it's impossible not to love.
How did I actually get on, then? Well, Goichi Suda and Grasshopper sound director Takada Masafumi took it in turns to play through the first level as I watched and asked questions via Naoko Mori, Grasshopper PR
and translator the results of which will be seen at some point in the near future. Suddenly, they had gotten up to the first boss and the controller was offered to me, and was naturally accepted...well, it'd be rude not to despite not knowing what to do! The controls were easy to pick up once I'd worked out how to lock-on to enemies and how to charge my weapon after some helpful prods from Suda and co., and soon the Yakuza-like first assassin was falling at my feet with an array of suplexes to calls of 'awesome!' from Suda. The game really benefits from the sparing use of motion control, as it makes it all the more effective and exciting when you do get to use your arms a little more definitely a good design decision, though I have to admit to attempting to wield the remote like a sword/light saber initially.
After the foe was felled there was a delightful trip to Travis' apartment where he promptly sat himself atop the toilet to save. Next it was time to ride the insane bike, which was evidently driven so well that I was asked if I'd played the game before, which I hadn't...Suda was probably being polite, but I didn't crash, so there's an achievement for you. There have been negative reports about the driving sections, but I thought they were fine despite sometimes noticeable frame-rate drops and the seeming lack of anything to do as you go from place to place. Apparently there are a number of crazy stunts you can also do on the bike, but I didn't test this as I only found out after my play time was over.
The final section that I got to play was the very arcade-y coconut collection job. The aim is to punch coconut trees repeatedly to unleash their seeds. You then gather these up, up to three at a time, and run back to the stall that buys them as quickly as possible by hammering the A button as you move in a giggle-worthy stagger. The humour in this section was well-done slapstick, from the walking to the fact that Travis can get hit over the head with coconuts if he's not careful with a nice smack. They must be heavy coconuts judging by the difficulty Travis was having carrying them, and they're worth a lot. Brilliant. I got a gold medal.
Anticipation Rating 5/5
No More Heroes is without a doubt one of the best original titles on Wii, perhaps only coming behind Super Mario Galaxy. It's certainly in the upper tier of quality, at least, and what we played was only a small segment of a game that allegedly gets better and better, and more than a little more insane. Funny, fantastic visuals and sound, great use of the Wii remote, variety in gameplay and something that makes you genuinely want to keep playing what more could you want? We need it, and we need it now. Wii has a new champion; adversely to that statement, it's called No More Heroes.