When I received this game I originally intended to do a quick “impressions” post and then do a full review later. However, when playing those first few hours to get a general idea of the controls, story, etc., I found that I couldn’t stop playing it. After completing 40% of the game I decided that I might as well just keep playing and do a full review. That alone speaks volumes about the addictive quality of No More Heroes.
I have heard No More Heroes described as being like a cross between Killer 7 and Grand Theft Auto. I can see how people could make those connections. Like Killer 7, it has very unique and stylistic artwork reflecting a comic book-like quality, and like Grand Theft Auto, it has a large overworld for the player to explore and at times interact with. But the similarities really end there. No More Heroes can only be accurately compared to itself, because it has a style all its own.
The story of No More Heroes is, like most Suda 51 stories, rather bizarre. The main character goes by the name of Travis Touchdown. He meets a girl named Sylvia Christel in a bar who proposes that he become an assassin. Since he has no money (to buy video games) he agrees to do the job. He assassinates a character referred to as “The Drifter” (who was named “Helter Skelter” in the early preview videos for the game). He then becomes the 11th ranked assassin in America. This is all explained in the opening cut scene.
Basically, Travis must take out the 10 assassins above him one by one with his beam katana (basically a light saber). He does this to gain the fame of being number one, get the money to buy his beloved video games and eventually have a chance at sleeping with Sylvia. No really. That’s the plot.
Each of the 10 assassins is unique and they each have a story to tell that unfolds in the cut scenes before and after each fight. These “boss battles” are really the highlight of the game because each “ranked battle” is very different. Some will require many tries to figure out the various weaknesses of each opponent. In a way, I was reminded a little of the classic NES game Punch Out, both in how unique each character is and how you need to use a bit of strategy to beat them. For some bosses, you don’t even fight them directly but rather interact with the environment, which leads to their deaths. I’d like to explain this more, but I would prefer not to spoil it for you.
Before you can kill any assassin you will need to collect enough money to pay the fees for each ranked fight. The amount starts small but as the game goes on you will have to pay more and more. Luckily you will also have far more ways to earn money as the game progresses. There are 9 part time jobs in the game that range from normal activities such as pumping gas and moving lawns to odd tasks like collecting coconuts and exterminating scorpions. Overall, the job mini-games are fun and varied enough to keep them interesting. There are other ways to make money as well, such as doing freelance small assassinations and finding money in dumpsters around town.
The overworld in this game (meaning the free-roaming area of the city that you can travel around) is big and mostly desolate. Unlike GTA where there is stuff to do and people to beat up everywhere, most of the scenery and people in No More Heroes cannot be interacted with. There are hundreds and hundreds of buildings in the game but only about 40 you can actually go into. These are indicated in the radar on the bottom left hand corner of your screen. Places you can go to include shops (to buy weapon upgrades, costume parts, etc.), the gym (to build up your stats), part-time jobs (to earn money), your apartment (to get new missions and change items) and of course the various assignations themselves.
You cannot die in the overworld, so there is no sense of danger. You are just spending time there acquiring things and customizing Travis. When you are ready, you will drive to special areas in town to fight the assassins. You don’t fight them right away, of course. There are some fairly lengthy action parts that happen before the assignations themselves. These action areas, like the dungeons in a Zelda adventure, are really the best part of the game.
Sadly, the free roaming areas between these action levels can get a bit tedious. Travis walks very slowly and takes a while to get where he needs to. Along the way, there are items to be found (like T-shirts found in dumpsters) and other tasks, so it’s not just walking, but when you just want to get to that next battle it can seem to be a bit of a chore. You will also have a motorbike, and at first I had a lot of fun just driving around and making the thing jump by flicking the remote up. Unfortunately, when you are on the bike you are going too fast to notice most of the hidden items, so I found myself constantly getting on and off. I think it might have been better if the game just had a map and you could choose where you wanted to go rather than having to drive everywhere, but I am sure other people will appreciate the freedom to travel anywhere they want. It was a bit repetitive for me, but in no way did it ruin my enjoyment of the game. In fact, it may have made the eventual assassin levels more rewarding for the effort. I usually just got the money as fast as I could and entered the boss stages.
As I mentioned above, before each boss battle you will have a small level to complete. In these areas you will face hundreds of smaller enemies that you can slash at with your beam katana. As you upgrade your weapon, you can do combos where you take down several of theses lesser bad guys at once. These areas are very fun and slicing down waves of baddies can be very satisfying, but it’s maybe a little bit too easy. I died many times on the main assassins, but never once during the battles leading to them. Still, they were very enjoyable. I especially liked the level where you need to kill about 50 enemies on a moving bus. The subway battle was also very cool. These stages serve mostly as a warm-up leading to the assassin battles.
Controls in the game work very well. You move with the analog stick on the nunchuck and lock on to enemies with the Z-button. The A-button is used for swinging your sword. After hitting the enemy a few times an arrow will appear on the screen. Swing the remote in that direction (like a sword slash) and it will perform a killing blow. You may also hit the “B-trigger” to activate wrestling moves. These moves are learned throughout that game and though they may take longer to do than just killing people with the sword, they can add some variety to the battles. I was disappointed at first that the A-button was used for most of the sword slashes rather than motion controls. But with the sheer number of enemies and how much slashing you need to do, it would be very tiring with one-to-one controls. I found the scheme that they made for the game to be excellent.
The graphics in this game, however, are a mixed bag. As for the positive, I love style. Everything fits within the artistic theme very well. From the way the assassins and Travis look to the city itself, this game has a distinct vibe that runs throughout — slightly off-putting and deliciously surreal.
All the HUD graphics and map icons in this game are made of retro looking pixel-art, which reminds the player of how Travis is not really a hero but rather just a gaming nerd who needs some cash. His room also reinforces this, with his action figures, anime posters and video games (including an N64) littered around his apartment.
After beating each level a scoreboard that looks straight out of a 1981 arcade machine comes up to tell you how you are doing. These touches reinforce the fact that you are playing a game and made me smile each time I saw them.
On the downside, there is nothing in this game that couldn’t have been done (other than the controls) on the Gamecube. The graphics do not push the boundaries of the Wii at all. In fact, at times the overworld looks downright ugly. Buildings fade in and out of the distance in a way that reminds me of N64 games (though of course not quite that bad). The assassination levels themselves look a lot better but there are still the occasional frame rate issues that really stand out. But actually, it almost seems like this slightly unpolished nature fits the game. Hear me out on this one. The fact that it is so raw and occasionally ugly makes it almost fit the world Suda 51 is trying to paint better than if it was silky smooth and shiny. Like punk music, the fact that it is rough around the edges makes it what it is. However, I realize that for some people this might put them off the game.
The music in is excellent. The No More Heroes theme is catchy and runs in several variations throughout the game. Fans of Lumines will recognize the song “Heavenly Star” by the Genki Rockets and you can even watch the song’s music video from a tape in Travis’s apartment. The only song in the game that I didn’t like was the driving music that plays when you are on your motorcycle. It’s not a bad piece of music, but you spend so much time driving around it gets a bit old after a while. I wish they had added a few more tracks.
The voice acting is over the top and often hilarious. People have ridiculous accents, crazy rants, and seem to be doing nothing but spouting catch phrases. The dialogue is not good in an Oscar Wilde sort of way, but it is good in an “Army of Darkness” sort of way. No one really sounds like a real person, but nothing in this game ever feels very real to begin with. Much like the graphics, the cheesy, overacted, wacky voice work fits the game like a glove. My friends can’t stop quoting various lines. But just like the graphics, this style might not be to everyone’s liking.
One fun sound feature that surprised me is that fact that before each boss fight Sylvia will call you on your cell phone. To hear what she is saying you must put the Wii remote speaker up to your ear because she will be talking through that. There was a feature similar to this in Red Steel, but it is implemented much better in No More Heroes.
The game took me 18 hours to finish my first time but I did not collect even 10% of the items available in the game. When you beat the game, you unlock a new difficulty level and you are given the option to jump right back to the beginning of the game in this harder mode. You are allowed to keep all of your equipment you earned so you can pull off all the sweet higher level moves right away. I am almost done with my second playthrough right now and am noticing a lot of things I missed the first time. Once I finish it this second time I am fairly sure I am going to play through it again. It’s been a long time since I have had this much motivation to replay a game. If you are someone who has to collect 100% of the items in a game to really feel you have completed it, there is a lot to do in No More Heroes and it will keep you busy for a long, long time.
One word of warning for some of the younger gamers out there: No More Heroes is fully deserving of its “M” rating. It is extremely violent, contains sexual content, partial nudity, explicit language and scenes of murder and suicide. Despite its often comical nature, parts of it can be pretty dark.
Overall, I recommend No More Heroes to anyone looking for a truly unique gaming experience. It is greater than the sum of its parts, and should be seen as an example of how an action game for the Wii should be made. NMH is one of the best games on the Wii, and its purchase should be a requirement if you wish to call yourself a true gamer.