Remember Killer7, that Gamecube game that no one bought and even fewer people appreciated? Well the kooky mastermind behind that, SUDA51 (he’s too cool for normal nomenclature!), released a new game for the Wii a few months ago. And guess what? It actually sold better! Hooray! But it tanked in Japan. Boo.
But I suppose that doesn’t matter. I bought it! I was one of the crazies that thought Killer7 was a flawed breath of fresh air and couldn’t wait to see what ingenious new gimmicks SUDA51 had up his sleeve on the Wii, a system full of ingenious gimmicks. Plus there was that absolutely batshit insane trailer that helped pique my curiosity.
No More Heroes concerns itself with the fate of the deliciously-named Travis Touchdown. He’s a total down-and-out slacker/loser/otaku. He watches old pro wrestling tapes, plays classic video games and has tons of anime- and manga-inspired figurines populating his humble motel room (titled, conveniently enough, “No More Heroes”). One night when he’s getting really trashed at a bar, he meets a mysterious young lass named Silvia who convinces him to kill an assassin named Helter Skelter for a little video game money. Travis makes good on this and receives the title of Rank 11 from the United Assassins Association. Realizing that this makes him a target for others wanting to move up the ranks, he decides to kill the ones above him and become #1, provided that Silvia put out for him at the end, of course.
If the plot sounds simultaneously simple, cheesy, bizarre and irresistible, then that pretty much explains the tone of the game. The story is fairly straightforward on paper, but SUDA51 couldn’t make a boring presentation if his life depended on it. Everything in the game is filled with his own unique sense of wacky embellishment. The city you live in is named Santa Destroy and every location has a name related to wrestling in some way (e.g. Body Slam Beach). As you accept each ranking assassination, a wicked guitar riff wails and a silhouette of your target appears with the character speaking his name. I could go on and on, but really it’s best to be taken off-guard and amused by it as you play.
The dialogue is the same as it was in Killer7: over-the-top, Tarantino-esque and frequently nonsensical. After all, this is the game whose trailer made “Your shining armor and fine words won’t get you anywhere!” a catchphrase among smarmy Internet douches (i.e. me). There’s also a wonderful streak of meta-awareness in the script. One of the characters refuses to reveal her backstory because “it would jack up the age rating of this game even further… You don’t want this to become No More Heroes Forever, do you?” I squealed with delight when that happened, partially because it caught me by surprise and partially for the reference to perennial vaporware punching bag Duke Nukem Forever. Since the story in the game doesn’t take itself half as seriously as Killer7, the wonderfully hammy voice acting (from voice director Kris “Metal Gear Solid” Zimmerman, no less!) fits perfectly with everything else.
The amount of pop culture that permeates the game is really unavoidable. I mean, Travis’ room alone is like a shrine to geekdom. There’s an old N64 on his shelf and the room is littered with paraphernalia related to the fictional magical girl/mecha anime Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly. He even walks up to a poster of it and squeals, “Moeeeee!” When Travis walks into the video store, the clerk gives him a heads up on the new Miike flick. And it doesn’t stop there. I LOVE sly pop culture references, so I am in love with this game’s style. It’s easily the best aspect of the game.
So what about the gameplay, huh? Well, it’s pretty fun, too. It’s basically a beat-’em-up. You have a lightsaber (it’s not called that, but c’mon) and you run around and beat the hell out of people by smacking the A button a lot. Depending on if you hold the remote upright or towards the TV, you can change stances. If an enemy is using a high stance to guard your attacks, you can switch to a low stance to circumvent their defense. The B button provides you with a stunning move; if effective, you can press B again to initiate a wrestling move that requires savvy movement of the nunchuck and remote to perform successfully.
If you succeed in beating an enemy to the brink of death, a prompt comes up asking you to swing the remote in a certain direction. If you do it within the time limit, you perform a deathblow on the enemy which also makes a slot machine pop up at the bottom of the screen. If you get three matching symbols, Travis can perform a Dark Side move depending on which symbols were matched that makes killing enemies easier and more entertaining for a limited time.
Thaaaat’s about all there is to the fighting. It’s simple – more simple than I made it sound – but fun. It’s just really satisfying to go running around slicing people into huge fountains of blood. In fact, as you get better weapons as the game goes on, the gore gets even bloodier, with entire crowds of enemies exploding at your awesomeness with one strike. The game isn’t really long enough for you to get truly bored with the gameplay, and each of the assassins ranked above you plays differently enough to make you change your style of approach.
The game structure is sort of a pain, though. Each level begins with you in the free-roaming city of Santa Destroy. You head over to the temp job agency, where they give you an assignment to complete some sort of silly task for a resident. You do everything from finding kitties to pumping gasoline. Enthralling, right? There’s usually some token Wii remote waggling in order to perform the task. Then you’re allowed to go to another place that assigns an assassination mission to you, usually something having to do with killing a certain target or killing as many people as you can in a certain time limit. Both tasks net you some money, which is required to accept the next UAA ranking mission.
If it seems like a lot of tedium, it sort of is. You’ll suffer through the chores it takes to get to the really wild stuff. But, really, how’s that different from any other game? In a game as post-modern and self-aware as this, I find it hard to believe you’re playing an avid otaku gamer that has to do a bunch silly stuff before he reaches the boss for no reason. And the bosses are worth the trouble. Each one is unique in some insane way, like Dr. Peace, the crooning, baseball-pitching Texas rancher. I don’t want to spoil the surprises of actually meeting them in the game, but they’re definitely cool, memorable fights. My only beef is that late in the game, it becomes sort of a test of patience, waiting for the enemy to drop his or her guard long enough to get a few swipes in. One fight took a friggin’ half hour to complete just because the computer was given so much “invincible” time.
There’s also miscellaneous other stuff in the game to do. You get access to a Galaga-like shmup later on that you can play whenever you want. There’s all sorts of things to buy with the money you get, like stylish print t-shirts or other new clothes for Travis, or wrestling tapes at the video store… I didn’t spend too much time doing that stuff since I wanted to get through the game, but there looked to be enough to tantalize any completist. And little touches like getting phone calls from Silvia on your Wii remote speaker lets you know SUDA51 cares.
So is this THE Wii action game to have? If we’re talking about completely original products, uh, yeah, I think so. RE4 is great however you slice it, but it’s a port. You probably played it already! No More Heroes is exactly the sort of game that the Wii needs more of: edgy, clever actioners that aren’t afraid to curse or spill blood in the pursuit of a good time. But that would be catering to the hardcore demographic, wouldn’t it? Then forget it: more party minigames for all!