IGN Review of No More Heroes
On a system now home to a ton of uber-casual experiences and lots of "me too" shovelware products, it can be pretty rare to find something made specifically for the more hardcore, mature gamer. Since the very beginning, Wii has had a wrap for being a family console, and while games like Godfather, Scarface, and Manhunt 2 beg to differ, the more serious products out there are still outshined by the wave of Wii Sports clones and Mairo Party look-alikes. Well, score one more for the hardcore. No More Heroes isn't the most polished game out there, and it certainly has its fair share of quirks all around, but it deserves to keep its place in the libraries of the more serious Wii gamers just the same. Suda 51 promised a violent, stylistic spectacle, and he delivered.
While No More Heroes is published and distributed by Ubisoft here in the states, newcomers to Suda's designs will quickly find that the abstract creator himself is pretty far from anything Ubisoft has done in the past. Previously Grasshopper Studios (Suda's team) worked with publisher Capcom to bring Killer 7 to the GameCube and PS2, and much like its uber-stylistic predecessor, No More Heroes challenges the bounds of what a conventional game is. With Killer 7, insane style was met with new, challenging control that was primarily linear and very shooter-focused. With No More Heroes, a drastic style remains, but the world opens up into a half GTA, half hack-n-slash experience. Return Suda fans will instantly fall in love with the style once again, while newcomers are in for one hell of a wake-up call. No More Heroes is in a league of its own stylistically.
With that being said, the game also puts style before substance in a few key areas. The overall story, for starters, isn't too deep, as players take the role of Travis Touchdown (a new-to-the-scene killer) who is out to rank amongst the top assassins in the world. To do it, he'll need to work with a tight-knit organization that arranges official fights amongst ranked combatants, and that means raising money, taking on odd jobs, and earning the right to fight.
What ends up happening is that No More Heroes is split into two distinct gameplay types right off the bat. You've got the GTA free-roaming that is used for doing individual missions, exploring the city of Santa Destroy, and hitting up a few shops and training areas, which leads the way for the action-oriented story. If the game was based only on the open world style, it would have been a pretty sizable disappointment as far as we're concerned, as there are constant frame issues, pop-in everywhere, very little NPC activity, and a huge overall lack of polish. You'll hit tons of invisible walls, collide with collision boxes for cars and buildings that are bigger than the art itself, and deal with some sketchy vehicle control as well with Travis's motorcycle.
What it all boils down to is about 10 or so stores and buildings to go into, a handful of mission points that bring you into new loading zones, and some mini-game jobs which are fun, but hardly necessitate an entire open world. We're not denying the immersion factor you could get from actually roaming around town, but there experience is far more frustrating and incomplete than it should be, and it would have been easier to scale down this aspect of the game, going with a more traditional level select or smaller hub world, even if it meant changing the feel and pacing of the game along the way. As far as open world designs go, No More Heroes has the worst on Wii, and that includes the disappointing Driver 3 city.
And while the technical aspects of the open world are pretty annoying, there were a few strange design choices made that really make the "out of mission" experience too tedious. While every currently unlocked side quest (playable as many times as you'd like for loads of cash) is open from the start of a loaded game, failing the mission removes it from the map entirely, forcing the player to move from one mission to the next regardless of outcome. You can always reactivate the challenge by going back to a main building on the map that handles all jobs and assassination missions, but when some of the challenges are extremely difficult -- a common mission has you killing a whole group of people, failing if you're hit even once -- a lack of "retry" option is a serious oversight. You can drive for a few minutes to reach a challenge, wait for the load, start the mission, get hit once, and then have to drive for another few minutes just for a shot at that same challenge again. By the end of the game you'll end up making laps around the city hitting whatever missions you can just to maximize your time, rather than trying a specific challenge over and over until you succeed.
On the flipside, however, are the guts of No More Heroes. Once you actually gain enough cash to enter into a ranked fight, the experience is extremely rewarding. The general combat harks back to games like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, as you'll control a fast moving, stylistic Travis Touchdown that makes use of a simple high/low attack system (based on how you tilt the Wii remote) and a few gesture kills. The experience is kept fast and extremely stylistic throughout, as the general combat is done with the A and B buttons, leaving the impressive -- and astonishingly violent -- kills to gesture finishers or two-handed wrestling moves. Since the entire game embraces a style of punk/retro visuals, otherwise overly-violent scenes are less the Manhunt style, and more like Tarentino's Kill Bill films, where you know you're witnessing violent actions, but the style is so heavy that it's really dulled down and far more tolerable. Each of these missions is about ten to 15 minutes, and offer a full "level" of action before the boss battle at the end. Very traditional, and very fun.
And while the combat is pretty simplistic in its design, we really can't stress how fluid, intuitive, and rewarding it is, as the game stays extremely fast, the camera work and pacing of battles is almost cinematic, and the situation-based motions help to keep the tightness of combat you get with button-based games, while still being extremely rewarding with motion worked in. Every once in a while we'd pull off a motion that didn't translate into the game (and we've seen other instances of this as well across the net with other critics and gamers alike), but it almost isn't worth mentioning, as our overall feeling with the game's combat system is overwhelmingly positive. The combat is so fun and stylized that it often drew a crowd around our desks while we played during office hours, and it's as much fun to witness second hand as it is to actually play. This is one impressive looking game.
Of course an assassin vs. assassin game would be nothing without great bosses, and No More Heroes has quite a few. Characters are serious in artistic design, but almost cartoon-like in nature, many of them feeling like they were pulled from top-tier anime productions such as Ninja Scroll, Cowboy Bebop, or the Animatrix compilation. Of course they are all original designs by Suda himself, but each one has such an exaggerated style and mood that it really does feel less like a game, and more like a living comic book. Cheesy voiceover and script work (perhaps translated poorly on purpose?) tops off in-game scripted sequences that feel larger than life, again often the reason for pooling groups of people around our desks. Like Kojima, Suda's creations actually outshine the rest of the experience, and we often found ourselves playing the game not for the crisp combat or quirky mini-games, but in hopes of finding the next oddball boss battle and accompanying skit before and after the fight itself. As a final note on boss battles, they are as difficult as they are epic, as No More Heroes doesn't just look and act "hardcore" visually, but also demands a ton from gamers in turn. You'll win battles by the skin of your teeth, put everything you have into a boss fight that you swear you'd never beat, and enjoy every second of it. This is where No More Heroes shines.
Between those two main aspects of the game, players will have to decide for themselves if this is really a game worth purchasing at full price. There's a ton of hilarious content added to truly make the world come to life, as you'll wander around Travis's apartment, pet his cat, rent movies to watch on your TV, upgrade and customize your weaponry, find wrestling masks to learn new grapple moves, train at the local gym to strengthen your stats, and essentially level Travis up with new movies and techniques found scattered throughout the world in a GTA-inspired "package" system. What you won't find, however, is a true open world experience, and you'll have to suffer through what's there in order to find the gold of the game within the actual assassination missions.
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