The crazies behind Killer 7 are at it again with a super-stylized gore-fest that’ll have mature-content-craving gamers wielding their Wii-motes like never before
If you’ve treaded the twisted path of Suda 51 (CEO and mad scientist of developer Grasshopper Manufacture) in the past, specifically in 2005’s super-stylized, ultra-violent Killer 7, then you’ll at least be partially prepared for the mind-bending blitz No More Heroes assaults you with. However, if your previous Wii-waggling has been limited to cooking with Mama and star-collecting with Mario, then strap yourself in…tight. You’re in for one hell of a ride.
Those familiar with Killer 7 will likely recall its love-it-or-hate-it reception; it was impossible not to dig its inspired style, but the unorthodox control scheme drove many to chuck their gamepads in frustration. With No More Heroes, Suda 51 and his team have stuck to their ultra-stylized guns, but have also smartly adopted a control setup that’s accessible, unbelievably satisfying, and nearly flawless. Quite a feat when you consider other Wii-mote-as-sword efforts (Soul Calibur Legends, Samurai Warriors: Katana) have struggled to deliver truly intuitive blade-battling action.
More on the slick controls in a bit. We can’t ignore No More Heroes’ sick style a second longer. Oh, and for you oldies out there, we mean “sick” in the most complimentary way; you know, like when a skinny jean-wearing 13-year-old exits the Hot Topic spouting something about the new Fall Out Boy video being “wicked sick.” Sorry for the digression, but after spending a few moments in NMH’s wacky world, you’ll totally understand. Let’s start with the games’ protagonist, Travis Touchdown. If Fight Clubs’ Tyler Durden and Kill Bill’s The Bride had a love child, he’d be just like Travis: super friggin’ cool and savvy with a sword. Of course, in Suda 51’s world being cool means loving anime, collecting action figures, and cleaving baddies in two with, not a sword, but a lightsaber-like beam katana acquired through an Internet auction. From the flat-out strangest boss battles we’ve ever encountered to the way you save your game, this out-there approach bleeds into every last crevice of NMH’s design. The former includes a battle in a baseball stadium where your target is a gunslinger who greets you with a song from the pitcher’s mound, and the latter is a bathroom break; that’s right, if you want to save your game, Travis will drop trow and hit the porcelain. These eccentricities don’t even begin to scratch NMH’s bizarro surface. There’s also the video store, named Beef Head, where you can rent movies, Travis’ hotel apartment where he plays with his adorable kitty Jeane, and then there’s Sylvia, the bra-revealing vixen helping Travis along his murderous path to become the top-ranking assassin. Oh, did we forget to mention Travis’ master, Thunder Ryu, who insists you strip naked before beginning training? Don’t worry though, we’re not subjected to Travis’ polygonal private parts.
All of this madness, and so much more, is brilliantly blended into Travis’ violence-fueled quest, which is simply to take down the top ten assassins in Santa Destroy, CA, and claim the number one spot for himself. The refreshingly straightforward structure is actually a bit reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus’ gameplay where the player’s primary task was to take on a series of increasingly difficult boss battles. What NMH adds to the formula is an open-world environment available to Travis between bouts. In this world, he can tool around on his sci-fi-looking motorcycle, picking up side jobs, shopping, training, and running errands for a drunken Russian barfly. It’s partially up to the player how they want to spend their between-fight time; if you’re an obsessive collector and customizer you may want to purchase new clothing for Travis or rent every last video at Beef Head. On the other hand, if you’re just craving the next blood-drenched fight, you’ll want to stick to upgrading your weapons at Naomi’s Laboratory (Naomi’s a hotter-than-hell beam katana maker) and take side jobs to raise the entry fee for your next battle. Earning cash is done through unlockable, non-violent jobs like mowing lawns, collecting trash, and delivering pizza, as well as through more kill-tastic tasks like slaying as many henchmen as you can within a given time limit. Requiring players to raise money could have been a fun-halting grind, but the minigames are mostly fun and you’re never forced to do them for too long, as building your bank is pretty easy.
As much as you’ll enjoy Santa Destroy’s diversions, NMH really shines during the assassination quests. Each one has Travis clearing several rooms of baddies before meeting the next ranked hitman or woman. And like the aforementioned baseball stadium crooner, each boss is as bizarre as the next, and some great cutscenes complement their craziness. Whether you’re beheading a half-dozen dudes with a single slash or making every contact count on a challenging boss, the fighting is a visceral blast that’ll have even the most jaded Wii-mote-wavers grinning ear to ear from the first low-level grunt to the final epic showdown.
You’d think a melee weapon-based Wii title would have your arms flailing like a drunken monkey, but NMH steered clear of the obvious, sweat-inducing path to deliver a much more satisfying and intuitive experience. The A and B buttons take care of your attacks and blocks respectively, and raising or lowering the Wii-mote determines where your hits land. There’s even a handy high/low meter on the HUD so there’s no confusion as to where you’re aiming. Each and every kill is topped with a finishing move, and this is where the Wii-slicing comes in. Once an enemy is set to gasp his last breath, a directional prompt will appear on screen; unleash that last devastating blow and watch while blood spews out of your foe’s neck like an overactive geyser. Some classic wrestling moves, triggered by moving the Nunchuk and remote in specific directions, and optional lock-on targeting allow for quick evasive dives, and special Dark Side modes (slo-mo, projectile firing) ensure the seemingly simple fighting mechanics continually deliver a pulse-racing ride. In fact, if you’re anything like us, you’ll find yourself rising from your comfy chair and taking center stage in front of the television at the start of every boss encounter. The swordplay is that much fun.
NMH’s fantastic fighting is matched only by its breathtaking presentation. We’ve already touched on Suda 51’s wonderfully twisted take on gaming, but the visual style complementing his bizarre characters and world is equally noteworthy. Like Killer 7, NMH adopts a look heavily influenced by anime and cel-shading; it often looks like a comic book come to life. Additionally, the use of vibrant colors and dark shadows make it as much fun to watch as it is to play. And the way over-the-top violence is gory, sure, but the presentation is so stylized that it borders more on fantasy than realism. The production further impresses with cool call-outs to old-school gaming; your health is represented by a pixilated heart, save points are marked with a giant S and the assassin rank screen mirrors the look of an 80’s era arcade coin-op “high score” screen. The audio also gets the job done with intentionally-cheesy guitar riffs, 8-bit bleeps and blips, and amazing voice-acting. Even the Wii-mote’s tiny speaker delivers lightsaber-sounding buzzes and whirs that’d make Darth Vader peer over his shoulder.
This is still a Wii title, so despite the stunning artistic treatment, NMH does suffer a few graphical glitches: most notably, pop-in, slowed frame-rate and some blocky, detail-starved structures rear their ugly heads when traversing the city streets. It’s certainly nothing that’ll pull you from the experience, but an occasional reminder the Wii doesn’t pack the horsepower of its next-gen competitors. Also, for any GTA fans who may have perked-up at the mention of an “open-world,” understand that NMH’s Santa Destroy sand-box serves more as a between-mission hub than a full-functioning cityscape. It more than serves its intended purpose, but if you’re looking to jack cars, slap hookers or run from the man, Santa Destroy isn’t your town.
No More Heroes delivers two things the Wii is desperately lacking: top-tier mature gaming and pitch-perfect swordplay for a peripheral practically tailor-made for the purpose. Throw in infectiously fun gameplay, incomparable style, a wicked sense of humor, and a level of unhinged wackiness that makes Britney Spears look like the poster child for normalcy, and you’ve got a sure-fire Wii winner. Where Killer 7 succeeded as a style-over-substance project, NHM nails both aspects with sledgehammer-like force. Top to bottom, No More Heroes is a must-buy blast that out-shines all other third-party Wii titles to date.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
A bit last-gen in spots, but amazing visual style picks up the slack. 5.0 Control
Some of the best, especially for sword-swinging, the Wii has ever seen. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Amazing effects, voice-overs, and cool touches like arcadey-sounding blips/beeps. 4.8
Ten assassins to top plus a city to explore. An unparalleled effort that every mature Wii owner should experience.
4.8 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.