canuckeh's No More Heroes (Wii) review

Will have you smiling from ear to ear.

No More Heroes : An action game for a more crass generation.

Story : For the first time since the Pokemon trainer decided to capture and manipulate wild animals for fame and fortune, we have a main character who’s goals are unjust and selfish, remain unjust and selfish to the end, and he’s all the more admirable for it. Travis Touchdown wants to become the top ranked assassin in the world, not to save the world from evil or exact revenge for some deceased family member(s), but to justify buying his presumably expensive lightsaber in an online auction, to score with a French broad, and out of straight-up machismo. These are ambitions that any man can relate to.

If you’ve never played Killer7 before, skip this paragraph. If you never played Killer7 before and really, really, REALLY value my opinion on these things, then you’ll go to a store, any store, and odds are you’ll find it lurking in a bargain bin because hardly anyone actually bought the damn game out of fear of playing a shooting game that didn’t star some kind of marine-like figure in a futuristic armor suit. Now, No More Heroes is like that, but with more conventional gameplay mechanics (I guess “conventional” is the right word. As in most of its gameplay mechanics are logical, in comparison to Killer7’s 3 or 4 gameplay ideas that almost made sense), less of a need to preach about divinity, and a good deal more of the absurd sense of humour.

Though you really should buy Killer7 too.

No More Heroes is the first game….okay maybe the second game in a good long time where you actually feel like the developer cracked his skull open and poured out a nasty ooze of drug-induced creativity onto his project. And to tell the truth about the first one, Super Mario Galaxy feels more like a quiet daydream on the bench in the park in comparison to the full-on acid trip of No More Heroes. The pretentiously named developer in question, Suda 51, seems to have sat down and thought of everything he’d like to see in a video game, and the results are “Star Wars meets Grand Theft Auto meets Mexican wrestling with the presentation of Space Invaders and one pop-culture dig too many” which is the game I’ll be presenting to you right now.

Each…actual level involves our protagonist going through a linear pathway slicing up enemies along the way with his handy lightsaber. Despite how so many people seem to dream that the Wii should have motion controls to virtually handle a lightsaber, the developers at Grasshopper studios have a bit more grounds in reality than say, the Red Steel or Zelda : Twilight Princess game makers, and acknowledge that the technology in the Wiimote is painfully inadequate for this. Hence, the Wii motion controls are limited to using broad motions when the action on-screen slows down to execute finishing blows that cause enemies to explode in a blast of blood and quarters, along well as other smaller, supplemental controller uses that don’t grow tiresome like pretty much every other Wii game. I can draw similarities to God of War in this regard too; despite there being a lot of combat in the game, that it’s so gratuitous is what keeps it more entertaining than actual Star Wars lightsaber games.

The culmination of each of these levels is one of the game’s boss battles, each one representing a ranking on the Top 10 assassins presented to the player in the fashion of some kind of 70s arcade game scoreboard. I can’t attempt to spoil any of these battles as they get more and more bizarre, but I will say that the game does a good job of making you want to progress through a level to see for yourself the identity of the person whom you’re only given a name for at the beginning of each stage. None of the boss sequences disappoint, despite some of the later bosses have an obscenely large health bar that you’ll be widdling away at for a good long while before you finally get your gratifying kill. The game relishes in its strangeness and the only moments where the game attempts a serious tone seem to exist only to make fun of cliché plot twists in other mediums like…well I’m not ruining the game.

Between these levels, the game throws a giant city at you for Travis to explore. Now, this isn’t Grand Theft Auto-caliber by any stretch, you sadly can’t go around killing people and your only vehicle is this out-of-place futuristic bike that fears the palm tree. The virtual city is more of a means to access upgrades through shops (purchase lucha libre tapes to learn new moves, buy trendy t-shirts, power up your character by finding dodgeballs for some drunkard in a bar, etc) and access an assortment of sub-missions. The one annoying flaw with No More Heroes is that the game won’t let you progress to a new mission without first grinding away to earn some money. The system for earning money works like this: first you do an ordinary job like pick up litter or work at the gas station, all using the Wiimote for it’s sole intended purpose of handling mini-games, and doing those jobs will unlock assassination missions that often comprise of killing a lot of enemies in a room for larger sums of cash. You’ll have to grind these latter missions for the loot required to progress the story, in what is essentially an unnecessary attempt to add a couple more gameplay hours into a game being released in a world where being branded “short” seems to be a sales kiss of death.

This artificial means of adding a couple more hours to the campaign is easily the biggest flaw with No More Heroes, ironically one of the few instances where the game conforms to the standards and expectations of mainstream gaming. But even then, it’s a small flaw, one that’ll only drain about an hour or two of your life away anyways, in comparison to the other 6 or 7 hours of fun and bewilderment you’ll experience the rest of the time. It’s this type of creativity and fun alone that makes this game a must-have. I really do believe that not only is this the best game of 2008 so far, but that the chances of any other game this year dethroning it are slim, as none of the upcoming major releases seem to have a fraction of the imagination and intestinal fortitude of No More Heroes.

Pros : I always believed that the speaker on the Wiimote was useless in that the sound from it was muffled, killing the intended purpose of making you feel like you were shooting arrows out of your controller. No More Heroes realizes this and uses the speaker as a virtual phone, for the French girl to call you up and berate you.

Cons : I’ve mentioned the grind issue already…

4 ½ stars

With all due respect to Grand Theft Auto 4, for all of its attempts to be realistic, Niko Bellic is never seen on the can.
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