PLAY NO MORE HEROES Part II: What it's About

By Chris Remo, Jan 29, 2008 6:23pm PST

Yesterday I told you to play No More Heroes. So why the hell didn't you? What's your problem, anyway? You need more convincing? You don't even know what it is? Fine.

No More Heroes is an original Wii brawler from Grasshopper Manufacture, the developer behind cult hit Killer 7 (PS2, GCN), Contact (NDS), a few licensed titles, and a number of Japan-only releases. One of the most refreshing things about Grasshopper to somebody who covers the video game industry--an industry plagued with derivative iteration and sequels--is how much of its own sense of style it has. This is probably due in large part to its CEO and frequent game director Goichi Suda, aka Suda51.

Suda51 wrote and directed No More Heroes, and it makes me wish that more games had such a clear sense of personal design or directorship behind them. The premise of the game is straightforward: Travis, a lifelong nerd and resident of Santa Destroy who has watched so many wrestling matches and anime shows that he has internalized the fighting moves they depict, somehow gets roped into a professional organization of assassins. To reach the #1 slot, he must defeat the ten killers ranked above him.

This is achieved with a somewhat successful GTA-inspired open world and a hugely successful combat system that knows when to button mash, when to throw in a Wii gesture, and when to require a bit more depth. Unlike The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which uses a remote shake for the basic attack, No More Heroes generally reserves motion for combo finishers, powerful lucha libre moves, and recharging your lightsaber-like weapon--the latter animation is probably the most fittingly hilarious reaction to a Wii gesture yet developed, and must be seen to be believed.

What really pulls No More Heroes together, however, is its mind-bogglingly inspired presentation. The gameplay is largely accessible, with enough depth to keep things challenging, and is probably fitting to a broad group of gamers. The presentation, however, is out of control--it is not just for people who enjoy games, it is for people who have an appreciation for games.

No More Heroes offsets modern-era polygonal graphics with overlaid 8-bit-style 2D artwork in the UI and other areas, and in some cases blends the two with large, three-dimensional representations of 2D pixel art. Frequent bursts of music rendered in classic video game chiptune style, and full-screen congratulation and transition scenes that look straight out of a forgotten NES or arcade classic are likely to send waves of nostalgia flooding over longtime gamers.

These visual elements are anchored by a general self-aware video gamey sensibility. Vanquished enemies hilariously explode not only into fountains of blood but into showers of coins. Why? Well, you get money for killing guys in video games. That's what happens. Here, it happens in a more extreme fashion. A short sequence that prefaces battles has Travis simply standing at ready until the player presses "A," at which point his beam sword ignites; it's a subtle but clever riff on the nature of game input.

On top of all that, Grasshopper's graphic designers--and here I am speaking about graphic design in the broad sense--are arguably the best in the industry. No More Heroes is littered with intensely stylish loading screens, transitions, typography, cutscenes, and so on. Your character can collect hundreds of articles of clothing in the game, and the t-shirt designs are so well conceived and executed --and often bizarrely hilarious--they could easily be sold.

Meanwhile, Grasshopper's excellent sound and music team, which composed and recorded the badass soundtrack to Clover Studio's underappreciated God Hand (PS2), cranks out a sometimes groovy, sometimes rocking blend of rock and electronica.

Gameplay is the most important factor in a game, of course, but No More Heroes' intensely unique presentation is a massive draw, one which is endlessly entertaining. The over the top series of bosses--including Destroyman, Dr. Peace, Death Metal, Bad Girl, and more--the ridiculous dialogue ("Yes!" Travis still dorkily exclaims when he finds a wrestling trading card), and the surreal nature of just about everything that happens--you live in a town called "Santa Destroy," and a given employer might ask you to mow his lawn then kill the CEO of "Pizza Butt"--are endlessly entertaining.

I plan to keep talking about this damn game on this blog until you all buy it, so break out the wallets.

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22 Threads | 28 Comments

  • I'm glad I was able to personally meet Suda51 at last year's GDC. I was a volunteer who chose to work at his keynote and was able to catch up to him afterwards. Talked a bit (through his cute lady translator) about his inspirations for Killer 7 and such.

    Pretty cool guy all around - I'm glad that there are still designers like him trying to push the envelope. He asked me what my aspirations were (told him I wanted to work in the industry) so I scored his business card and a picture of him. When I get home I'll upload the pics and link em.

  • It should be mentioned that the combat (and bike's controls) are a bit more complex than they appear at first - there are several moves you will pick up later as well as several nuanced behaviors that aren't covered in the tutorial, so people should experiment a bit - at least when they're a bit into the game.

    Finished it last night, but will probably go back and play some more. I think I robbed myself of some of the depth by playing on Sweet (Easy) difficulty - I could see people playing on that difficulty thinking it was just about button mashing, with how rarely enemies defend.

  • Been playing this for a few days and love it. One of those games that makes you feel like a badass while you're fighting enemies, and does so without being overly complicated with multi-button combos.

    Some people don't like the idea of side-jobs to raise cash, but it adds a nice distraction from slashing hoards of enemies. And I always look forward to unlocking new shops, training facilities, or upgrades after a ranking fight.

    My only wish thus far is for the motorcycle to sound a little more 'beefy'. Sounds like I'm driving around on a scooter whilst cruising. Doing the reverse->forward burnout sounds good, but after that it's just a disappointing idle sound.