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

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.