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No More Heroes

Recently, the gaming industry has been plagued with scandals over violence, sex, and general “inappropriateness”. Mass Effect, Bioshock, Manhunt… anything and everything seems to be fair game for a jolly good thumping by the news these days. No More Heroes, the latest game from Suda51, features enough controversial material for about ten games, but I bet you here and now that the media won’t even bat an eyelid. As an obscure, self-proclaimed “punk” game, No More Heroes will undoubtedly slip under the radar in about a month, which is a real shame. Anyone with an appreciation for the art of gaming needs to try out this game; its exuberant sense of style more than makes up for its slightly simple gameplay.

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No More Heroes features the most unlikeable protagonist ever, but at the same time, you can’t help but love Travis Touchdown. A twenty-something anime fan who won a lightsaber on an internet auction, Travis began working as a hitman. You know, because that’s the general pattern of logic we all follow. After a particularly successful kill, Travis was approached by “The Association”, an international company that keeps track of the top assassins in the world. At the beginning of the game, Travis is #11; the goal is to reach #1. That’s it. There’s no epic struggle between good and evil, no war to determine the fate of a nation. No More Heroes is strictly about a bratty kid who wants to be the best. Oh, and he wants to do his supervisor. The other characters are all just as maniacal and bloodthirsty as Travis, and all of them are completely ridiculous. That doesn’t take any edge off of the presentation, though; plenty of moments could raise an eyebrow or two over at Fox News: A girl who likes samurai movies a little too much kills a group of people inside a high school, and a crazed lounge singer waxes poetic about eating people. These are just two examples; suffice to say, No More Heroes is a perfect example of games pushing the envelope. At first glance, the game is crude and immature, but the thin plot grows into something of a social commentary. It’s focus on reaching “the top” and becoming “the best” satirizes the pop culture of the East and West perfectly. No More Heroes is the smartest dumb game ever made.

No More Heroes is the smartest dumb game ever made.”The actual gameplay is just as simple as the plot, but just as enjoyable. Instead of waggling the wiimote every which way, players can swing their laser sword by pressing the A button. The position of the controller determines whether Travis attacks high or low, and the Z button on the nunchuck handles all of the locking on and parrying. The only time players are required to take a swing is when Travis performs a finishing move on an enemy. Once their health is depleted, an arrow pops up on the screen. Swinging the wiimote in the direction shown will deliver a blow to kill the targeted foe. These finishing moves often remove heads, limbs, or chop people in half, complete with comic-book-style blood geysers spraying from the wound. These combat missions are broken up a bit by free-roaming sections Santa Destroy. In between assassinations, Travis must collect enough money to pay his entrance fee into the next event. This means the player is charged with – you guessed it – minigames. While there are way too many minigames on the Wii, the antics in No More Heroes are at least inspired; it’s a lot funnier to see Travis Touchdown mowing a lawn or picking up trash than say, a randomly generated Mii. The town of Santa Destroy is a direct parody of the open-world gameplay found in Grand Theft Auto, but it’s nowhere near as complicated. Other than earning money doing odd jobs, and buying things like upgrades and outfits, there isn’t much to do in the city. Driving Travis’s giant motorcycle around is entertaining, at least, but it’s a shame that the world wasn’t fleshed out a little more. Wii owners hoping for a free roam experience won’t find it in No More Heroes, but anyone who appreciates simple hack ‘n’ slash combat will find plenty.

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Say it ain’t soUnfortunately, European versions have been censored, removing all of the over-the-top blood and gore from the game. It doesn’t change the gameplay, but it’s a significant knock against the atmosphere.The simplicity of No More Heroes permeated every aspect of it, including the visuals. Much like the previous Suda51 game, Killer7, No More Heroes features a hand-drawn aesthetic that relies on bright colors and heavy shading. For the most part, the look is fantastic; the graphics are more detailed than in Killer7 but still retain plenty of flair. The animation, too, is excellent, and most of the game looks stellar. There are a few bland areas, especially in uninteresting levels like baseball stadiums or subway trains, but for the most part the design is terrific (although the style outweighs the technical prowess by far). The cutscenes are handled with cinematic brilliance; there is an almost Tarantino-esque feel to the entire game, complete with bucketloads of bright red blood. No More Heroes is to games what Kill Bill was to movies; a stylish romp through genres long since dead. At face value, the violence and general bawdity of No More Heroes is tasteless, but there is more to it than that. The sardonic wit even extends to the menu system, which features 8-bit pixel art and badly compressed beeps and boops as opposed to flashy user interfaces. The upbeat electronica that accompanies most of the game fits perfectly, and little touches like the power chords played whilst entering or exiting a building really add an extra coat of paint to the otherwise shallow game. Even if one doesn’t appreciate the retro gameplay in No More Heroes, the style really has to be admired.

No More Heroes joins the ranks of other video games that were too smart and/or bizarre for their own good. Gamers who enjoyed the head trips that were Metal Gear Solid, Katamari Damacy, and Persona will feel right at home with No More Heroes. Much like Killer7 before it, the game takes a single-minded story and balloons it into a twisted web of violence, humor, and style. It’s a game that’s all about the complete experience, rather than the way it’s played. Hundreds of simple action games hit the market every year, but No More Heroes takes so much pride in its design that it’s hard not to love. For one thing, releasing a game full of blood and swearing that’s intended to be humorous is a brave move these days, especially in America. It’s a miracle that it escaped censorship, considering gamers in Europe and Japan received a version minus the blood and gore. What’s the point of that? Sorry, guys. In the end, though, No More Heroes scores two victories: it’s another great example of games-as-art, and is another must-play game for Nintendo Wii owners. We’re #1!

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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