No More Heroes

Meet Travis Touchdown. Despite being marked for death by every assassin in town, he's still the coolest cat in the violin factory. He has a cool name, a cool car, and his weapon of choice is a beam katana. (A "beam katana" is the the closest you can get to a light saber without George Lucas tossing you into a pit with teeth.) He also doesn't force the player to swing the Wii remote around to pull off his coolest moves, which is a true blessing. Instead, he allows us to calmly mash A most of the time, and "recharging the beam" involves a simple, dignified gesture familiar to all of us.

But Travis is also the lamest assassin you'll ever meet. He lives in a tiny apartment filled with collectible figurines of underdressed teen witches. The closest he gets to social interaction is renting videos in the "How to Make Love" series and returning them after watching the first two minutes. His friends barely tolerate him and his enemies always get the drop on him. His only motivation is to kill the top 10 assassins in the world, which is a noble endeavor, but what really keeps him going is that his employer Sylvia might sleep with him, once, when he gets to #1. Before every match, Sylvia gives him a pep talk about how stupid and pathetic he is, telling him he's sure to die. What a flirt! Ah, love in the time of beam katanas.

No More Heroes is the newest attempt by Goichi Suda (Suda51) to bring "punk rock gaming" to a Nintendo console. I enjoyed his earlier Gamecube work, Killer7, a dark, clever mashup of surreal violence, sadomasochism and Smiths lyrics, and told everyone I knew about it, even non-gamers. (I probably set the gaming cause back a few years right there. Sorry, everyone. I'll spend more time chatting up Peggle.) No More Heroes isn't a sequel, but explores many of the same themes, from assassination to lucha libre wrestling, and has a couple of Killer7 in-jokes. It also sports a similar cel-shaded style, with a well chosen palette, which helps disguise some painfully lo-fi character models. Sylvia, sexy as she is, could use a few more polygons in the right places, and Travis's cat looks like someone glued fur on a brick and taught it to meow.

Personally, all I really want from a game is an imaginative story. I don't care at all about well tuned mechanics if I have to play a space marine mowing down orc Nazis with his gold-plated gangsta Glock. No More Heroes, like all Suda51 games, definitely delivers on the story front. It begins as an ordinary though highly allusive tale about a loser who keeps winning, and rather than trying to present some kind of real-world moral, the game flees from reality and lets the player work out the message. For example, every time Travis completes an assassination, his name moves up a notch on an arcade leaderboard, to the accompaniment of classic 8-bit horn flourishes. His health powerups are little pixelated pizza slices and his signature moves involve a spinning slot machine and shouting things like, "Blueberry Cheese Brownie!" This game not only reminds you that it's a game, it fetishizes the silliest of video game tropes to the point where the jokes are the real story, not Travis's assassination missions. Without giving too much away, about halfway through the game, something truly dumb happens, and it feels like all bets are off.

Still, the core gameplay remains the same throughout, which is a mixed blessing. I loved the assassination missions, which involve slicing up a bunch of faceless goons and then outwitting some ridiculous boss. The bosses are the meat of the game, and everything else is just filler. Everything else. In order to enter each ranked battle, Travis needs to earn lots of money in a series of minimum wage jobs. The jobs are suitably humiliating, like pumping gas or cleaning graffiti, which is an amusing contrast, but the problem is that they're all incredibly boring. Most of the jobs also require trekking all across the city to get the assignment, then going to the job location, then back for more assignments. The city is so boring it's embarrassing. Remember when every other game tried to clone GTA and ended up with tiny "open world" areas with nothing to do outside of the real missions? This world is like a clone of a GTA clone. It has two pedestrians, no weather, and a hidden package right behind your house. Thanks to all the busywork and pointless travel, it becomes a very familiar, but never welcome, sight.

This is my dilemma: the real game of No More Heroes is clever and enjoyable, but the filler game is not good, and some of it is so bad it's unforgivable. I can sum it all up with this spoiler-free description of the last boss. As the game wrapped up, the story really sank its hooks into me and I couldn't wait to see what would happen. I entered the last battle, and found the opening cutscene to be flat-out hilarious. It's perfectly true to the punk rock, game fetish aesthetic, and it's rare that a game's writing truly climaxes just before the end. Then the battle itself began, and of course, the boss has several unblockable moves and three increasingly difficult stages. (That's only a spoiler if you've never played a game before in your life.) I was able to do some damage using a special move which is never introduced in the game, but which I'd randomly discovered on my own. (Bad designer, no twinkie.) Even so, I didn't have much health and kept getting killed. Each time I restarted, I got a little farther than before, and figured out some tricks. (Good designer. Swiss Cake Roll.) Finally, after the seventh try, I beat the boss. The final cutscene began, and then, no kidding, the game crashed. It was caught in a loop and couldn't even exit to the Wii Menu.

Now, maybe I'm the only person to get this glitch, but knowing that I'm special, that it's my personal glitch to feed and keep forever, does not take away the betrayal. No More Heroes, I was on your side, I forgave all the other flaws, and then you had to play me like that. That was too far. There's lack of polish, and then there's forgetting to wipe. I'll never respect myself as a reviewer if I don't dock you a point for that. I'm sorry, No More Heroes, but I'm taking a point off your review score. There it goes. Your score is one point lower now.

Attitude can add a lot to a game, especially one from a mid-range developer. I've played far too many well-executed but soulless games to be impressed by them. No More Heroes presents something genuinely different, and the best bits of it are highly inspired. It's especially slick to deliberately use some of the now-discarded effects of earlier generations of games for nostalgia and satire. Ultimately, it's a good game cleverly disguised as a "bad" game, but hidden away on the same disc, there is an abysmal game that will show up eventually and make you very, very angry. Maybe on an even deeper level there is another great game after that, but you'll need to glue the disc back together to find out.


That's a terrific write up Nyles. Glad you played it for us!

Wow! I agree with some of your points, but the open world never bothered me as much. If I had that glitch in the ending I probably would have flipped first I have heard of it. Sorry to hear that your experience got slagged.

I laughed my ass off. Thanks Nyles

Does it at least have Mario in it?

and "recharging the beam" involves a simple, dignified gesture familiar to all of us.

I'm glad I'm not the only one that finds this a bit weird to do.

Man, I felt like I was the only one talking positive about this game in the No More Heroes catch-all. Anyways, I loved this game, but you're right about the filler quotionent being very high. Some How I found myself not wanting to mow lawns for more money between missions. (sarcastic ray set high) Funny that, cause mowing lawns is so much fun. Anyways, I haven't run into any glitches like that yet. I'm on the final mission so maybe I'll check in after I beat the game.

I played this game myself and I truly enjoyed it and what it says about the gaming industry in general in today's age. There was an article I read that pointed out these facts, like you did in your review with him yelling "Blueberry Cheese Brownie!" and similar lines. It's a mockery of how gamers today play games along with how developers make games for said gamers. Of course, I could just be thinking like this in order to gloss over the low points of the game ( everybody but assassinations ), but I truly enjoyed this game, especially the ending and the credits ( beat it again Nyles, you'll thank me for it ). I'm glad I bought this game, especially that it was actually a challenge, which is hard for me to find lately in a game.

I've this this from my rental service for over a month now and while I do really enjoy what they're going for with this game, I too hate the filler and some of the boss fights are really cheap. Not necessarily unfair but after spending 10 minutes fighting a boss just to have them instantly kill you with an unblockable move that you get no warning of simply because you're starting to do to well...that just pisses me off. I respect the game but I think I'm going to buy it when it gets down to $29.99 or lower and return the rental for now. Honestly, I'm having a lot more fun with the copy of Yakuza I got off eBay. Better story and a decent but not frustrating brawler.

Thats one of my big problems with Japanese game protagonists. They, more often then not, seem to be these awkward goofy manboys that make you feel slightly uncomfortable. Its a sad trend.

Thanks for this. I'm not sure I ever got to the good-game, I think I went straight to the angry part. You're perspective on it brought me more enjoyment than my scant 3 hours with the game.

I had a similar impression. No More Heroes presents some really interesting, entertaining, high-concept stuff, but in terms of Game Design 101 it fails miserably.

I think Suda's a smart, creative guy with a lot of good ideas, but so far I'm not convinced he or Grasshopper Studios have the chops to build a truly good game.

Travis's cat looks like someone glued fur on a brick and taught it to meow.

Thanks! I just hope if I warn you all about the worst of the worst, your expectations will be low enough to genuinely enjoy it. Maybe on my second playthrough (it better be good, Datyedyeguy) I'll hire a small child to play through all the filler.

I remember reading something about Killer7 where Suda said that he had the story but spent years trying to figure out the best way to tell it. I thought, really? A semi-open rail shooter with Resident Evil puzzle elements, using a Gamecube controller? I think it was a good game, though, because it didn't get too ambitious. It stayed focused. These days, everything needs to be ten hours, or have multi, RPG elements, collections, and a bunch of minigames. A real punk rock game would just have the assassinations and build everything else into those levels, keep the action going. Short, loud, fast, slick. The game starts off that way, but then it totally sells out, goes all Ramones with it. Boo.

My biggest problem with this game is the controls are to skittish, I's almost random if a move will execute correctly (I had the same problem with Harry potter. Kinda drives me nuts and makes me not play though when it dose work I find it satisfyingly amusing.

I find NMH seriously overhyped. Side jobs are boring, and often poorly executed. The "open world" is seriously awful. Sure, the Wii isn't a graphical powerhouse, but even the earliest PS2 games had FAR better graphics than that. Most enemies aren't challenging enough. To compensate, bosses are hard... and sometimes frustrating (What's fun about Dr. Peace, for instance? It's not hard to figure him out, but running up to him once and again to reduce a sliver of his health bar each time is tedious as hell). Recharging the katana is an annoying mechanic which hardly adds any fun.

Sure, NMH has loads of style, and the Tarantinoesque maimings and blood geysers are great. But when it comes to actual gameplay, it'd be far from my first choice.

To be fair, I'm just up to the third boss in the game, so maybe the game gets much better after this. Still, I'm not particularly compelled to play on. Subpar graphics, mediocre gameplay and a bad story (yes, it's wonderfully bizarre and funny and all that, but "I bought a lightsaber and decided to kill 10 other guys" isn't precisely a great premise to base a game on). It certainly doesn't merit some of the rave reviews it got.

alezarate wrote:

Subpar graphics, mediocre gameplay and a bad story (yes, it's wonderfully bizarre and funny and all that, but "I bought a lightsaber and decided to kill 10 other guys" isn't precisely a great premise to base a game on). It certainly doesn't merit some of the rave reviews it got.

Story definitely picks up-- its heavily weighted toward the end.

Thanks for the encouragement Cramps. Still, it's a serious problem when a story is only compelling towards the end... particularly in a time-intensive medium such as games or novels. With a movie, I know that at most I'll lose a couple hours in my life.

Anyway, I suppose I'll get back to NMH now...

I agree, it was oddly overhyped. The story itself might annoy you, as a gamer, because it's making fun of you a little bit. Still, there's more to see. Try to do only enough side job BS to get what you absolutely need, no more. If you waste time earning money for new clothes, you'll never get to enjoy the actual game.

Response to LilCodger, which is also a huge spoiler if you haven't gone through Rank 4 and 5:

spoiler wrote:

It's funny, because I loved that part. It was brilliant. I agree, Suda is essentially flipping off the player, but the whole game does that, and it's such a hilarious way to subvert my expectations. All bets are off now, because now you know that you might fight all the way to the end and not be allowed to win the last match. In fact, you might "win" by default, and feel even more like a loser. Maybe even as big a loser as Travis. He's a third rate man. Do you really want him to win, or do you want to win, and what do you think you'll get? The game won't get you laid, unless they've seriously improved Nintendo Wi-Fi recently.

Getting hit in the nuts or slipping on a banana peel only goes so far. This is some big-time failure, the real comedy. Santa Destroy hates Travis, Sylvia hates him, the bosses don't respect him, and even the game won't let you let him win. As a player, you have a new opponent, the game itself, and it's super cheap and petty. I'd compare it to Kill Bill, which had a lot of the same stuff, but really wanted desperately to be loved. I really didn't like Kill Bill, because it annoyed me with that love-me stuff about every twenty minutes. I do like No More Heroes, because it is what it is, even though thanks to the stupid crash at the end, I also hate it a bit.

Anyway, that's just my perspective on it. If you were to say the whole game was a cheap piece of junk, I wouldn't have much of a counter-argument. You've already played to the point that I liked so much, so I couldn't just say, "Oh, keep playing, it gets better."

Thank you guys for the info about the game. I have almost put this down twice, but I shall persevere. It really is fun, at times.

My tip to those, like me, still playing the game (item spoiler, not plot):

spoiler wrote:

[color=white]Don't buy the Mrk. II katana. It looks cool with four blades, and does lots of damage, but the range on it sucks. I couldn't stand it, and not buying it got me to the next rank fight much faster (it costs around $150K).

EDIT: You apparently can't get the "good" ending if you follow my above advice.

Now, I am going to rant (with expletives) about my experience last night, which involves Rank 5 and Rank 4. Feel free to ignore me.

spolier wrote:

[color=white]What? You're still here? Okay then. We'll start by using some of Travis' own words: Suda!!! You ass-clown motherf*cker!!!! The f*cking rank missions are the only f*cking thing seperating this polished turd of a game from being a total f*cking waste of my time! For f*ck's sake, don't take them away from me!

The build up of "the machine" was interesting cinematically. When it dies suddenly, I'm thinking, "Oh, more normal fight now." Then there's no fight. Even my wife said, "That's it? What kind of bullsh*t is that?!?"

The minigame on the subway was almost the killer. It was funny at first, and then it became impossibly difficult, and wasn't f*cking ending. That was the closest the game has come to going back in the Gamefly envelope.

It's a good god-damn thing that Harvey was more entertaining.[/color]

Yeah, I got the same vibe. You put it much more eloquently than I could.

I know I'm "old" and lame and very, very much not hip/punk/whatever. I can appreciate the inherent elitism in anything "punk". I am having difficulty deriving any enjoyment from it. I know that my initial reaction was exactly what he wanted. I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around a game that metaphorically doesn't want me to play it.

I'm just trying to enjoy my hobby dammit, and I don't even like wrestling ... anymore.

Hey, it's good that you don't like wrestling, as the wrestling moves become totally useless against the later bosses. Most of your moves don't do a damn thing.

If it makes you feel any better, I don't think the game doesn't want you to play it, not exactly, it's just saying that you suck. Nothing personal. It told me I sucked, too.

Incidentally, have you ever tried God Hand? It's much more difficult, but has a lot in common with NMH. It doesn't tell the player that he sucks, though. It just leaves some clues lying around. I put the pieces together to discover that I sucked.

That's true. If you didn't play it, how could it tell you that you suck?

Eh, I've been told I suck since elementary school. The cool kids' power over me faded long ago. It is fun to run into some of them later in life, but that's another thread.

I missed almost all of the PS2 era (purchasing on eBay long after I wanted to buy a 360, but was too cheap), and I have never heard of God Hand. Having now watched two trailers for it, it looks like an alternate version of NMH. I don't believe I will be trying that one. Definitely smells of the same stink.

Your post had me intrigued. Investigation made that feeling pass very quickly. Must have been gas.

Just to flog this poor thread further:

Nyles, having finished the game last night, and witnessing the ending, my opinion changed dramatically.

It really struck me more of the game making fun of itself and its peers than me directly. Travis is the loser, but the tone of "and you are a loser for playing" melted away the last few missions.

The #1 fight "backstory" had me laughing, and the "real ending" had me cackling out loud. If you can, watch the ending.

I think there's enough mockery to go around, for games and gamers. The ending's absolutely brilliant. My negative experiences in the writeup didn't prevent me from enjoying all of that, but I figured people should know what they're getting if they buy the game.

I picked this up for $14 the other day. Hey, I actually turned on my Wii for the first time in half a year, woohoo!

Brilliant, funny stuff so far. The graphics settle somewhere between primitive and great, I kept wishing they had made this for the 360/PS3, because it needs some HD loving.

Love the over-the-top violence and coins that spurt out of bad guys.