Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Remembering No More Heroes

No More Heroes is another game from the twisted mind of Suda 51, the designer behind Killer7 and the guy who thought ending a wrestling game with a main character suicide was an awesome idea (ooh, I've just spoiled the ending of an SNES game that was only released in Japan... sorry ;) ). It is also a rare Wii-centric game which is clearly geared to adults.

The setup for the game is relatively simple: Travis Touchdown, the protagonist of the game, takes an assassination job from a mysterious woman he met in a bar, and is determined to move up the ranks to become the greatest assassin the United States. At the beginning of the game, he is ranked eleventh, so he must get through the 10 assassins above him with his weapon of choice, the "beam katana".

Now Travis is a geek like many of us. The fact that he bought his "beam katana" in an online auction is just the icing on the cake. He collects figures, a lot of anime-related stuff, plays games and he is totally into wrestling (and the game is filled with little pop culture references). OK, most of us wouldn't decide we were going to become an assassin on a whim, but as you play the game, the backstory to that decision comes into focus, so it makes some sort of sense. The fact that he bears more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Knoxville is just a perk I guess.

His contact for arranging battles with the Assassin's Union is a woman named Silvia Christel, who certain readers will likely recognize as a reference to Sylvia Kristel, a softcore porn actress made famous for her role in the Emmanuelle series, and that character is such a wonderful tease.

And the other assassins you face throughout the game are a great ensemble of characters, and the fact that they get a lot of their quirks out in just the short time you fight them is a real testament to the design of this game. It is an excuse plot, true, but Suda 51 made sure that the characters he was introducing you to were all interesting and compelling both visually and narratively.

The art style is also pretty sweet, as it is a game based on 3D models with some cel-shading. In North America, the game was really bloody and gory and was really in keeping with certain conventions of Japanese cinema. In Japan and Europe however, it was a lot more antiseptic, and from what I've seen, it loses a lot of its stylistic charm that way. In fact, the fights leading up to the ranking matches seem to have a lot in common with the battle in the House of Blue Leaves battle in Kill Bill, both in tone and substance, so losing the blood really detracts from that aesthetic. But in the wake of the Manhunt 2 controversy, I can see why this decision was made.

The soundtrack was composed by Masafumi Takada, who also did the soundtrack for one of my favorite PS2 games, God Hand, and once again, he has written accompanying music which is rocking and is entirely in keeping with the theme of the game. There are also a lot of tracks which are throwbacks to older kinds of video game music.

I like the fact that none of the assassins in this game seem particularly happy or well-adjusted... they are all psychologically damaged in some way, so even though it is a game that is supposed to be quirky and humorous, there is a lot of darkness to the story. And the ending... it is something that would have been perfectly at home in a Metal Gear Solid game.

And if the videos and discussion of blood didn't indicate that this clearly is not a game for kids, I am going to say it explicitly... this is not a kid's game. In an interview, Suda 51 said he wanted to make a game that was more violent than Manhunt 2, and that is an important point. When I first played the game, I didn't think about some of the especially brutal deaths of some of your fellow assassins, but in retrospect, some of them were pretty over the top and damn nasty. And this isn't even mentioning a piece of the back story that is revealed late in the game which is really skeevy. You know something in a game crossed a boundary when even I have to admit it. I mean, I felt dirty after hearing it.

There is another thing which I have to mention, which I thought was a fault. The battle portions of the game are really fun, but this game is also an open world/sandbox game when you aren't pursuing the next ranking assassin, and it is not the best implementation of this play style. You know I enjoy the open world concept in gaming, but in this case, it was a little too empty for my tastes, and some of the tasks you had to do to advance that world were a little silly for my taste, as you were expected to take on part time jobs to open up new assassination missions (ones which were unrelated to the story of the game), and do a lot of other things which were not fun).

I don't know if this was remedied in the sequel, but it does detract from another enjoyable experience.

Basically, if you are looking for an adult-oriented game with a quirk sense of humor for the Wii, then No More Heroes would likely be a satisfying purchase.


Arjan said...

sounds like fun.

Also check out the unskippable vid about No More Heroes 2.

Or as they like to call it: No, móre heroes 2.

MC said...

Well, strangely enough, they were going to call the game "Heroes" but I think something else might have had that title.