No More Heroes: It’s Kill or Be Killed
In my real life circle of friends, we like to consider Suda 51 (née Goichi Suda) as the Quentin Tarantino of video games. He makes hyper-violent and over-sexualized video games, with little concern for being "artful", "deep" or "significant". I find it kind of funny. There's this whole Western movement for games that work tirelessly to achieve some arbitrary level of "maturity" and "richness", while over here Suda 51 is creating these low-brow gore fests that simply ooze fun. And I know which one of those two I prefer.
Suda-sensei has worked on well-known video games such as Liberation Maiden, Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Killer7. He's also contributed to a large library of Japan-only games ranging from survival horror to wrestling. Ask any white person what Suda 51 game(s) they've played the most, and you're likely to hear his seminal actions series: No More Heroes.
No More Heroes (2008) raised eyebrows by employing the Wii console's motion controls for slaying NPC's by the truckload instead of shovelware staples like fishing or bowling. The player controlled otaku loser Travis Touchdown as he hunted down ranked professional assassins in the city of Santa Destroy, California. The United Assassin's Association oversaw Travis's ascent through ranks with each battle he accepted. By slicing through waves of enemies and eventually facing a named foe, the player used the A button to perform Low or High slashes, execute brutal finishes, and land impressive wrestling moves. Once in a while, planets will align and activate Dark Side mode, giving Travis access to a variety of temporary power boosts.
The whole affair is a concentrated adrenaline rush. Flying limbs and F-bombs profuse with streams of blood in every direction. Battle after battle the combat system never outstays its welcome. You also recharge your beam katana with shaking it in a mastrubatory gesture. That's just how civilized this game is.
No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle (2010) hung on to this same premise while taking it up a notch. This sequel introduced more variety where it mattered (more on that later).
The plot of the sequel involves Travis Touchdown being introduced back to the UAA rank battles before he decides to fight his way back up to the top. The battles work the same way as the first game. But this time, the player gets to control Travis's stalker Shinobu and his brother Henry just to mix things up. Travis eventually confronts an evil CEO of a local pizza chain who has been pulling the strings on the assassin association for years, thereby putting an end to the horrible violence in Santa Destroy.
The soundtrack for both games is fantastic. The art design is cell-shaded and all stylistic, preferring to go the surreal route to make the bloody action seem less realistic. The animations are pretty meager and the frame rate drops like dubstep.
With a basic introduction to the series and its world, I'd like to start comparing and contrasting these two games. Each one has its advantages over the other. Each one has its weaker points. Exploring these will teach us more about what makes No More Heroes so excellent.
The first No More Heroes features, to my confusion, a fully-rendered and explorable city of Santa Destroy. Travis can hop on his motorcycle and drive from his motel to the beach to the projects to the industrial zones to the upper-class neighborhoods. At first, you'd think it would be fun to drive around this city to find battles and do odd jobs for cash. Unfortunately, with the Wii's limited hardware power, the console cannot handle so many buildings, pedestrians, and moving cars that can all be interacted with. Textures pop in late and the draw distance is about arm's length. The Wii can't handle such an environment and it shows. This ain't Grand Theft Auto, guys.
Worse yet, the design of the city isn't well thought-out, either. Grasshopper Manufacture took the time to render an entire city, but for some reason only uses four or five locations for its side missions and side jobs. You can drive around and see all these parking lots and factories that received attention to detail but can never be played in. What a waste.
Also, basic shops are located right around your motel. But the spots for side jobs and side missions are so far away from every thing else that it takes way too much time to drive through an empty, barren city to reach anything. This wastes the player's time.
Desperate Struggle fixed this problem. There is no city to drive around in. There's simply a map with checkpoints to select. No tedious traveling required.
Between the two games, the core game play of slaughtering scumbags one after the other doesn't really change. The first time around Santa Destroy, Travis can use four basic swords, fight the same four sorts of cronies, and pick up objects in the city to earn money for upgrades. For the first game, it's basic enough.
In the second game, Travis finds a huge, slow-swinging laser sword, two dual-wielding blades, and a slimmer, faster green katana. In addition to small, frail meat poles to cut through, the player has to deal with fat men with bats, chainsaws, and all manner of melee weapons. And, to diverge from the gore, the sequel gives you 32-bit side jobs in the form of timing challenges to shape puzzles. Now, there's some variety for you.
The individual assassins that Travis kills are really where this series shines. The first No More Heroes features a dozen anime-style villains vying to remove Travis's head. From the soft-spoken Dr. Peace to superhero parody Destroyman to ageless witch Speed Buster, there are some really inventive fights there.
A classic is Holly Summers, a European model who lays sand traps all along the beach, forcing the player to watch their step. Opposite that are stinkers like Bad Girl. This psychotic girl in a frilly, pink dress who can insta-kill Travis with her baseball bat. In short, the fight against her is horribly designed and can take upwards of an hour and a half as she spam launches gimps at you. To remind you, it's that kind of game.
No More Heroes 2 provides, in my opinion, more memorable battles against sexy anime characters. Linebacker Charlie MacDonald, creepy axe murderer Matt Helms, prison inmate Cloe Walsh, samurai Ryuji, lost Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir, and Alice Twilight all leave vivid memories even years after playing them. The creativity shown the back stories and weapon choice for each of thes baddies drips with imagination and the creators just throwing around wild ideas and seeing what worked. It's a blast slashing through enemies the Suda 51 way. It's a downright pleasure going toe-to-toe with unique and unforgettable chracters, each with personality and purpose.
I mean, there are themes in these games, too. Stuff about violence, Travis's urge to kill, and the lives of those who have nothing left to live for and choose the path of self-destruction. Plus there's Jeane's back story, a highlight of the first game. Or when Holly Summers feels love for the first time, then blows up her head with a grenade. Over the course of the story, you become glad to finally put some of these assassins out of their misery. It's that sickening depravity that further supports my comparison of Suda 51 to Quentin Tarantino.
In conclusion, No More Heroes is a series of highly refined insanity. They're a couple of third-party gems hidden in the rough of the Wii's family-friendly sloughs. As Japanese action games, they're necessities. Simple hack-and-slashes they are not; each arena battle is another game board requiring strategy and careful timing. Silly minigames break apart adrenaline-fueled stylized action sequences. It's the perfect balance of absurdity and serious-pants gaming.
I feel no shame for loving such a sleazy and sordid video game like No More Heroes. I've begun to resent so many AAA are trying to "advance" gaming in a more "mature" and "respectable" direction, possibly to improve the image of video games in the public's eye. Screw that. As a hobby and an industry, we don't have to prove anything to anyone. I like violence in my video games. And sexy women. And blood and swearing. I'm a twenty-four year old male. So sue me. If there's anyone out there making games who's got any balls left, it might be Suda 51. His stuff isn't perfect. But hey, does it look like he cares what society thinks of his games? You know, I think a similar topic might come up when I talk about Hotline Miami 2. For now, I must christen this article with a review score. General's orders.
No More Heroes (Wii)
And while we're at it...
No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle (Wii)
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Categories: Member Discussion, Reviews, Wii