When Clover Studios' Godhand came out, it delivered beat-'em-up fan service to players while making them nostalgic for the days when Battletoads and Streets of Rage were still traveling the gaming circuit. Godhand disguised its humorous take on the genre behind fast-paced gameplay, midget Power Rangers, and slapstick comedy wielded through every barreling fist and suplex. In No More Heroes for the Wii, Suda 51 and his fellow developers at Grasshopper Manufacture have mashed together their own homage to gaming, with gallons of pixelated blood dripping from every line of sharp dialogue and an 8-bit-inspired MIDI theme that declares, "Punk's not dead." Action fans who are itching to pull a little wetwork on Nintendo's white box while laughing their way to the target might finally have a chance to do both at the same time.
No More Heroes wears ultraviolent anime on its sleeve, ripped straight to code with one of the Three Stooges doing the programming. The "M" rating is as much for the blood as it is for the offbeat, and often bizarre, humor in which the title revels, giving anime fans and old school gamers plenty to anticipate. Despite the game's body count, the satirical edge of the story keeps you from taking anything seriously in the game, which is a good thing, as long as you like the material from which it takes its inspiration.
Travis Touchdown is an otaku, an obsessed anime junkie, as well as a luchador card collector who lives in a rented room at the No More Heroes Motel in Santa Destroy, a city sitting on the edge of a toxic ocean that serves as the septic tank for the U.S. Surrounded by PVC dolls, a seven-foot-tall robot standing in the corner, his kitten, and dressed as a missing member of Starsky and Hutch, Travis could be just like anyone else ... except for the fact that he's won an online auction for a functional energy sword, which puts him in the running to be the best assassin in the world. A mysterious girl, Silvia Christel, seduces him into climbing to the top of the assassin's league, where killing is the only thing that matters — and for which Travis happens to have a natural talent. As Travis, you'll lay waste to hundreds of disposable lackeys as you fight your way to a showdown against a stable of the world's best assassins.
These particular characters fill Travis' world of sexual innuendo, hyperviolent swordplay and community service, with plenty of strangeness thanks in part to Speed Grapher's character designer, Yusuke Kozaki. The assassins you're facing sound like they've been driven to the brink of insanity, whether it's as Dr. Peace fulfilling his dream in singing to a stadium from the pitcher's mound, a cosplay superstar armed with real weapons, or a schoolgirl with the attitude of a stone-cold killer and the skills of a ninja. Even the normal people with whom Travis deals have their own quirks, from the brilliant and beautiful Dr. Naomi's skill in building uber swords to Syliva Christel's teasing put-downs as she continues to be 120% certain that you're going to die.
Suda 51's self-defined style of "punk" design pummels the sharp writing and localization with plenty of humor as No More Heroes pokes fun at itself, games in general, and its own characters by bending clichés and stereotypes in addition to borrowing bits and pieces of popular culture in creating a surreal world of macho action. Nothing is taken for granted in a title that already asks you to believe a name like Travis Touchdown, where saving is handled during in-game bathroom breaks as streams of toilet paper cover the screen, and where an old school arcade scoreboard shows your rank when you manage to cap one of the big names on your top 10 list. Even at the end, Suda 51 and Grasshopper throw yet another crazy twist into the gameplay just to keep you on your toes, topping everything off with a bloody cherry for dessert.
A guitar riff inspired by Rocky's "Eye of the Tiger" during your training is only one of the wildly diverse tracks with which you'll be entertained throughout the game. Sound effects are equally as colorful, with the familiar Star Wars-inspired "swish" of your energy sword to the juicy gushing explosion of wetness that erupts with every brutal slash. Eight-bit themes celebrate Travis' good fortune, whether it's in reaching a new rank or learning a new wrestling move — just before sugary J-pop fills your ears while you shop for the latest threads.
Cel-shaded graphics build on the unique punk vision of Suda 51's world, with plenty of style designed into most every character that you'll see in the game, especially when it comes to the assassins themselves and Travis' wardrobe. As for Santa Destroy, the city sandbox is far from being anything close to Vice City. Pop-up is a severe problem, as are stretched, bland textures that are found everywhere, but there are a few interesting spots, such as the Area 51 store where Travis can shop for the latest styles and Grasshopper's nod to the now-defunct Clover development studio. Most of the enemies that you'll face are part of the clone army, and combat can sometimes feel like a repetitive exercise. Much as the Wii has focused more on gameplay than graphics, NMH has enough twists worked into the action to keep it fun.
The third-person action of No More Heroes is controlled by the Wiimote and Nunchuk as you guide Travis to his first job. An easy-to-follow tutorial leads you through the simple controls to make you an expert in no time. By bashing on the A button, Travis will slash away at whatever is in front of him, and when they've been beaten down, an arrow points in the direction you should wave the Wiimote in order to deliver a killing blow. After an eruption of blood, cash flies to Travis as a reward for not dying.
Travis' sword is the only thing he'll need for battle, and you can also lock onto enemies and focus on them, or run around like a madman slashing away at anything in range. Unfortunately, the sword runs on batteries, and when the charge runs down, the only way to charge it again is to shake it back to life. If you're thinking about where this is going, then you have an idea of the kind of humor that No More Heroes works into every facet of its gameplay.
Unlike Ubisoft's Red Steel, the motion controls in NMH are used only to punctuate certain feats, blending with the arcade button-bashing action that dominates most of the gameplay. Plenty of opportunities exist for you to wave the Wiimote and Nunchuk in the air, though, whether it's in getting Travis to work out with dumbbells to improve his combos or grabbing an enemy to execute a killer wrestling move that you had just learned. There's no need to memorize moves, as No More Heroes simply points in which direction you should be waving the controls to crush your foes. It would have been nice, though, to be able to use the motion controls to decide between a suplex and an atomic drop.
Travis can also enter the "Dark Side" mode, if he's lucky. Killing enemies with a deathblow will usually bring up a slot machine at the bottom of the screen, and if it rings in a winning row, Travis enters a mode where he is invincible for a few moments while wielding an insane ability with an even crazier name. One of such attack, Strawberry on the Shortcake, will cause his enemies to move in slow motion, which allows you to take them out with one deathblow after another. Setting off any one of these is as satisfying as grabbing a power-up that blows away your enemies, like in Gradius .
Outside of the missions, you'll need to earn cash to buy into the next fight. By taking on small jobs that range from collecting coconuts to picking up trash by waving your Wiimote, you pave the way to the really lucrative jobs: special assassination challenges and lucrative missions. These missions can be repeated as many times as you want to earn the entry fee that you'll need for each fight; completionists will probably want to keep challenging themselves to reach for the Gold rating in each one, although it can get pretty repetitive, especially late in the game.
As you march up the ladder of success, more locations will open up, allowing Travis to train, purchase a new energy sword and upgrades, rent videotapes to learn new wrestling moves, and buy threads to customize his look. The in-game shop is filled with jackets, glasses and a variety of custom shirts based on everything from big robot anime to retro arcade patterns. There are even Grasshopper Manufacture team shirts and contest-winning designs from Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu.
There are also plenty of hidden shirts, buried cash, and items called "Lovikov Balls" that you can trade in for skills scattered throughout Santa Destroy, but don't expect No More Heroes to be anything like Grand Theft Auto. Although it can come off as a sandbox in deciding what you want to do in between the main missions, there's not a whole lot to play around with in the city, aside from any unlocked jobs. Pedestrians are just there to lend a semblance of life to the streets, cars are merely moving obstacles, and that's pretty much all that there is to the city that more closely resembled an elaborate 3D menu than it does San Andreas.
For the most part, No More Heroes' difficulty is nowhere near as harsh as Godhand's, and players can expect around 15 hours of action, depending on how they play the game. Save spots and checkpoints are conveniently located, much of the action is easy to grasp, and the assassins will still challenge you with their deadly skills in addition to what you can discover in Santa Destroy. When it's all over, you can play through it again at a different difficulty level with everything that you've earned, allowing you to collect even more extras, like new shirts for Travis, although players hoping for a bit more may be disappointed.
Anime otaku and arcade gamers will have plenty to slash at in Suda 51's latest, No More Heroes for the Wii, as they fight through a unique mix of over-the-top action and funky humor. The narrow appeal of its surreal setting won't make fans out of everyone, but if MIDI music brings a misty tear in your eye and you find yourself fencing against your shadow while watching Ninja Scroll, then No More Heroes could be what your inner swordsman is craving.
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