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October 2021

No More Heroes

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Wii
Genre: Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: Oct. 28, 2020

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Switch Review - 'No More Heroes'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 23, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

In No More Heroes, Travis Touchdown starts off as the #11 ranked assassin in the United Assassins Association (UAA), and with his trusty beam katana must face off against the world’s top 10 assassins.

The No More Heroes series has garnered a sizable cult following. Such a feat isn't easy to achieve, since the first two entries are difficult to play nowadays. Originally released for the Wii (and a suboptimal PS3/Xbox 360 port) with motion controls, No More Heroes primarily excelled at doing whatever it wanted at all times. Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture created a bold, off-beat adventure that was far removed from what people expected from an action-adventure set in an open world. It's exactly this non-conformist approach to game design that made No More Heroes a fresh experience that is receiving the proper remaster treatment on the Nintendo Switch. Here's how the long-overdue port holds up on the hybrid system.

No More Heroes is the story of Travis Touchdown, a new assassin who ranks 11th in the United Assassins Association (UAA). Travis has aspirations, so he takes his newly acquired Beam Katana and slays his way up the ranks. That's the essence of the story and game flow in very broad strokes. Travis must complete odd jobs to earn money for the UAA to arrange a fight against the next rank, so you can keep climbing the ladder in a cycle of hard and tedious work peppered with wacky story segments and cool boss fights. The wackiness sells the experience, since every assassin you meet is an exaggerated, quirky character. The game makes you raise the occasional eyebrow as to how the developer even came up with some character designs. It's wonderful, but it's also unapologetic in its humor and portrayal of the story. Be prepared to face a myriad of sex and poop jokes, enhanced with fountains of blood spatter and decapitations. It's a weird mix, but it works — if you buy into it. Dialogue is a joy, bosses are odd in the best way, and the game keeps you on your toes by changing the pace or gameplay .

It's the disregard of convention that makes the story such an engaging experience. It's been 13 years since the game's release on comparatively weak hardware, and that shows on the technical side and how the gameplay loop is constructed. The highlights are the boss fights. Each encounter with an assassin leads Travis to a different location, which he slices his way through to face his real opponent. Missions in No More Heroes feel like the equivalent to a light gun game, as you move down linear corridors to defeat enemies as they come your way or pop out of adjacent alleyways. Combat is the centerpiece of these encounters, and while it's not overly deep, there's some nuance.

Travis can either attack enemies with his lightsaber-like Beam Katana or with his fists and feet. Each has two attack buttons, one for high and one for low attacks. Enemies can block either way, so the key to combat is working around your enemy's attack and block patterns. It's simple, but there are enough layers to make some encounters quite challenging if you aren't paying attention. The Beam Katana attacks unblocked areas to deal damage, and alternative melee attacks can stun enemies if you strike them where they block. Since Travis is a formidable ex-wrestling student — of course he is — stunned enemies can be damaged further with a devastating wrestling move that either takes them out for good or leaves them open for a more devastating katana blow. Once all life is drained from the foe, Travis can perform a final strike that usually leads to a lot of bloodshed and the loss of limbs.

Throughout the game, even low-level enemies become increasingly difficult, both in numbers and as they gain new weapons. Unlike many other titles, enemies don't patiently wait for their turn to attack, which can surely be frustrating when you're being pummeled by a crowd of attackers and unable to finish a move when your animations are reset with an incoming strike. Overall, the combat system in No More Heroes is easy to learn but difficult to master, and it's the better for it.

What sets it apart is its intriguing combo system. With each finishing blow, a slot machine spins at the bottom of the screen. Each matching combo of symbols grants Travis special abilities for a limited time, such as instant-kill finishing blows, deadly projectiles shot from the katana, or a general boost to fighting abilities. These buffs are an excellent display of style, since each changes the color filter of the game, temporarily dipping the world into a different color scheme. No More Heroes treads a very thin line between style and substance, often seemingly favoring the former over the latter. While that is something I enjoy in this game, it may not be for everyone. The game is often more concerned about making things look cool and edgy but offering little substance behind the colorful facade. Beyond the boss battles, almost everything you do can feel like a tedious chore.

Every mission Travis undertakes is subject to a substantial entry fee, so he needs to earn a bunch of money to progress. Some of the money is earned by killing foes, but most of it is earned between missions. Travel can explore the city of Santa Destroy with his disproportionally large motorcycle to locate odd jobs and assassination missions to earn some coin. You can easily spend half your time in Santa Destroy stocking up on cash to enter new fights. Sadly, most of them feel like chores. After completing the first two contracts, the world of Santa Destroy slowly opens up. There are shops to purchase cosmetic items, the ability to train for increased stats, katana upgrades, and a variety of side missions for cash. Depending on your in-game spending habits, you may need to complete multiple jobs between missions, but they are the opposite of fun.

Aside from the occasional challenge mission in the open world, Travis visits the Job Center and Assassins Bureau for new jobs. You'll get access to jobs first, and upon successful completion, you unlock new assassination missions that usually provide more money. The jobs usually involve mundane tasks, such as mowing the lawn or collecting coconuts for a drink stand. They all involve some type of cumbersome control method, such as mashing the A button to run with an armful of coconuts. If you only had to do these once, it might have not been too so bad, but chances are that you will need to repeat them until you make enough cash to move on.

Assassin missions are more interesting, since they involve combat challenges, but you'll even need to repeat those, making them less appealing as time goes on. Not only is this rarely any fun, but it also ruins the pace of the game when you need to grind mundane jobs to reach the entertaining segments. Since the main story missions are entertaining, you're likely push through, but that doesn't make it any better. Outside of the open world with its rather limited interaction points and the main missions, there isn't much else to keep you entertained. Santa Destroy is a gray and empty city with a few cars and pedestrians, but there's not much else to see and interact with. It was no doubt partially due to the Wii's limitations, but it's even more noticeable by today's standards.

As for the presentation, No More Heroes on the Switch is the best version of the game you can buy. It runs smoothly at 60fps at higher resolutions than the Wii iteration, giving everything a sharper appearance. It also enables you to play the game with or without motion controls, which is appreciated. Not much else has been added; it's the same game that released 13 years ago, but it looks quite decent. No More Heroes benefits from its strong style and art direction, which makes it look far better than it sometimes has any right to, especially when played handheld on a smaller screen. It's absolutely worth experiencing today.

No More Heroes on the Switch is an overdue and no-nonsense port. While it doesn't add much, it looks and runs great, finally allowing more people to play the title on a current-gen system. It's still plagued by a few design decisions and incoherent pacing, but it usually makes up for that with its over-the-top action and storytelling. Regardless of whether you've previously played the title, this port is the one to get if you're eager to (re)discover what No More Heroes is all about.

Score: 7.0/10

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