Decapitated bodies and gallons of blood usually don’t come to mind when thinking of the Nintendo Wii. It’s more common to envision a fat Italian plumber jumping around cuddly bumblebees.
Well, perhaps that’s more disturbing.
“No More Heroes” for the Wii bucks the trend of mini-game collections and pet simulators filling the console’s library, substituting action-heavy game play and a mature theme sure to leave hypersensitive parents in a gore-induced stupor.
The game’s protagonist, Travis Touchdown, is a nerdy, sex-deprived otaku – a nerdy, sex-deprived anime and manga geek – who buys a “beam katana” (basically a lightsaber) on eBay and becomes involved in a group known as UAA. No, not the University of Alaska Anchorage, but the United Assassin Association. Awesome coincidence, right?
Travis, being rather dense, decides that he will become the best assassin in Santa Destroy, the cleverly named town in “No More Heroes.” Travis sets out to kill the top 10 UAA assassins to become number one. But there is a catch: Travis’s assumed UAA liaison, Sylvia Christel, demands the organization be paid a nominal fee to compete in ranked matches and increase Travis’s rank.
“No More Heroes” boasts a deceptively remarkable story. While the premise is simple, the dialogue and character interactions make for a more entertaining yarn than most games these days. “No More Heroes” pulls no punches when it comes to breaking the fourth wall and referencing gaming subculture. The game is quite hilarious, especially when it caters to this core demographic. And few things are funnier than a body cut in half spouting equal amounts of blood and coinage.
As an assassin, Travis kills a whole mess of people. The business end of his beam katana is mostly relegated to a rival hit man’s throngs of thugs protecting the otherwise unprotected boss. Combat is simple enough, tapping the “A” button for sword swings, pressing “B” to grab, and using Wiimote gestures for finishing moves. These range from a directional swing of the controller to decapitate or cut a bad character in half (vertically or horizontally – choice is important), to more complex wrestling takedowns.
Past a few dozen henchmen, Travis is ready to do battle with some crazy awesome assassins. This is the pinnacle of achievement in “No More Heroes.” Each boss battle utilizes the core combat mechanic artfully, but the bosses’ intricacies make them immensely challenging and that much more rewarding when you trigger the cutscene where Travis kills them for good.
The assassination missions are strung together via an open-world version of Santa Destroy a la Grand Theft Auto. To gain funds for ranked matches, Travis must work part-time jobs, in an effort to derive comedy from the juxtaposition of a bona fide badass pumping gas and cleaning up litter. The tasks quickly devolve into boredom, as most are twice as long as they ought to be – not to mention the abysmal graphics and barely serviceable frame rate of the barren overworld, the high-level view of the world within the game. I understand Santa Destroy is a fearful name for a town, but there are literally six people walking the streets, presumably because the rest are guarding hit men with their lives or because Travis has already killed them.
It would be easy to tear “No More Heroes” to shreds for its poorly designed overworld and obnoxious, mandatory side quests, but that would do gamers a disservice. The doldrums derived from making money are quickly lifted after one of countless brilliantly directed cutscenes or a good old-fashioned slaughter. Those willing to power through some money grinding will be rewarded with easily the most original game designed for the Wii.