*Warning: this review might be a bit more graphic than my usual fare. It is No More Heroes, after all. If you’re fine with a bit of black humor, cursing, and graphic descriptions, than read on. You have been warned.*
When I was a young man, I had a very simple view of video games. In my eyes, Nintendo was the company that made and published family friendly games. The kind of games your kids and grandparents could play. Meanwhile, if you wanted more mature games, you’d have to go to the Xbox or the Playstation.
Then I discovered No More Heroes and my perception was completely eviscerated. Then skull fucked. And pissed on.
No More Heroes is a bizarre game, especially for a Wii game from 2007 (although I’ll be talking about the Nintendo Switch version). It revels in excessive bloodshed, sexuality, and some good ol’ fashioned toilet humor. Yet, it manages to tackle some truly interesting themes that don’t feel out of place within that insanity. In terms of writing, this game is a paradox; how can something so brilliant be so stupid?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Often times, those themes and subtle messages conflict with the most important part of a video game: the fun factor.
Story: Killing For
Sex Revenge Prestige
I honestly don’t think that talking about this could do it justice. Seriously, this game is so damn weird and surprisingly complex that I don’t think words can do the job. But seeing as words are kinda my whole thing, I’ll give it a go anyways.
The game opens up with a rapid-fire information dump as our main character, Travis Touchdown, immediately breaks down what the game is about. He’s an assassin with a laser katana. One night, he meets a woman named Sylvia in the bar, who sets him up to join the assassin leaderboards. Now, Travis is set on murdering every assassin above him and become number one. Why?
Cause he wants to fuck Sylvia. Not that I can blame him. She’s kinda the sexiest woman in any video game.
I guess I’ll start with our leading man: Travis Touchdown himself. I love this dude! He’s simultaneously a really cool dude that I want to hang out with and a total loser that I wouldn’t be caught dead with! He isn’t portrayed as some super talented genius; he’s just a lonely, fourth-wall breaking, wannabe samurai loser who has no idea what he’s getting into. For fuck’s sake, he says this with a straight face!
His emotional journey in this game is surprisingly interesting, though! In the beginning, he’s a total jackass who treats killing like it’s all fun and games. But as the story progresses and he interacts with all the other assassins, he starts to realize just how heavy his actions truly are. He doesn’t get what he wants; in the end, all he’s left with is this sense of regret and loneliness. When you reach the #1 assassin, you can’t help but wonder if it was all worth it. Was murdering all those people for such petty reasons as sex and revenge really the best course of action?
This story is pushed forward through his interactions with each of the various assassins. Not only do these guys make for (mostly) amazing boss fights (we’ll get to that). Through their interactions with Travis, we learn just what kind of person not only they are, but also he is. Some are dark reflections of what he could become, others are sympathetic to him, urging him to get out while he can. Honestly, it would take way too long to talk about them all thematically. Maybe I’ll dive into it some other time.
I might also need to play the game again. Because holy fucking hell, all the surface level shit is so fucking bizarre, insane, and kind of stupid that it’s hard to pay attention to everything beneath it! Seriously, one moment you’re fighting an edgy teenager, the next you’re fighting a deceitful superhero! Later, you’re fighting a crazy porn actress who knocks BDSM clones at you from a conveyor belt and a fat bitch with a giant laser cannon! This shit is fucking nuts, dude!
The writing here can also be genuinely hilarious! There’s a gag near the end that made me pause the game because it had me in tears! Between all the toilet humor, sex jokes, nonsense, and excessive violence, this game can be wildly enjoyable!
But it ain’t perfect. The true ending, while it does come packaged with the best boss in the game, really isn’t all that satisfying or interesting to me, especially since NMH2 exists. Maybe I’m just too stupid to understand it, which could very well be the case; feel free to let me know if I am.
Plus, some of the narrative decisions do come at the consequence of the gameplay. But we’ll get to that. First, we need to talk about:
Presentation: A Low-Poly Comic
Ah, early Wii games. You’re so ugly, but I love you so.
You can tell that this game was going for a comic-book aesthetic. With the thick shadows and bright colors, not to mention extreme effects, it does have that anime-western comic hybrid look. Which I absolutely love.
Buuuut it is a Wii game from 2007. Unless you were Nintendo themselves, you couldn’t really make those look good early on. Those models and environments are all rough, blocky, blurry, and low on detail. It’s not exactly the prettiest game in the world.
I mean, I love it, but that doesn’t mean it looks good.
Thankfully, the Switch port managed to fix one big thing on top of upgrading the game to 1080p: the frame rate. In the original Wii version, the frame rate suffered very frequently. Here? The action runs at a consistent 60fps, from the start of the level all the way to the boss fight!
The only area where the framerate isn’t consistently great is the open world. Granted, it never chugs, like an early Souls game or Bloodborne. But it isn’t as consistent as the action stages.
Oh yeah, did I mention that the music is incredible? Seriously, this is one of my favorite video game OSTs! The main theme and all of its remixes (there’s a different mix for every level) is catchy as hell! I still hum it to myself when I’m working! And the boss tracks! God fucking damn dude, they’re amazing!
In summary: it doesn’t look great. But it does sound amazing! And thanks to the Switch, it finally runs smoothly!
Alright, time for the real shit.
Gameplay: Grind for the Fun
And now it starts to fall apart.
Before we get to the fall, though, let’s talk about the positives. Because don’t get me wrong: there are a ton of those! Despite everything, this is still a decent game.
The biggest standout feature is the combat. It is incredibly simple and easy to learn, despite the overly long and confusing tutorial (trust me, it’s really quite simple). Either with motion controls or buttons, you can swing your laser katana to push past enemy defenses and chop ’em to confetti. That, or you could punch/kick them until you can hit ’em with a wrestling move and then chop ’em into confetti! When you do the killing blow, you need to swing/swipe a certain direction, which could, if you’re lucky, take a few extra enemies out with iut. It’s easy to learn and master, but it’s super satisfying! Especially when the enemies spray out tons of blood and cash!
With each kill, you also spin a little roulette. These can give you various power ups, from a screen-clearing super move (which the game does not explain how to use) or a long-range insta-kill shot, among others. These would be awesome, if they didn’t reduce Travis’ movement speed to practically nothing. In certain situations, the powerups are practically useless if you aren’t already surrounded by enemies.
But forget all that! None of that matters! Because now we’re talking about the boss fights!
These dudes are easily the best part of the game! Each fight is totally unique and memorable, not to mention unbelievably fun! Sure, there are a few weaker fights; I personally didn’t enjoy Holly Summers (great writing, annoying boss fight), Speed Buster, and Bad Girl. But the number of hits far outweigh the misses.
The stages leading up to these boss fights are pretty hit or miss. Often times, you’ll be fighting through waves of the same enemies over and over again while running through the halls. Thankfully, there are enough unique challenges in each stage to set them apart. Not that I’d want to revisit them any time soon.
And now, we’re done with the stuff I like. Time to talk about the shit that sucks major ass.
See, you’re not allowed to just go in laser-sword swinging and murder everything. You gotta buy your way into the fights. To do that, you’ve gotta make money. Lots of it. How do you get that? By doing little odd jobs!
There is a fair variety between these. Some of them involve killing shit. Others involve doing such menial tasks as mowing the lawn, finding cats, and cleaning graffiti. As the game goes on, they’ll slowly start paying more and more cash, to go along with the rising fees.
Now, these aren’t that bad… the first time. Unfortunately, you need to do them over and over and over and over again to make all the cash necessary to both upgrade your shit and buy into the fights.
Not to mention that you need to make your way through the open world every time. You don’t just open a menu, choose your mission, and do it. You can’t just retry it when you fail. Oh, no! You need to:
- Go back to the office you got the job
- Select the job
- Go back to the job itself
- Do the job
- Did you fail? Or not make enough cash? Rinse and repeat!
This is about as fun as it sounds. Which is to say not at all, this shit fucking blows.
Now, I get the deeper meaning. It’s all about how you’ve got to do the tedious shit to pay the bills in order to pursue your less-lucrative passions. In any other medium, this would be both impactful and hilarious! Unfortunately, this is a video game! And those kinda need to be… you know… fun? Motherfucker, I already have to do busy work in real life, I don’t want to do it in my escapism!!
Even if you aren’t doing a job, exploring Santa Destroy just isn’t fun. It’s this big open world with nothing meaningful to find other than busy work. Having to cross that stretch of what is essentially wasteland just to get to the actual game is downright infuriating! It completely kills the pacing of both the game and the story!
These issues put No More Heroes in an interesting situation. The actual combat half of this game is amazing! Swinging my controller around and killin’ bitches with a not-lightsaber is so much fun! But then the game goes “Eh, hold up! No more fun for you! Go do chores!” Jesus, the game is like my mother!
Only… more gruesome and vulgar.
My feelings towards No More Heroes is complicated. I like half of this game and loath the other half. It’s simultaneously one of the best and worst video games I’ve ever played. It’s a truly unique experience unlike any other. Hell, it somehow manages to stand out even next to its own sequel!
And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
If you haven’t played No More Heroes, I would recommend giving it a chance. Yes, it can be really tedious and painful. But between the story, the combat, and the boss fights, this game has more than enough fun to make up for the pain! If you’re willing to part with twenty bucks, I think you’ll find this to be a worthy addition to your Switch library.
Especially since they chose the Wii version over the god awful PS3 version. Bet you forgot about that one. As you should.
2 responses to “No More Heroes: A Mediocre Masterpiece”
A mediocre masterpiece is a nice way to put it. The two No More Heroes games do have a knack for turning a lot of mediocre points into something that is greater than the sum of their parts.
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Dude, right? That’s what makes them so interesting!
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