NO MORE HEROES – Review
NO MORE HEROES is a videogame developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, published by Ubisoft (North America), Rising Star Games (Europe) and Marvelous Entertainment/Spike (Japan) for the Nintendo Wii and directed by GOICHI SUDA.
This article contains the following types of spoilers:
We from the Nightmare Mode would also like to spoil the following review and say that No More Heroes is a great game and we don’t care if you have to kill someone, but play this game.
The Wii library has many games that are either good or great only within their own genre (genre greatness), but it does not have many truly great games. Well, let me skip to the conclusion then. No More Heroes (NMH) is a GREAT game. A great game is not necessarily a game whose aesthetics and gameplay are flawless, but is something that moves us and makes us think long before we turned the console off. In fact, there are notable flaws in NMH, although I wouldn’t consider this game to be great without them.
Here is where I tell you what the game is about
So, let’s get the description out of the way first. You play as Travis Touchdown. Travis recently got a light saber (renamed beam katana) and his (your) goal is to beat 10 assassin’s from the United Assassin Association (UAA) in order to become number 1. There is a stage before each assassin that consist of fighting hordes of clones and after each assassination, you can freely roam in the virtual world of Santa Destroy, California, in order to collect money so you are able to schedule a match against the next assassin. In other words, No More Heroes is this generation’s Mega Man. Mega Man, of course, only battled 8 Robot Bosses in order to be number 1, as you never actually see the bosses causing evil. They are usually chilling in their cozy boss chambers until Mega Man comes and acts like a total Jackass – not unlike Travis, whose appearance was inspired by Johnny Knoxville.
Apart from the usual power-up and upgrade stores, there is nothing to do in Santa Destroy besides doing gigs that give you money. Those gigs vary from the most banal job you can think of to assassination missions under certain conditions. Ironically, the banal jobs are more fun to do, due to the nature of the Wiimote and the fact that each job is completely different from the one before. The city itself is bland and lifeless, greatly contrasting with the confrontations against the 10 assassins. Motion sensing is subtly implemented. It is mainly used to define your fighting stance and to make a finishing blow or throw, by moving it in the same direction required by said the finishing move or throw. This never ceases to be satisfying and feels better than any Quick Time Event I can think of.
Description’s time is over. Thank God!
Here is where I tell you why I think about the game the way I do
NMH only works because of Travis Touchdown. He is an otaku/gamer, whose life revolves around drooling over girls, playing games, watching some wrestling, collecting stuff and playing with his cat. If we ignore his massive collection of clothing articles, Travis would be me. Oh yeah, he also becomes an assassin once he gets his sword from an online auction – possibly due to the fact games are murder simulators. Even his looks is nothing so elaborated or high-tech that I can’t copy them right now with the stuff I have inside my wardrobe. His goal to become #1 is as immature as most gamers’ goals involving getting achievements and breaking records. Being very immature myself, you can see how an anti-hero like Travis is much more fascinating to me than an anti-hero like God of War‘s Kratos, who’s basically a personification of rage.
Basically, NHM is a Horatian Satire that pays homage while mocking gamers and the act of playing videogames. Its workings are simple: the game is seen by Travis’ eyes; the eyes of a gamer, therefore. Whatever Travis, the gamer, likes is exacerbated; everything else that doesn’t hold his attention starts fading away. That’s why Travis, Travis’ bicycle, the over-the-top violence and the ranked assassins are so interesting and flamboyant while Santa Destroy is so bland and empty. The other citizens of the city hold so little interest to Travis that they almost seem like faceless ghosts you can see, but never interact with.
NMH calls the grinding for money necessary to enter boss stages and buy all sort of crap exactly like it is: work. Some reviews called that tedious. Nonsense. It is the core of gaming ever since time immemorial. That grinding is the same thing as the stage of a Mega Man game, of course – and you might die way more times in that game. There are two reasons why I don’t think the grinding in NMH is boring: (1) its purpose is not itself (like a JRPG that requires to grind by battling several monsters… so you can battle more monsters!) and (2) the activities proposed by the game are either somewhat varied or have the novelty feeling of the Wiimote upon them.
I feel that blandness ends up improving the game. The high point of the game, the boss battles, wouldn’t feel so good without the mindless work you have to do before and the empty spaces of Santa Destroy. The mindless work took your time and effort, therefore your reward (being able to face the boss) has already value. The empty spaces provoke a contrast that enlarge the boss experience – and also makes as point as these are the moments that Travis, and consecutively the gamer, lives for. The result is that experiencing those battles and the cutscenes before and after each one is almost a catharsis. These are like updated versions of Mega Man villains. You have the Cosplay Man, Highschool-Girl Man, etc. The difference is that now they talk and have personalities and you are left wondering how awesome would it be if Cut Man talked too.
The game’s narrative is disposable, of course. The game knows it. Videogames are still always primarily about winning and, for a good portion of the game, NMH is only about winning, about becoming number 1. Travis’ character development comes to light as he realizes how pointless winning is. Even after a plot twist that makes it explicit that being the 1st ranked assassin of the UAA holds no value, he carries on. Not because he desires the title, but because… well, he already went through so much, why should he (or you) stop there and leave the game unfinished? Then something happens and it looks like NMH is following Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey narrative structure, but that clichÃ© is cut short in a way I have never seen in any other game. The way this is done is ridiculously awesome. Basically you have 5 or 6 plot twists and re-twists delivered by a Plot-Twist-Mobil that’s out of control and will explode it goes below 50 miles per hour.
The point is clear: NMH is not about narrative. That’s disposable. What matters is killing the 10 assassins. NMH doesn’t need an ending that makes sense. It just needs an ending.
Here is where I tell you my opinions about what others said about the game
Reviews for No More Heroes have usually complained about the empty hub world of Santa Destroy, especially when comparing with the Grand Theft Auto series. I think this comparison is as justified as saying Bioshock is a Doom-clone. Among those reviews, the one I disagree the most is IGN‘s. In it, Bozon asked for a more traditional level select or smaller hub world while Matt Casamassina completely missed the point when saying that Like Killer 7 before it, No More Heroes is a game with style over substance. I have already debated the substance of the game as well as the reasons and advantages for the free-roaming aspects of the game, so I don’t plan on doing it again. Style is a big factor of NMH, but as big as it may be, it shouldn’t be a reason to dismiss the game’s other great aspects. Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation and Scott Sharkey from 1up, on the other hand, were able to detect the developer’s commentary about game design and that NMH is not a GTA-like open-world game at all, but unlike me, they were not amused by it. Yahtzee cut down o business and said that “Any game designer who sacrifices fun to make an artistic statement is obviously stuck so far up his own ass he’s in danger of choking with his own head.” This art vs. fun dialectic is unjustified. I mean, I had a lot of fun thinking about NMH’s artistic statements. Of course, if you don’t like these statements, then you would find the game more boring, and that’s completely valid. But that doesn’t mean art in general is opposed to â€˜fun’. Why would people willingly go to museums if it wasn’t a fun activity? There is pleasure to be taken from the appreciation or learning involved with art.
Finally, Gamespot had a pretty vanilla review, although I agree with Kevin VanOrd‘s praise on the game’s sweet fighting and violence; while Justin Joseph from Project COE touches an interesting point I’ll also never forget that the majority of those you kill during the 100 kill assassin [challenge] scream “My spleen!” as they die. Wouldn’t that be the least of their worries?
Indeed, Justin. Indeed.
Other reviews for No More Heroes that were citied: