Saturday, July 14, 2012
Wii review: No More Heroes
Travis Touchdown is a socially awkward otaku who just happens to have some serious skill wielding a beam katana. After blowing all of his money at the bar one night, he decides to take up the offer presented by Sylvia Christel to enter the United Assassin's Association. Travis has two goals in mind: become the number one ranked assassin in Santa Destroy, and get Sylvia in bed with him. After defeating Helter Skelter, Travis is qualified to challenge the remaining ten assassins, each of whom utilizes a different style of combat.
No More Heroes plays out as sort of a "greatest hits" series of boss fights. Each boss is preceded by a short level wherein Travis must take down weaker henchmen. As the game progresses, these areas become longer and the henchmen become stronger, equipping themselves with blunt objects and firearms. When it comes to the actual boss fights, though, the game does not disappoint. Some of the other assassin's use a more straightforward approach, while others utilize their environment. Some are able to use ranged attack, while others prove deadly at close-quarters. Each of the boss characters is quite well-developed and carries a strong presence - fights against Destroyman, Bad Girl, and Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii will be just as memorable as their names.
The pace does slow down in-between boss fights, as Travis must earn enough money to qualify to enter each. At first, Travis is only able to access side jobs that range from collecting coconuts to mowing lawns to picking up trash. And while those descriptions don't sound particularly enticing, the way the game utilizes the motion controls makes them mildly entertaining. The fact that each side job only lasts a brief while keeps them from getting stale too quickly.
After properly completing a side job, Travis' employer will inform him that there are assassination gigs accessible at various locales in Santa Destroy. The first few prove incredibly straightforward - either kill a specific target or take out everyone in the area. Later assassination missions will add further restrictions, like taking out a line of enemies by hitting a baseball at them with your beam katana or only using wrestling moves. The more strict the rules of an assassination mission, the more money Travis will earn. After a few times running the routine of side job-assassination mission-boss fight, it's easy to pin down a rhythm to quickly earn the required funds.
Aside from putting his money toward the next fight, Travis can visit a number of locales around Santa Destroy. At Area 51, Travis can pick up some new clothes, and at Thunder Ryu's gym he can pay for lessons to improve his physical stats. Travis can also visit the lab of Dr. Naomi, a woman who develops new models of beam katanas. Back at Travis' motel room, he can kill time playing the game-within-a-game known as Bizarre Jelly, help his overweight cat exercise, swap the models of beam katanas he has amassed, and save the game by sitting on the toilet.
The first time Travis sits down on the toilet is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this game's unique sense of style. It's chock full of humor, from references to other video games and anime, to Travis occasionally breaking the fourth wall. Character designs and environments are bright and colorful, while the soundtrack is an awesome culmination of techno, rock, chiptune, and even a few metal songs.
The motion controls are worked into nearly every nook and cranny of the experience. Swinging the Wiimote lets Travis strike with his beam katana, wiggling it back and forth will recharge it when his batteries are low, and a combination of the Wiimote and Nunchuk allows him to take down enemies with a variety of wrestling maneuvers. In the event that Travis locks swords with his opponent, a prompt will appear indicating the Wiimote be spun in a certain direction in order to gain the upper hand. When Travis reduces the health bar of one enemy to zero, a prompt will appear indicating he swing either vertically or horizontally. This attack can take out not only the main enemy being targeted, but also those nearby. Each time Travis gets a kill, a small slot machine will roll at the bottom of the screen, with a winning combo granting Travis brief use of a handful of powered-up attacks.
The Wiimote will need to be tilted from side to side in order to steer the lawnmower, and back-and-forth motions with the Wiimote and Nunchuck will help Travis exercise. Only when Travis is driving his futuristic motorcycle around town does the game suffer from less-than-spectacular controls. Sometimes the bike will boost with only a small amount of acceleration applied, and bumping into practically anything and everything will send Travis flying out of his seat. Navigating Santa Destroy is easy enough - the map is only so large. But there isn't much interesting to look at outside of the key locales.
The story does not take itself too seriously, but develops at a steady pace that allows players to gain a better understanding of who Travis Touchdown is and how his character evolves from the moment he sets out to become number one to the moment he enters the final boss fight. The side jobs are a bit lackluster, and the transition from fast and intense boss fight to slow and careful work proves a bit of an annoyance at first. That said, the boss fights are outstanding - as varied and as enjoyable as something like The Legend of Zelda series could dish out. No More Heroes is one wild ride - an incredible gaming experience that is also beautifully creative. The unique blend of action and style Suda 51 brings forth in No More Heroes leads it to be as much of a video game as it is a work of art.
My rating: 9.5 (out of 10)