Goichi “Suda 51″ Suda is kind of a weird guy. The Japanese producer, famous for works like “The Silver Case” and the highly underappreciated, cult favorite Gamecube title Killer 7 is known for his unique sense of style both in and out of his games. Case in point – Killer 7 was a bloody, brain-scratching art house title that failed to catch on with anyone outside of the most hardcore gamers. Who would have thought that something so odd would come from a man who donned a lucha libre mask while promoting the game?
Suda 51’s latest title, No More Heroes for the Wii is just as weird as his previous works – if not more so. It’s a bloody, sex-driven romp filled with a mix of styles and gameplay elements that make it one of the most eclectic and intriguing titles to hit the North American market in quite some time.
In Heroes, you play as Travis Touchdown, your average, everyday anime fan in Santa Destroy, California. After buying a brand new beam katana on an internet auction, Travis enters into a tournament of sorts to become the top ranked assassin in the world. For a nominal fee, Travis is given the name, bio and location of the next ranked assassin (who oddly all live in this small town). Each assassin’s hideout is crawling with thousands of nameless, copies of the same cronies looking to take you out in any way possible. Get through them, and it’s on to your ranked fight.
This is where Heroes truly shines. Sure, it’s quite repetitive, in the same way that a Final Fight or Double Dragon was in the golden age of gaming, but there’s something sublimely satisfying about the combat system. Perhaps it’s that it does bring back those memories of games gone by, but credit must be given to the simple on the surface, yet deceptively deep control scheme.
Heroes avoids many of the pitfalls of previous action games on the Wii by not depending on the motion controls too heavily. You control Travis by way of the thumbstick and attack with the a-button (minor moves, like dodges and throws are done via other face buttons). The Wii-motes motion capabilities come in to play in a matter similar to that of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, only in a much, much more sinister fashion. After depleting your enemies life bar, an icon will appear on screen telling you which way to move swing your Wii-mote to administer the “death blow.” These moves are over the top, violent acts of aggression not short of decapitating your opponent or slicing them directly in half. You’ll also find yourself using the Wii-mote to charge your Beam Katana and initiate duels, which when won – leave your opponent wide open for the death blow.
Travis can be in two different stances while in battle mode – high (initiated by holding the Wii-mote straight up like a baseball bat) or low (like a hockey stick), and can perform different moves based on the situation and what stance he is in. For instance, charging the attack button while in the High stance will cause Travis to perform a heavy upwards slash attack, while charging in the low stance will result in an awesome cyclone swing, taking out most enemies around you.
By not relying too heavily on the motion sensitive Wii-mote, Heroes manages to steer clear of the pitfalls so many other Wii games have become victims of. The motion controls feel fresh and important, not like a tacked on gimmick. What’s more, the game finds other small ways to implement the controls including lifting weights and mowing lawns. Yeah really, mowing lawns.
Travis is able to travel all throughout Santa Destroy on his motorcycle to perform odd-jobs to collect money towards his entrance fees for the ranked matches. These jobs are broken up by class and range from collecting coconuts, to the after-mentioned lawn mowing and of-course, side assassin missions.
These side missions are reminiscent of those found in the Grand Theft Auto Series. Wait – scratch that. The missions are more like one of those bad GTA clones that only 13-year-old play. While doing the jobs, you’ll find yourself just wanting to get them over with and get back to the hack and slash gameplay. The cities are not as detailed as a Liberty City or San Andreas, as sans a few landmarks, buildings seem to just go by in orange, yellow and gray blurs. What makes things worse is that the driving mechanics of Travis’ motorcycle are just plain atrocious. It’s unresponsive and slow – and the collision detection is almost absent. Invisible walls form around most objects as you’re almost hit them, only letting you crash on random occasions.
Suda openly admits to using movies as inspiration for a lot of his games, and it’s very obvious in Heroes. While he mentioned that most of Heroes comes from a mixture of Japanese art-house flicks – I couldn’t stop thinking about Kill Bill while playing through the game. The obvious link is the assassin VS assassin gameplay, but more-so than that – the dialogue and art styles are reminiscent of Tarantino’s slash fest. While they don’t exchange pleasantries, Travis and his opponents quip about life and other mundane topics while getting ready to enter in the kill-or-be-killed battles. At a few points in the game, we even hear Travis’ thoughts as he battles with bosses and other characters throughout the game. Oh, and the buckets of blood don’t hamper the comparison either.
Blood, innuendo, extreme violence and profanity – No More Heroes makes no bones about the fact that it’s a mature game aimed at hardcore gamers. In fact, the opening cut scene has Travis decapitating two guards, while calling them “fuck-heads.” Women in Santa Destroy are smart and sassy sex objects that seem to serve no purpose other than to drive Travis’ libido crazy (after killing the first assassin, Travis even asks one of the ladies if she’ll “do it with him” if he makes the next kill). This is half of the reason No More Heroes sticks out on the Wii – it’s so different than anything else that available.
No More Heroes deserves to be played by anyone (of age) with a Wii – merely for it’s novelty factor, even with it’s plethora of flaws. It’s not the best game on the system – but it’s the most original.