Three years ago, I played “No More Heroes,” my first Suda51 game, and absolutely loved it. When I learned that it was re-releasing on the Nintendo Switch, I picked it up again and remembered just why I liked it so much.
“No More Heroes” fits the broad description that is the term “hack-and-slash” and is fundamentally more approachable than something like “Devil May Cry,” “Metal Gear Rising” or “Bayonetta.” Travis Touchdown, the protagonist, doesn’t have many over-the-top weapons or complicated combo attacks, and there’s no pressure to score-chase for completion. Combat in “No More Heroes” is built around a stylized, simple, cathartic set of rules. The player can punch, dodge, block or batter enemies with their “beam katana” (read: lightsaber). Excluding the situational abilities used through motion controls, such as wrestling holds and finishing slashes, that’s pretty much it. While there are luck-based special moves and a “stance” system, these hardly ever come into play, and on the standard difficulty the game is fairly easy for most of its runtime. “No More Heroes,” being on some level a deconstruction of violent video games, deliberately makes its gameplay as zany and intuitive as possible as a tongue-in-cheek nod to its purpose as stress relief and wish fulfillment — a role it toys with in a number of ways.
“No More Heroes” is the story of a psychopathic loser living out a power fantasy. Travis Touchdown is a professional assassin with no friends or money. He lives in Santa Destroy, a decaying clump of strip malls and warehouses. Practically on a whim, he decides to fight his way to the top of the United Assassin’s Association rankings (yes, there is a professional association for hired killers in “No More Heroes”) and become the No. 1 maniac in the United States, with his name ascending an arcade-game leaderboard after every fight. Also, save points are toilets and VHS tapes unlock new special moves.
Suffice it to say that the fourth wall does not exist here.
The boss fights are the main draw of the game and manifest as varied, spectacle-driven showdowns packed with personality and threat. Most bosses have at least one well-telegraphed one-hit-kill attack, and the first playthrough is worth getting invested in just to see what’s thrown at you next. On the opposite side of the coin, Travis has to spend more and more time doing menial labor and rote arena missions to pay for his upgrades and entry fees as he climbs the ranks, giving both downtime and the opportunity to flesh out Santa Destroy through a number of minigames and collectibles. A well-documented aspect of the open world in “No More Heroes” is just how empty and small it is — save a few dumpsters and shops, it’s mostly devoid of anything interesting, possibly on purpose, and it makes it seem all the more surreal when the next ranking fight takes place just a block away from where you mowed a lawn the hour prior.
The soundtrack of “No More Heroes” is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Each boss has their own catchy and appropriate theme, with the final boss and Rank 2 themes being highlights, but the stage themes also hold their own, describing the repetitive pattern of Travis’ actions by arranging the same riff into a number of unique tracks. The visuals, while somewhat low-poly, are also deserving of praise — in Santa Destroy, where the sun shines constantly, everything is either fully illuminated or pitch-black with shadow, and the character and location designs are impeccable. Taken with the irreverent writing and direction of the cutscenes, it forms a potent combination.
Is “No More Heroes” worth $20? Let me put it this way — this is a game where before each boss fight, you get a phone call through the Wii Remote speaker. It’s the perfect introduction to more unusual games and a fascinating romp in its own right, with a number of minor flourishes I don’t even have the space to mention here. “No More Heroes” is a model character-action game and an example of the power attention to detail can have, and I recommend it — as well as its entire series — to anyone interested in action games.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer, and played through the Wii version of No More Heroes for this review.
If You Play
Platform: Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, Switch
Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 2.2 GB
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: 1/22/08 (Wii), 4/15/10 (PS3, X360), 10/28/20 (Switch)
Genre (if applicable): Hack-and-Slash
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture