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At first it’s a mash-tastic brawler, then it’s a Japanese GTA with the motorbike from Akira and a sun-bleached psychedelic version of an American west-coast city, then it’s a wrestling game, then a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up, then a 2D shooter, then a lawn-mowing game, then a brawler again. No More Heroes is a bit like a lot of different games but nothing at all like any of them, and it’s hard to know where to start when describing it.
The game begins some time after the real beginning of the story – days earlier, motel-dwelling nerd Travis Touchdown wins a lightsaber in an online auction and kills the world’s eleventh best assassin on the promise from a mysterious woman that she would sleep with him if he were the world’s best killer. No More Heroes begins with a creative composite cuss, a fountain of blood, and a knock on the door of Assassin Number Ten.
The world’s greatest killers guard themselves well, and legions of cannon-fodder henchmen queue up to batter Travis on his way to his meeting with British body-mod fetishist Death Metal. With just two ‘saber attacks and a quick evade trigger No More Heroes keeps combat simple so it can focus on the important business of being completely mental. Assassin Number Nine belts out a song before your fight, Number Seven fires lasers from his crotch, Number Six launches missiles from her prosthetic leg, and Number Five doesn’t fight you at all. Still with us? Good.
No More Heroes is the work of Killer 7 creator and genius basketcase Suda51, and his fingerprints are all over it. Sometimes, No More Heroes deliberately sets out to bore you – making you mow lawns and collect coconuts in the open world city of Santa Destroy to earn your entrance fee for the next Assassin battle. At other times it fires out ideas like a shotgun just to see what will hit – a 2D fight on a bus, a 1980s high-score table showing Travis’ ranking, a save station in every toilet, giant pixellated boxes containing power-ups, a scrolling pixel shooter instead of a brawl before one of the boss fights.
It conjures up ideas which don’t belong together, plays with them for a few minutes, and then tosses them away before dashing onto the next big thing. It’s a game Suda built to be the most violent game ever, chasing the ESRB’s ‘AO’ Adults Only rating – a rating most notably held by Manhunt 2 – and a game which was released for the Wii in every market besides America with every last drop of precious blood removed.
With violence already well covered by the constant decapitations and bisections, the uncensored PS3/360 version fills the missing half of the bad taste puzzle with a big dose of exploitative sex. No More Heroes’ ‘Very Sweet’ mode is an only slightly ironic unlockable mode where every girl in the game dresses like a trollop. On its journey to the big consoles the game crams the Wii’s motion controls onto the right stick, where quick flicks will trigger wrestling holds and killing blows, and gets a substantial increase in its framerate to accompany the HD makeover.
It’s a game we’ve already played, loved, and finished on the Wii, but a game which always belonged on PS3/360. Rip the data from the Wii’s disc and you’ll find textures far larger than the console’s 480p output would ever need, betraying its origins as an HD game. It took the game’s total failure in Japan, two long years and a whole new developer, but No More Heroes’ esoteric primary-coloured celebration of sex, violence, nerdiness, pro-wrestling, and lawn mowing is at last coming home.
Mar 3, 2010