digital_hackery (2008-08)

Cyberpunk Mash-up

Digital hackery

No More Heroes offers cel-shade violence for the Wii set

by Dave Prince

Back in cyberpunkâ’s glory days (around 1992 or so), Neal Stephenson wrote Snow Crash, a near-future monomyth in which post-Californian pizza delivery boy/worldâ’s greatest swordsman Hiro Protagonist fought his way through a pre-Matrix cyberspace in a quest to save the world, impress the girl, and pwn teh n00bz.

Stephenson has a reclusive streak, so itâ’s entirely possible that the release of Grasshopper Manufactureâ’s No More Heroes for the Wii slipped under his radar. If it didnâ’t, though, heâ’s probably spitting nails, as No More Heroes is the bastard child of Snow Crash, Takashi Miikeâ’s Japanese gorefest Ichi the Killer, and the last few decades of pop culture.

No More Heroes tells the story of Travis Touchdown, a young otaku (in this context: loser) and former Canadian pro wrestler living in the fictional town of Santa Destroy who decides to become a professional assassin after winning a light-saber â“beam katanaâ” in an eBay Internet auction. After taking out a ranked assassin in the gameâ’s tutorial level, Travis is contacted by the UAA, a ranking body of Santa Destroyâ’s killers, who inform him that he has taken his targetâ’s place on their roster. As Travis is the gameâ’s Hiro Protagonist, he immediately decides to use the opportunity to show the UAA (and more specifically, his UAA ice-queen contact) that heâ’s the best there is at what he does by killing his way to the top.

No More Heroes tries to do with the Grand Theft Auto-style open-world formula what its predecessor, the Gamecube/PS2â’s Killer7, did with rail shooting, and it succeeds on this front more than it fails. Grasshopperâ’s Killer7-era art style gets the â“10 percent hardware muscle/90 percent developer creativityâ” graphics upgrade which has become a hallmark of Wii development. Heroes is one of the best examples of cel-shading seen in gaming to date, and Grasshopperâ’s designers work off that blatantly unrealistic feel, constantly delivering intentional throwbacks to the pixelated, 8-bit age of gaming. It all fits together seamlessly, creating a surreal world that draws you in. Thereâ’s no darkly-reflected modern Earth in effect here; although youâ’re surrounded by familiar-looking sights, youâ’re very obviously Somewhere Else, where even the poorest wretch has a jet-powered motorcycle, a â“beam katana,â” and a list of heads and prices.

Much of Heroes works, and itâ’s great when it does, but some of it just doesnâ’t. Travis roams freely through Santa Destroy between missions, visiting oddly-named shops, turning in arbitrary pickups to learn skills, and doing side missions for cash that range from the tried-and-true to the absurd. Unfortunately, Grasshopperâ’s Suda 51 apparently took a page from the Assassinâ’s Creed Book of Between-Mission Gameplay in Assassin-Based Games. The tried-and-true side quests (Kill X Goons in Y Seconds, Vol. LXXVI) get first billing, and the few absurd ones (Collect A Coconuts in B Seconds, Vol. I) are just variations of the same theme given a silly coat of paint that does little to mask the underlying blandness. Additionally, much of Santa Destroy is meaningless background noiseâ"doing anything with it or to it is pretty much impossible, and while itâ’s nice to look at, a bit more interactivity wouldnâ’t have ruined anything.

Yes, No More Heroes is easily the bloodiest game to date on the Wii. The gameâ’s art direction, however, makes it practically impossible to take the gameâ’s copious bloodletting seriously. A typical extended fight consists of Travis charging into battle, screaming a randomly-selected non-sequitur while splitting open a dozen or so lackeys like yen- and red-paint-filled piñatas. Artfully executed kills yield a slot-machine interface that randomly rewards Travis with temporary power-ups, many of which actually sacrifice efficient killing in favor of eye candy. The effect is less of a mind-warping ultra-realistic next-gen murder simulator and more of a twisted Japan-noir remake of The Price is Right if Bob Barkerâ’s replacement had been Pac-Man instead of Drew Carey. Which, of course, is the pointâ"the violence of Heroes, as blatant as it can be, takes a back seat to its sheer randomness.

All in all, No More Heroes is best recommended as either A) a good game for people who â“get it,â” or B) a decent way to waste time during the wait for something more substantial. The former group probably already has it, and the latter needs something to do until Smash Bros. Brawl comes out.


All content © 2008 Metropulse .