No More Heroes Reader Review
In an era where games are increasingly trying to emulate reality, No More Heroes comes along and attempts to do everything in its power to dig up its gaming roots and wear them on its head like a silly hat, whistling a medley of 8-bit BGMs. It's a game that really holds no pretences of it being a game and has an almost schizophrenic love/hate relationship with the art. Virtually every aspect of NMH has both a sense of pride and a self-deprecating aura about itself, and the industry it represents.
In terms of graphics, there seems to be a laid-back attitude towards how it presents itself. On the one hand, there's more than enough style and flair to go around. Boss fights are excellently directed and bookended with introductions and splash screens, making the 10+ assassins you encounter feel like fully fleshed out characters. Minor touches like Travis's home progressively filling with items you've acquired, a wardrobe of novelty t-shirts to accumulate, and even going to the bathroom has the screen being dizzyingly swiped with toilet paper.
The general appearance is of lush cel-shading and smooth animation (as far as the main cast are involved), but it's very much just the surface. Almost everything in the game has razor sharp jagged edges, giving the impression that either it's trying to look like an N64 title or it just can't come to terms with it being 2008. The city, which you can explore at will, is home to cars with invisible collision barriers a metre away from their paintwork, scattered pedestrians who pop in and out of existence on a whim and miles of roads with nothing of interest in them. Dozens of identical enemies will charge at you, and the paths towards the (aforementionedly excellent) boss fights will generally be barren, empty shells of level design.
NMH's overall structure and gameplay feels more of a means to an end than anything. Button mashing through hoards of nobodies, pulling off inconsequential, though fun, wrestling moves, and swishing the Wiimote to perform finishing moves and earn special abilities amount to an exhilerating experience, but only when you feel you're actually getting somewhere in doing it, namely the boss brawls. The bosses are the only enemies that require any thought or timing, and you'll moarn each of their passings when you anticipate what the next hour or so of gameplay will involve...
To earn the right to fight the next one, you'll have to complete odd jobs, such as cleaning graffiti, collecting litter and, er, carrying coconuts. Clearing these gives you access to assassination jobs, which are actually just a handful of quick button-mashing arenas against familiar goons that are repeated, with greater cash rewards, as the game goes on. Fail any of these tasks and you'll be forced to drive back to the job centre, select them again, then drive back for another chance. You have no choice but to jump through these hoops as they offer the only way of earning enough money to buy your way into the next boss fight, and frankly it's as interesting as saving your pocket money for a Beano annual.
Upon loading the game, you'll be met with the phrase 'Punk's Not Dead' and it's this attitude that persists throughout the following 12-or-so hours. No More Heroes is funny when it wants to be funny, it's gruesome and disturbing when it wants to be, it can dazzle you one moment and then completely disregard you the next. At times, it effortlessly oozes charm and charisma, making you wonder why other games aren't half as warm or playful. Though, as easily as it pleases, NMH will turn its back to you or just outright stick up two fingers. The game will steal your bike and force you to walk across town, it'll one-hit kill you without any warning, you'll run down a corridor and discover that that was the entire level you've been earning in-game cash to play. It walks a fine line between being the coolest person you know and a complete arsehole, and the kicker is that it seems all too aware that it's treating you that way. It really is hard to determine how many of the games annoyances weren't deliberate.
No More Heroes isn't like Marmite, it's a Twiglet dunked in a vat of Marmite with the word 'Marmite' stamped on it. You'll either squee with delight while playing it, or very genuinely want to punch creator Suda51. Or possibly both, but it'd take a cold-hearted gamer to put the Wiimote down and feel nothing.
6 / 10