Version tested: Wii
No More Heroes is a game about slicing people up with a laser sword until you're the best assassin in town. Sounds straightforward; 2007 tapped a rich vein for single-minded murder-'em-ups with Crackdown and Assassin's Creed among the better examples, and 2008 is welcome to carry on splashing the same blood on our faces. Except No More Heroes does what those games do back to front: where the journey was once the worthier part, gently parting crowds in beautiful, sun-baked Jerusalem with a knife at the ready or kicking people off rooftops in Pacific City's skyscraper playground, No More Heroes' Santa Destroy is a dull, dusty strip of under-populated inactivity where the showdowns are the actual pay-off.
There seem to be two ways to interpret what it's doing. On the one hand, there's a fascinating purposefulness to the dull rituals you perform to amass cash to buy in to each Rank Battle (the skulls to the scalps that propel you up the leaderboard). There's the three-minute mowing, or litter picking, or filling up cars, or picking up coconuts. It's not fun, but that seems to be deliberate; it's making a point about working to live, and in the case of Travis Touchdown - our arrogant, spiky-haired protagonist - living is killing, boning and looking good. A potential contradiction is that if he does enough menial nonsense, he's offered small-time assassination gigs, except these are also quite dull and repetitive. Hrm. Ah - but of course these money-spinning side-missions don't matter either, because what use is killing, boning and looking good if no one notices? It's certainly a bold way to ask for our thirty quid.
The other way to look at it is that it's, er, quite dull and repetitive in-between the good bits. Navigating Santa Destroy on-foot or on your motorbike (I can't better Oli's description of it as "an unfortunate collision between half a Transformer and a Sinclair C5", or rather I can't be bothered to) is unnecessarily clunky and ugly, full of corners upon which to snag yourself and collisions to inadequately detect.
Available tasks are highlighted on your mini-map, bluesy '50s music that you can sing the Spider-Man theme to jangles away, and the day-to-day of filling your wallet by wiping away graffiti or killing the same pizza company CEO in the same car park half a dozen times can be as metaphorical as it wants; it's still dull. If we celebrate it, aren't we just doing that to feel a bit smug? Because, you know, we understand it? Not that we've never done that (in fact, I've done it rather a lot - I look forward to the prosecution case in the comments), but No More Heroes comes dangerously close to forcing us to face up to it.
The good news for people who fall into either camp is that we can all peacefully co-exist, because the rest of the game is charming, witty, colourful and inventive whether you dress and think like Vivienne Westwood or think pints are for mens and wine is for womens.
Take the combat. You target with Z on the Nunchuk and mash with A, but finishing moves are performed as directional Wiimote slashes prompted by the game, while block-breaking B-button wrestling moves are two-handed motions of escalating complexity, like moving the Nunchuk swiftly right at the same time as flicking the Wiimote up. You can also adjust your beam katana attacks for height depending on the angle of the Wiimote - high or low. There's significant repetition across the game's many, many fights, but the mixture of mashing and physical movement is novel enough and subsequently flexible enough to keep you happy.
Exciting combat is rewarded by the slot machine spinning at the bottom of the screen, and the prizes are bigger attacks; button-matching black-and-white dark side finishers and projectile sword blasts among them. For further variation, there are scene-specific forays into other gameplay ideas, seemingly for the hell of it, like a baseball sequence in Destroy Stadium where you kill pitchers by smacking balls back at them.