Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Submitted by: Retro Gamer
No More Heroes started coming together quite early on in the Wii’s life cycle – director Goichi Suda and Japanese publisher Marvelous were quite convinced they could find an adult audience on the emerging Nintendo platform, and the idea of the game being a sword-based action title came together before Suda was aware of the console’s motion-control capabilities; the two events just happened to tie in nicely. The director decided to use motion control sparingly as part of No More Heroes’ design, realising that players would get tired if everything was contingent on using the Wiimote. Suda51 believed that this would be the type of game people would pick up on Wii after they’d lost interest in family-oriented titles.
While Grasshopper’s games traditionally didn’t do that well commercially, Suda51 deliberately engineered No More Heroes to earn “indie respect” while having “profit of the mainstream”, targeting Western players with its mix of pop culture inspirations. The team at Grasshopper built an all-new engine to support the open world of Santa Destroy, the kind of ambitious structure the team had never created before. Being a relatively early mature Wii title, No More Heroes was Grasshopper’s best-selling game ever at the time, finding little success in Japan but delivering notably decent numbers in the US and Europe.
After a number of low-selling cult hits like Killer7 and Flower, Sun And Rain, No More Heroes felt like Goichi Suda’s best attempt to actually sell his unique style of game to a wider audience. With a main character that has shades of Brad Pitt from Fight Club, a lightsaber facsimile as the main weapon and an open world to explore, it had the trappings of a more popular type of title – but really, this was just a commercially-friendly cover for more fascinating Suda51 oddness. The look of the protagonist, Travis Touchdown, turns out to be a front for how pathetic and dorky this wannabe assassin really is, while the open world is a bizarre backdrop that almost has no purpose as a GTA-style hub. Yet it all matters, it all factors perfectly into a strange little world of brutality and meaninglessness that feels so specific in the way it’s put together, a wonderfully satisfying game that truly feels driven by the mind of its creator.
No More Heroes is essentially about this series of boss battles, each with a varying scenario preceding them, like a more violent take on Scott Pilgrim. Travis is trying to become the number one assassin in Santa Destroy (basically Santa Monica, hence why it’s full of poser assholes) in order to win the ‘heart’ of Sylvia (it’s not her heart he’s after), a manipulative and beautiful blonde femme fatale. It’s like the world’s strangest metaphor for working too hard to sustain a bad relationship – Travis meets various psychopaths on his journey to the top, and on the way, you increasingly question the worth of his relentless killing in the pursuit of number one status.
Herein lies a huge part of No More Heroes’ appeal: the boss battles are incredibly well-executed, and each is a character worthy of a game in and of themselves, each born from different elements of pop culture. From a ridiculous superhero to a vengeful schoolgirl to an old crooner in a baseball stadium, they’re all insane reflections of Travis’s own serial killer mentality, and as the DNA of what holds the story together, they’re as intelligently conceived as the boss battles in a Kojima title. They each require different strategies and sometimes lateral thinking in much the same way.
Mechanically, No More Heroes still feels terrific because it doesn’t primarily play like a Wii game – it simply uses the motion controller to enhance the core experience, letting you swing Travis’s beam katana (they couldn’t call it a lightsaber, after all) as a finishing move or QTE-based attack only, rather than waving it throughout like the swordplay in the dire Red Steel. Otherwise, this feels as refined as any top-end hack-and-slash title, the sort of thing you could imagine Capcom making at its best, when equally memorable stories and characters drove its projects. No More Heroes offers a vision of what motion control could have been were it not primarily used to draw in people who had no interest in games to begin with.
Why It’s A Future Classic
The Wii is synonymous with lightweight casual experiences – so it’s strange, then, that No More Heroes is exactly the opposite of that, one of a very rare breed of high-end hardcore games to appear on Nintendo’s frequently criticised platform. Like other games in Suda51’s back catalogue, No More Heroes is shamelessly idiosyncratic and loveably odd, yet this is the first time his interesting stylistic and storytelling ideas aren’t lost between the cracks of rough game design.
The combat is so sharp, capturing the satisfaction of swinging a lightsaber (or equivalent) in a way that no Star Wars tie-in has ever been able to, and while the violence may be deliberately explosive, No More Heroes’ story manages to end on a note that really makes you question Travis’s fairly deplorable behaviour as a character.
The open world backdrop may be fairly superfluous, but there’s nonetheless something uniquely compelling about living Travis’s strange little life, hanging out in his apartment with his pet cat and riding around on an Akira-style motorcycle while the catchy song Heavenly Star by Q Entertainment’s Genki Rockets plays at every single opportunity as a kind of bizarre motif. It’s so precise a vision, that it’s a pleasure to occupy it as a player, and a reminder that not every contemporary release on a console is driven by boneheaded market research.