Who needs heroes when you have Travis Touchdown?
The beauty of backwards compatibility is having the option to go back and play games that you never got around to playing, or reliving classic titles to refresh on the things we've learned since, or on things we could do better. But most importantly, it also presents the option for us to reflect on things we've forgotten. In our recent pursuit of trying to make games feel more open, and granting the player more freedom, we've faltered from delivering games that can also grant a tight and satisfying experience as opposed to empty open worlds. No More Heroes came out when open world games were still in the few, but it dishes out somethnig promising that was ultimately scrapped for its sequel, with some of the most engaging combat this side of Devil May Cry. And while the PS3 port falters a bit compared to its Wii counterpart, feelplus and AQ still manages to capture that satisfying feeling of being in complete control of every swing of your laser sword.
No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise (Nintendo Wii, PS3 [reviewed])
Developer: AQ Interactive/Grasshopper Manufacture
Released: May 20, 2011
MSRP: 54.00 $
Now unless you've been living under a rock like me, you've probably heard all you might need to know about No More Heroes and the concepts it presents. It's not a particularly meaty game, in terms of content, there's a lot of part-time jobs to distract you from the main story but not the kind you'll find in Yakuza or Shenmue with a lot of interesting characters. No, well .. yes, actually it would be fair to say that No More Heroes does take a bit from Shenmue with regards to its side content. As Travis is a shameless otaku, down on his luck, he has to get a "real job" and earn an upkeep to pay for his "other job" as an assassin. Cause apparently you have to pay an "entry fee" to be allowed to kill someone, which doesn't ring any suspicious alarm bells whatsoever (oh no, sir!).
The part time jobs are surprisingly mundane, and just like Shenmue, these part-time jobs are not so much optional content as they are integral to progressing the game. While in Saints Row, the requirement for having to do a bunch of optional tasks to gain a distinct amount of "respect" to access a story mission felt like a major design flaw. In No More Heroes it feels like a deliberate part of the game's social commentary (especially aimed at Japan) and satire on old traditional video game conventions.
Despite the protagonist seeming like a grade-A douche, there's something charming about the seemingly unlikable Travis Touchdown. Much like Dante, he taunts his enemies with elegance but in the same vein he'll switch to being empathetic or contemplating depending upon the situation, the person, or his mood. Travis dorky love for anime, while also being capable of throwing off bad-ass oneliners, is all a deliberate attempt ot charm the player into his world and accept all the violence and pain he inflicts on the people he kills.
Every shmuck you kill will net you these old "video-gamey" based coins, approptiately titled "LB", coupled together with the game's very arcadey UI. It gives the obvious impression of the game's attempt on numbing the player to that of its graphic violence, making it easier to accept. While Travis himself finds the job of an assassin exciting, he hesitates when he fights women and occasional ponders on the meaning behind murdering his way to the top as far back as the first boss in the game. But it doesn't affect him as much as it probably should have as he continues onward to the top, hopgin there might be some meaning to it at the end. While a few plot twists does reveal on some things, it ultimately still falls back unto "meaningless". The meaningless violence, and the meaningless side tasks that Travis does to earn money, money he has to spent to do assassination missions that rewards him... nothing.
And that might be the tagline for the game "meaninglessness". When Travis kills the 10th Ranked Assassin, he contemplates on how it wasn't as satisfying as he would have hoped. Apart from a thinly veiled promise of sex from his sexy female handler Silvia, nany other motivation he has is that defeating assassins pays the bills, but when one of those bills happens to be the fee for setting up the next fight, it all seems a bit self-defeating. And this is not even mentioning how the less exciting jobs will generally give Travis a higher paycheck than the actual assassination missions. There's no real reason to do those side missions, other than killing.
In addition, the game isn't shy of adding fuel to the fire, as it presents a mechanic that involves having to recharge your sword through an act that resembles masturbation. Another base(heh), pointless act that achieves a moment of satisfaction with a mess that needs to be cleaned up after: Much like Travis' actual Assassination Missions (zing!). While Travis attempts to rationalize a meaning of worth in the killing that involves "proving who is best", and chiding Holly Summers for taking pleasure in it: It only serves to reflect Travis' only true feelings "Namely that he does it because it's fun".
As the game reveals the truth regarding the boogus United Assassins Association, and how Silvia Crystel had in truth set it all up to pay for her expensive life style tastes. Travis reflects on the meaninglessness of his horrible actions, what did it matter? Does anything in No More Heroes matter? The game builds up a sudden plot twist, to give meaning to the meaningless by introducing Travis' murderous twin-sister with a "disturbing" backstory. This on top of Travis' too easily buying it, despite him not knowing about her existence until at that very moment feels like an appropriate commentary on how we perceive video games. Or rather, it's the framework for how we try to find meaning in video games that might not have a meaning, or where its meaning is left up to interpration like the Souls' series.
Is it only because we wanna be "number one" or is it a cathartic escape from reality, like Travis Touchdown trying to escape the reality of being a loner who is obsessed with anime? The game is fascinating for its introverted perspective on how we play video games like Spec Ops did on violence. While the game doesn't give a direct answer, it's way of trying to resolve itself by having Travis' journey seem like it was all for revenge, and then disregarding it for a climatic boss fight with his twin brother Henry. It seems clear that No More Heroes revels in the meta narrative of the player seeking escape from the reality of not being a badass assassin with a lightsaber.
But No More Heroes isn't all about story, it's also about gameplay. And there's quite a bit for me to say about it, given that that this game was originally released on the Nintendo Wii. It is obvious through experiencing the game on the PS3, that it was designed for the Wii, using a Nunchuck controller to swing your sword in combat. With the way the lock-on works, it becomes awkward to control Travis sometimes in combat, and unnecessarily hard to home-in on your enemies and their attacks. Even dodging feels awkward, but it's not impossible, in fact it's actually quite functional.. most of the time.
Boss battles like Holly Summers and Harveywhateveritwas both have unavoidable hazardous attacks, the latter beign instant death, that can only be avoided by wiggling the stick horizontally. And regrettably, the dualshock controller doesn't seem to respond to the wiggling very well, or at least game don't.
Much like Nintendo, Sony had quite a few bad gaming ideas of their own. Among those are the Sixaxis control. Now, this function had its quirks in some games like Folklore, but with No More Heroes it is shampoo drinkingly awful. The idea for this port was to help Sony sell their cheap Wii-motion knockoff "Sony Move" but since nobody ever really uses it, the alternative was the Sixaxis function on the Dualshock controller. This function works much like the Wii-motion sensor, in the sense that it barely registers your actions, and usually when it does it does so seconds too late.
So you'll die, a lot, to the point of frustration that I almost gave up on the game. While the original game's gameplay has mostly been replicated on the PS3 rather expertly, there are some major shortcomings that can make it feel needlessly complicated. Among these are the dodging, which is tied to the lockon, and such a thing works really well in a game like Devil May Cry but No More Heroes isn't that kind of action game. Not quite.
Its over the shoulder camera makes the dodging backfire. Contrary to how it's supposed to work, you'll find yourself rolling straight into the enemy's grasp, because the camera is a clingy little bitch that will stick to your back the same way Nathan Drake sticks to chest-high-walls. It feels regrettably awful to play sometimes, like they wanted to try their best to make the gameplay feel the same as it did on the Wii but ended up feeling worse.
Regrettably, this port also suffers from getting chopped by the big ol' mean Mr. Copyright Infringement/License Man. Quite a few notable tracks from the original version are missing like Heavenly Star, which truly accentuated the engaging electronica tunes of Masafumi Takada, as well as the anime obsessive tastes of Travis Touchdown. Not a big minus in regards the game's design, but its absence is notable even if the "metal" cover versions of the No More Heroes themes inside the store are awesome.
And then there are audio issues in regards to some of its cutscenes that weren't there in the original game. Among those are the phone calls from Silvia pre-boss fights, and even a few of the cutscenes. The dialogue would be delivered through the Wii-Remote, meant to immerse the player and it was effective. Given that the PS3 doesn't have that the dialogue is instead spoken through the screen though it's cancelled by litterally all of the other audio going on so you can't hear it.
This leads me to talk about the open world. An aspect unique to this game, and in my opinion something that lends credibility to the spirit of No More Heroes. While the world of Santa Destroy isn't exactly the same kind of sprawly and lively metropolis as Yakuza's Kamurocho there is a certain charm to how Travis traverses it (heh). His bike is as ridiculous as Travis' dress style, reflecting on his narcissim. But it controls like ass, driving through the streets of Santa Destroy makes the driving in Grand Theft Auto IV feel like cruising the roads of Nevada in an Audi A8.
The chippy tune that plays as you ride this horrible bike though is nice, and the various locations you can enter like the Gym run by a former wrestler and Yakuza member are all memorable and fun. It's hard to say whether the otherwise empty open world was meant to be this way to compliment the mundanity of Travis' life--Either way, it works that way. It's an aspect to the game that will understandable divide fans, but to me it was never too open or obnoxious for me to dislike it. It's an idea that solidify's No More Heroes attempt at poking fun of the mundane tasks of video games by simulating them. It's a great concept with its potential squandered but thankfully not the kind of open world that demands you explore every dull corner of it.
Even with the shortcomings of the PS3 version, No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise was still a gem of a game that brought me a lot of joy on top of some of its jarring mechanics and boss fights. Slightly updated textures, it came with a few control issues and even some audio issues that weren't present in the original. It did, however, make the Dark Side Mode a lot less jarring by giving control of it to the player so you can choose to activate it on your own as you stack it up. And it also gave you the frickin option to retry those obnoxious Free-roam missions. Ultimately, it's still a really good and fun game.