Why No More Heroes HD could mean a Wii total victory

When I first heard that No More Heroes was coming to the PS3/360, I was totally shocked. Porting a two-year-old Wii game to HD consoles? It’s ludicrous, unheard of, and potentially brilliant. While I’m not totally convinced that NMH will be better for the swap between motion controls and HD graphics, I still want the game to sell well on the PS3/360. If this port goes on to outsell the 500,000-700,000 copies that the Wii original sold worldwide, I’d be ecstatic.

Now, before you going calling me a Wii-hating HD fanboy, hold your horses. Take another look at the title of this post. Look at a few of my other blogs. Though I’m not the biggest fan of Nintendo of America, the Wii is actually my favorite console of this generation so far.

So, if I like the Wii so much, why am I excited that NMH is “defecting” to high definition consoles? Well, because from where I stand, the success of the game on the PS3/360 could signal the final victory for the “Wii philosophy,” which is the reason I like the Wii so much in the first place.

Hit the jump and I’ll explain.

Okay, so what’s the “Wii philosophy” that I’m talking about? Well, from my perspective, it’s about four things — the four things that really separate the Wii from the PS3/360:

1) Motion controls (and the mainstream-accessible games that utilize them);

2) Low-priced console and games;

3) Personalized avatar creation;

4) Low-budget, “punk rock” games.

The PS3 and 360 have already adopted three out of four of these three ideas. Both the PS3 and the 360 will have motion controllers next year. Both have seen $200-$300 price drops since they first launched. Both have their own avatar creation systems. There’s just one part of the Wii’s appeal that they still lack.

Which brings us to No More Heroes.

The tale of No More Heroes is a rags-to-riches success story of one of the industry’s biggest outsiders, and of hardcore gaming on a console that many said was just for kids and old people. It also may be the pinnacle of modern “punk rock” gaming. By “punk,” I mean the combination of an intense enthusiasm for expressing ideas that overcomes any prioritization of profit. For instance, Blind Lemon Jefferson didn’t know that he’d ever become world-famous for singing on his porch about feeling miserable. The Ramones probably never guessed that four ugly guys with bad haircuts who can barely play their instruments would go on to be one of the most popular rock groups on the planet. NWA rapped about being “gangsta” long before anyone ever turned a profit from it. These are just three of the original “punk rockers.” These are the guys that put themselves out there with no reason to believe they could succeed, with little to no money to back them up. They didn’t do what they did because they thought they’d get rich and famous; they did it because they meant it.

For a game developer, it’s the same thing. To be punk rock, they have to be so overwhelmed with excitement over the game they’re working on that they can’t even see anything other than their creative vision. Developers with this attitude almost always make “flawed” games, but that’s usually because of the tunnel vision that comes from following your creative path with total abandon. The path also blinds you to whether what you’re doing is going to make you any money, or if you have the money to make the game in the first place. Ken Levine, Shigesato Itoi, Will Wright, Keita Takahashi, Tim Schafer, and, of course, Suda 51 are all examples of game developers that have made games under these conditions, and have at least one truly punk rock game under their belt.

For me, though, No More Heroes is the epitome of all that, at least for games in this “era.” Like The Ramones, No More Heroes isn’t going to win anyone over with its good looks. About half the time, No More Heroes looks like a Dreamcast game, something that is traditionally a guaranteed death sentence for sales (note: this was also true for actual Dreamcast games). No More Heroes also features an open world that is totally barren and uneventful, which works in stark contrast to the stuff found in big sellers like the GTA series. More so, No More Heroes stars one of the least conventional game protagonists of all time: a skinny, horny, lonely, videogame/anime-loving young man who lives with alone with his cat. The only messages on his answering machine are from mean-spirited employers, or the video store that he owes money to for un-returned porno tapes.

Couple all that with the amount of truly “inappropriate,” borderline insane content packed in the game, and you have a package that’s about as punk rock as it gets. I could get into detail, but I better stop myself now, as I could easily go on and on about the game for pages and pages. If you want to know more, though, check out one of the many well-written posts here on Dtoid that focus on the game. It’s really the kind of game that people like to write about just as much as they like to play.

So yeah, No More Heroes was one of the first, and best, punk rock games to hit the Wii. It has outsold other games with much higher budgets and bigger publishers (Dead Space Extraction and The Conduit, for example) without online play, mainstream-friendly controls, or proven successful tropes like zombies, World War II, or car theft. It also outsold every other game Suda 51 ever produced, including several games for the ever-popular PS1 and PS2. With the success of NMH came many other punk rock Wii exclusives: games like Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Mushroom Men, MadWorld, Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop, House of the Dead: Overkill, Little King’s Story, A Boy and His Blob, the Bit.Trip series, and many others. Some of them made money, and some of them didn’t, but that doesn’t even really matter. The point is that they still were permitted to come into existence, and that’s something that could have only happened on the Wii.

Sadly, the PS3/360 just don’t have as many games of this type in their console libraries. Metal Gear Solid 4 certainly has its moments, as do download-only titles like Noby Noby Boy, Castle Crashers and Braid, but even they are pretty conventional when compared to games like MadWorld and No More Heroes. PS3/360 games just cost a lot more to make than Wii games — by some reckoning, three to five times more. Publishers can’t take as many punk rock risks on the high-def consoles; one failed HD game could put them out of business. They have to play it safe by pleasing the lowest common denominator with space marines and Hollywood-style set pieces, or else they just won’t survive.

At least, that’s what I used to think before I saw screenshots of No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise on the PS3/360. The game has made me start to think that non-conventional, disc-based games might be able to make it in the HD world.

Though the game definitely isn’t a straight port, the changes made to the graphics surely look low-budget. Of course the jaggies are gone, and there seems to be a shiny filter on everything now, but both are probably due to work being done by the PS3/360 hardware, and they likely didn’t cost the developers anything extra to implement. Other than that, Travis’s coat now has real wrinkles, and… yeah, that’s it. That’s all I see for visual improvements in No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise — filters, resolution, and coat wrinkles. Coat wrinkles and resolution aside, I actually think No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle looks a little more expensive than No More Heroes HD. Just take a look at this comparison shot and see for yourself (in case you can’t tell, the Wii game is on the left) .

Thing is, that’s all good news. That’s a sign that a developer can make a game for the PS3/360 that essentially costs as much to make as a low-budget Wii game, and still still find a publisher for it (well, maybe). That’s a sign that not every PS3/360 game has to have online play or look like Uncharted 2 or Resident Evil 5 in order to get published.

That is, of course, if No More Heroes HD actually sells.

Best case scenario, No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise makes good money on the PS3/360, and developers think to make low-budget up-ports of other punk rock Wii games. These up-ports also make money, so from there, developers actually start making original punk rock games for the PS3/360. Not PSN/XLBA games, I’m talking about real retail games; games that  aren’t about criminals/soldiers/space marines/strippers/bounty hunters. I’m talking about retail games that aren’t all firmly embedded in the uncanny valley. When was the last time you saw a game like that on the PS3/360? (And no, 3D Dot Heroes doesn’t count. Not until I play it, anyway.)

Sure, if punk rock gaming spreads across all consoles, the Wii console will be at a loss for the diminished number of exclusives. In the ways that count, that’s still a success for the console. It’s like they say in politics: winning the election is meaningless if you don’t get the other party to start doing things your way. To convert the PS3/360 into HD Wii clones is the real sign that the console has “won” the console war.” Sales are just a means to that end.

Jonathan Holmes
"Where do dreams end and reality begin? Videogames, I suppose."- Gainax, FLCL Vol. 1 "The beach, the trees, even the clouds in the sky... everything is build from little tiny pieces of stuff. Just like in a Gameboy game... a nice tight little world... and all its inhabitants... made out of little building blocks... Why can't these little pixels be the building blocks for love..? For loss... for understanding"- James Kochalka, Reinventing Everything part 1 "I wonder if James Kolchalka has played Mother 3 yet?" Jonathan Holmes