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No More Heroes

"You otaku", a phrase Travis Touchdown hears plenty in No More Heroes, sums up this whole experience impeccably. Otaku, taken from Japanese translation and slang, roughly references an obsessive individual with a concentration on something of the unusual. More times than not, it refers to an anime-loving recluse. Here, however, Travis has another fixation on top of his dabbles in manga – becoming the top ranked assassin in his newly discovered assassin's organization, the UAA. No More Heroes, in its crimson splatter-paint style, ferociously taut gameplay, and quirky hierarchy of upgrades and side challenges, gives the waning mature rated Wii catalogue a bloody brilliant and addictive-as-hell title.

The Story:

With anime figures adorning all his shelves and lucha libre Mexican masks fixed on the wall, it's obvious the No More Heroes' protagonist has a colorful persona. The spiky-haired Travis sports a popped-collared jacket, tight rag-tag jeans and a quirky t-shirt that changes when the mood feels necessary. He spends his off days watching a hodgepodge of wrestling and porn tapes in his Santa Destroy, Californian domicile, taking breaks to feed and scratch his kitty Jeane. The demeanor of No More Heroes reflects off of Mr. Touchdown's home – quirky. Infused with several gamer, sci-fi, and all-around nerdy references, there’s a lot of humor floating about with Travis’ story.

How on earth could this pseudo-geek be the 11th Ranked Assassin in the country?

Oh, there's one other little accessory Travis carries that was left out of his description, one that more defines his existence outside of his hotel / hostel living quarters – his precious, freshly acquired Blood Berry. After just a flip of the switch, this elongated baton turns into a future-esque "beam katana" (read = lightsaber), which thus transforms Travis into his true form as a lightning-fast assassin. After hitting poverty enough to have to actually use his weapon for business, he took on a mission to kill another hitman, named Helter Skelter. Once Travis claimed his head Highlander-style, he became one step away from the UAA's Top 10 Assassins list. He's become a mark in himself now, as the lower numbered hitmen below him desire this very advantageous spot. To stay alive, Travis has but one direction to go.

No More Heroes drops you in the thick of it right at this point, flooring the speed in his bike towards a battle with ranked assassin # 10. Your connection with the UAA all along is Sylvia, a blond bombshell with a French accent that tantalizes and taunts Travis through repeated calls on his cell phone. She directs him on where to go and what to expect in the "garden of madness", all the while diminishing his confidence with her unwelcoming, odd analyses on whether he'll die that day or not. There's an incentive to climb the ranks, other than just staying alive. Young Sylvia, with her wooing ways, might just give Travis a piece of HER action while he slices off a bit of monetary gain for himself.

The Gameplay:

Travis might have an interesting history behind him; however, once you step foot into that first mansion, only one thing becomes truly important when No More Heroes kicks into gear: hacking and slashing your way to each ranked assassin in order to climb the organization's ladder. Thankfully, the development team behind this whirling dervish of swordplay chaos, also responsible for the equally bizarre sleeper title Killer7, really focuses on their objectives. Grasshopper Manufacture, Suda 51, and Marvelous Entertainment uniquely infuse distinctive Wii controls with some borrowed gameplay mechanics from the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Legend of Zelda. Together, the gaming experience delivers like a joyfully fond memory of bloodshot games past, but with an evocative pace that makes the experience fresh and wholly gratifying.

Once you select your difficulty level (Sweet or Mild) at the start of the first scenario, an optional tutorial guides you through the Wii motions. First and foremost, the "beam katana" controls are not connected real-time with the Wii-mote sensors; in fact, 70-80% of your sword movement will come from fervent rapping on the A-button. Even though that might disappoint those avid fans looking for a immersive Star Wars style lightsaber duel, the battle composition in No More Heroes makes for some of the most erratically supercharged and satisfying combat this side of Sony's God of War.

The directional pad at the top of the Wii-mote controls evasive functions while you're locked on, left and right taking Travis in rolling fashion in each direction and backwards for a reverse roll. Much like the integration of the Nunchuck in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Z-button locks onto your character while the directions thumbstick controls your movement. As you lock on with the Z-button, an automatic block function comes into effect which becomes incredibly useful as the game progresses

Though they didn't concentrate on making the Wii-mote your complete "beam katana", No More Heroes' team effectively incorporates sensory elements to its fast-paced action. Pointing the remote at a higher or lower portion of the screen alternates the height of attacks, distinctively labeled "high" and "low". Switching between the two isn't wholly necessary in all situations, but undoubtedly aids in quicker kills and more effective blocks. What become a necessity, as well as one of the most entertaining portions of the game, are the finishing kills implemented with the Wii-mote. Though it's true that around three-quarters (3/4) of the attacks with your blade come from button-mashing, the last portion comes from aptly delivered swipes with the remote. As an enemy lowers in energy enough, a directional arrow forms on the screen that, as can be imagined, is the direction that you sling your saber. What ensues is, well, what leans No More Heroes towards an audience adept with stronger stomachs and more morbid senses of humor. Only major fireworks displays during the 4th of July spread and spray that much explosive, colorful chaos - and boy is it a lot of exuberant fun to watch.

Essentially, once Travis fights his way through the mansion and slays the first assassin at the beginning of No More Heroes, he seeps into the UAA's Top 10 ranking. That makes this whole shebang about three primary objectives: money, training, and upgrades. Actually, it just becomes all about the almighty dollar since you can't do the other two without the scratch to cover the cost. Each battle requires a "nominal deposit" to the organization to continue climbing up the rungs. These values start at 200,000 lb, which is probably a currency relatively equivalent to the Japanese yen in value. To make money, he's got to hit the streets.

Travis, riding an obscure, huge motorcycle, makes his way across Santa Destroy in GTA-style fashion towards his projected areas. A circular guided map with keyed location markers illuminate the lower quarter of the screen. Even though the traveling feels inspired by the Grand Theft Auto series, don't expect near as much personality or interactivity with the city of Santa Destroy. Navigation is pretty simple; the Nunchuck thumbstick controls direction, while the A-button is your accelerator and the trigger B-button serves as your break / reverse. Sure, the bike can plow into moving cars and pedestrians; once they get hit, they brush themselves off and continue to move without a hint of damage or even a peep of agitation in the vehicles’ case. Plus, ramming into a designated police car merits the same reactions as with any other automobile. Of course, you can't help but have a little fun firing ahead by hitting the Z-button to turbo down the streets. In all, the driving mechanic becomes nothing more than a mildly therapeutic and entertaining chore from point A to point B (or M, for that matter).

Earning money can be done in a number of ways, including taking reputable part-time jobs like picking up trash and filling gas tanks. Each of these mini-games adequately incorporates the Wii-mote, especially the trash pick-up and graffiti scrub jobs. Making money can also be done by taking more fitting paths for Travis, such as small-bit assassination jobs against up-and-coming business people. In all, most of these jobs will fetch you between 20,000 to upwards of 90-100,000 lb, depending on the quality of job that Travis does. Medals can be earned for all jobs, which therefore unlock further monetary missions.

Once enough bank has been earned to pay off his ranking battle, a small dollar sign will flash on the map that directs towards an ATM for Travis to deposit the cash. However, paying for the assassination battles aren't the only thing he can do with his earnings - nor should they be. Several distinct locations supply an outlet for spare change to further enhance Travis' capabilities. At Master Ryu's place, which is overseen by one bizarre trainer in ole’ Thunder, Travis can work out to develop his skills. Workouts are in a well executed mini-game format, especially sharp for the usage of dumbbells. Similarly, the local video rental place offers up purchasable wrestling tapes for research purposes that help develop his skills as well. Likewise, Dr. Naomi offers buyable upgrades for your "beam katana" – as well as further updated models. Plus, if you’re up to letting loose some change for other purely aesthetic purposes, boutique Area 51 gives you the option to pick up alternate clothing for Travis. A lot of alternate clothing.

Slicing, dicing, and buying your way up the ranks delivers all the more bizarrely unique experiences with each ascent. Travis' secondary, peon-type busywork enemies never become too monotonous, while the boss battles are some of the craftiest and challenging of recent memory. It seems like the development team has solid bearing on which assassins might be more pleasing and difficult, because they manage to sporadically implant simple and difficult bosses across No More Heroes timeline. Keeping tabs on your "optional" development purchases makes the harder experiences a little more bearable, but still taxing and highly pleasurable. There's a bit of Obi Wan vs. Darth Vader style battles here and there, but it's within the more unconventional fracases that No More Heroes shows its radiant grandeur and unique stratagems.

It has its share of minuscule secrets to discover across Santa Destroy, but most of the core material in No More Heroes is easily accessible atop the surface. If you get wrapped up in the secrets of Travis' town, namely in hunting for the hidden "balls" that help teach you secret abilities or becoming addicted with clothing and change dumpster diving, then you're looking at a rich experience that should net you in the neighborhood of 20 hours of play or so at the harder difficulty level. To say the least, from the first time you press the A-button to unleash your radiating blade to the final slices of the grandiose, loony finale, Travis' rise amongst the UAA ranks certainly provides one of the more visceral, outlandish, and hilariously bloody outings out there - and it's available on Nintendo's "kiddy" console.

The Graphics:

No More Heroes derives its art design from similar cell-shading techniques utilized in Suda51's previous over-the-top manifestation, Killer7. Needless to say, it's an amazing visual presentation with a cartload of colorful panache; however, it's undoubtedly an exercise in design over detail and exceedingly void of textures, except in some of Travis' clothing. Plain and simple, the progressive graphics show a lot of jagged lines and frame-rate stutters. Battle can get very rapid and chaotic, and the graphics engine shutters and slows down fairly frequently because of this. Outside of these sluggish discrepancies, No More Heroes is a fantastic exercise in flashy eye candy. Santa Destroy, though lacking in actual personality, blooms and blossoms with rich colors. It's always sunny in the city, and the sky, streets, and shadows rarely waver as Travis bolts around in his bike. Most prominent in No More Heroes is the wide array of bright colors, which purely slice up the screen with vivacity.

The Audio:

Equally as razor-sharp is the sound design, though it can grow a bit monotonous through a lack of aural options. Put bluntly, No More Heroes is a eardrum-rattling experience. Each decapitation and severance blasts with explosive fervor as Travis tears through his enemies. With kitschy electronic tracks lightly fiddling in the background, the ambiance feels just right all the way through. However, the repetition of the fallen enemies' phrases and broken-record tunes during the levels can grow a little annoying. That's only if you concentrate too hard on them, though, because usually it's so easy to get wrapped up in the madness that anything outside of the satisfying whirr of the "beam katana" simply disappears.

After Finishing the Game (very mild spoilers):

Once Travis has completed his journey to the top, you have three options on what to do with him: return to the streets of Santa Destroy, View the Ending of the Game, or View the REAL Ending of the game. Outside of some extra training, a special adapter for the katanas, as well as purchasing and finding all the clothing and cash, there's not a lot else that you can do in regards to new material in No More Heroes. However, fighting each and every battle contained in this story once again should prove to be equally as enthralling as the first go around.

Viewing the REAL Ending, however, makes one final battle available with a character forgotten from earlier in the game. Outside of one or two unique boss battles at the beginning and end of No More Heroes, this fight is the pinnacle of the game's fiery speed. Get prepared.


Final Thoughts:

Nintendo can chalk up another must-play experience to their repertoire in the form of the M-Rated, gleefully gruesome No More Heroes. Travis' journey upwards in the ranks of the UAA provided some of the quickest, most viscerally charged gameplay made available across the board. Its only faults lie in its decision to focus more on the luridly uncomplicated gameplay than further expansive depth. However, the intense action here is, without question, a full-on blast. No More Heroes, an exercise in blistering visuals atop a spastically enthralling combat scheme, is a Highly Recommended Wii experience rife with intensity, humor, and a bucket-load of entertainment.