With its blood spattered mélange of quirky characters, ironic t-shirts, and funky dialogue, “No More Heroes” feels like it’s straight out of Los Feliz or Williamsburg. Underneath an indie veneer, however, it’s is also a smartly designed and incredibly addictive action title, easily the best made for Nintendo’s Wii to date. Game does get a bit repetitive at times, but its original style and fantastic controls should draw a sizable aud along with cult status as the first great hipster videogame.
Protagonist Travis Touchdown is an anime obsessed, sunglasses and t-shirt wearing hipster who wields a “beam katana” (essentially a light saber) that he bought on eBay. He’s recruited by a mysterious and beautiful woman affiliated with “the Association” to fight 10 different hitmen and work his way up to become the top ranked killer in the city of Santa Destroy.
Each of the assassins Travis fights are right out of a Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino movie, from the singing cowboy to the movie-obsessed superhero to the one-legged hottie with rocket launchers in her torso. Boss battles are the best part of “No More Heroes” by far. Assassins all have a unique set of abilities that challenge Travis’s katana and wrestling moves and they scale up in difficulty nicely along the way from no. 10 to no. 1
In between these clashes, Travis has to roam the city and earn money, through part-time jobs or assassination missions, in order to pay off the Association to set up his next fight. These jobs quickly get dull, as they involve tedious mini-games like filling up gas and repetitive fights against easy-to-beat goons. Travis has to drive to these various tasks on his motorcycle, but there’s not actually much to do on the way except find a few power-ups and new t-shirts. Despite the name’s obvious allusion to “Grand Theft Auto’s” San Andreas, Santa Destroy offers none of that game’s depth and scale.
As with all ironic culture however, the fun is in the details. Special fighting modes have bizarre culinary names like “strawberry on the shortcake” and “cranberry chocolate sundae.” Save points are located in bathrooms, where players record their progress while Travis relieves himself. An on-screen cell phone is mapped to the wireless Wii controller, meaning players have to hold its tinny speaker up to their ear to hear calls.
Developer Grasshopper Manufacture’s greatest accomplishment in “No More Heroes,” however, is the use of the Wii’s motion sensing controls for action. Basic moves are done through standard button mashing, but finishing sword swings or wrestling throws are done by thrusting the controller in precise directions. Mapping the most satisfying parts of battle, like body slams and beheadings, to player movement is a smart compromise that utilizes the Wii’s advantages over other consoles without exhausting the player through constant arm flailing.
Game’s lack of a sophisticated physics engine is a problem, however, as it makes fighting moves slow and imprecise. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing Travis swing his katana at an enemy’s back to absolutely no effect.
As previous games have already demonstrated, pushing the Wii to its graphical limits only draws negative comparisons to the higher powerd Xbox 360 and PS3. But, again, Grasshopper made a wise choice and used a blurred art style that isn’t stunning, but fits the overall aesthetic just right.
Not as much effort seems to have been put into the audio, however. While sound effects are adequate, the lack of an indie rock soundtrack in what’s otherwise an alternative opus is downright shocking.