No More Heroes is gross. It’s a sleazy, grimy, ugly game with an indefensible moral vacuum of a protagonist in leering otaku Travis Touchdown. And it’s absolutely brilliant.
Essentially a hack n’ slash title with some open-world elements, No More Heroes rises above its often-pedestrian gameplay with an overflowing reservoir of over-the-top action, fabulous aesthetics, ceaselessly enjoyable writing and, hell, just a whole lot of straight-up style. Even when the gameplay is boring – and it often is – you won’t be bored, which is a testament to the game’s sheer confidence in itself and its gleeful disregard for convention. It’s the hallmark of the very best; they work so hard, but make it look easy.
In fact, one of the best things about No More Heroes is its uncompromising commitment to its own themes. The story here is notably quite simple – to begin with – and it barely matters, though the cutscenes and dialogue are entertaining throughout. What’s really worthy of note is the comedic application of the more banal sections of the gameplay.
See, Travis is an assassin, hoping to reach the very top ranks of the United Assassins’ Association by killing its members off one by one in ranked battles organised by the mysterious femme fatale, Sylvia. The fascinating part is that setting up said battles costs money – a lot of it – and one of the most prominent ways to get the dough is to take on part-time jobs. Now, these jobs are uniformly pretty darn dull. Gameplay-wise they tend to amount to little more than egregious, menial repetition of uninteresting actions. And that’s the whole point.
The contrast between the utterly tiresome lawnmowing game (which we actually fell asleep playing), for example, and the hyperkinetic, personality-rich boss battles you earn for its completion, is genuinely funny. Is it a comment on the banality of open-world games, which often have you partaking in similarly arbitrary tasks simply to advance your level enough to do the next “story mission”? Who knows the real intention, but it resonates brilliantly in 2020 – more than it ever could have back on the Wii, we dare say.
So No More Heroes has aged like a fine wine, then, in terms of its narrative. It’s a game of contrasts, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the combat. Utilising his Beam Katana (a lightsaber in all but name), Travis cuts through swathes of cannon fodder enemies with a fairly traditional combination of taps and holds, tilting the right analogue stick in the displayed direction (or swiping your Joy-Con, ala the dearly departed Wiimote) to issue a final, devastating blow. This results in a grotesque shower of gore, as enemies are dismembered effortlessly – sometimes more than one at a time, if the situation is right. The dichotomy between the traditional, tropey bleep-bloop sound effects and other gaming iconography is hilarious – well, cut to – when the brutal consequences are laid bare.
Which brings us to another point – what you’re getting here on your Switch is the full, uncut original game. In the PAL release for Wii, defeated enemies would explode into pixelated showers of coins, and while this was a cool effect, it erased that shocking – and very much intentional – violence, which had the knock-on effect of making the rest of the game’s decisions seem quirky for the sake of it rather than thoughtful, nuanced or satirical.
It’s a little-spoken-of effect of game censorship; the erasure of thematic consistency. In this case, it was not the harmless aesthetic change of, say, putting a more conservative outfit on an underage character. But no, thankfully, the Switch version of No More Heroes isn’t just the best version but the best version by a country mile. It’s pretty much a locked 60fps (with minuscule, barely perceptible dips in the open world, occasionally), and it runs like a dream even in handheld mode. You’re getting the finest possible experience here – the original Wii title with none of the game-ruining compromises of the PS3’s Heroes' Paradise disaster.
We haven’t even really mentioned the diversity and creativity of the bosses. The unlockable lucha moves. The purchasable upgrades. There’s so much praiseworthy here that it’s almost impossible not to gush. But let’s be real; not everyone is going to like No More Heroes. The driving sections are boring and overlong. The job minigames, as mentioned, are similarly tedious. It’s all intentional, it all feeds into the story and satire, but you’re to be forgiven for not digging it anyway. Maybe.
Perhaps a more understandable cause for concern is Travis’ horndog lust for the likes of Sylvia and the eerily young-looking anime characters he practically drools “moe!” over. Of course, again, this stuff is meant to be uncomfortable and confrontational in a way most modern titles don’t even bother to couch in any kind of commentary, but if the grubby ethos doesn’t work for you, you won’t enjoy this game. We, however, had a blast.
No More Heroes is something very rare – a game that’s actually better now than it was on its original bow, showing us just how little the gaming landscape has actually moved forward. It is certainly, avowedly not for everyone – and you get the impression that’s just how director Suda51 likes it. Artier than most art games, more thoughtful than most think pieces, and cruder than crude oil, No More Heroes uses its own repetition to decisive, impressive effect. Glorious, gore-ious, gorgeous and gregarious, this madcap anime nightmare deserves your attention. If you missed it on Wii, buy it immediately. If you didn’t, you most likely already have.