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Video Game Review: No More Heroes – Heroes’ Paradise

August 27, 2011 | By Mike Chen | comment on this post
No More Heroes - Heroes' Paradise.
Yes, this game is telling you to jerk off with your Playstation Move. If you don’t think that’s funny for even a second, you might want to skip No More Heroes.

The original No More Heroes was a big fish in a small pond. The Wii-based brawler featured a zany world filled with nods and homages to geek culture, from the Sega Mega Drive (AKA, Genesis) console sitting on a virtual shelf to the many arcade-style visual treats. It was designed to be a hardcore gamer’s game on a system loaded with casual mini-game collections and shovelware, so there’s no mystery why it stood out, or why lead character Travis Touchdown became a bit of a cult hero.

With No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise landing on Playstation 3, the proverbial playing field has changed. Is it fair to judge a two-year-old Wii port against the PS3 library, especially with Playstation Move involved?

Considering this is a battle for your hard-earned gaming dollars, the answer has to be yes. Let’s break down Travis’ adventures as he tries to become the PS3’s top assassin.

CONTROLS (2/5)

Note: Playstation Move controls factored into the score.

Crisp, fluid controls are the hallmark of any strong action title. So is variety. That, unfortunately, isn’t found with No More Heroes. Using a standard controller, one face button attacks high and one face button attacks low. A trigger button locks on to a particular opponent and, depending on your difficulty setting, this could activate auto-defensive blocking. While you can upgrade your beam katana over the course of the game, combat essentially falls down to button mashing with these options.

The right analog substitutes the Wii controller in this setup. This comes into play quite often, as nearly every enemy gets a quicktime event once their health gets low (or in some cases, after you’ve attacked a certain amount). Quicktime events involve slashing horizontally or vertically, along with rotation. These events are one of the big draws of the game, as they result in spectacular deaths and/or pro wrestling moves… but triggering fun animations isn’t as fun or fluid when being involved with a combo.

When you factor in the Move, it’s essentially the same experience as the Wii. Those hoping that the beam katana would get 1:1 tracking will be disappointed, as Move integration consists mostly of waggle controls.

Between core missions, Travis navigates a sparse open world. Navigate is a fair term, as using his motorcycle feels like playing an old-school PC driving game with keyboard controls. There’s no nuance here, despite using the analog stick. The game’s poor collision detection doesn’t help, as you’ll bump into invisible edges all the time. I even got stuck on an invisible edge for a few minutes in the middle of an empty street, and the only way out was an Austin Powers-esque 30 point turn.

When you sum all that up, there really aren’t any good controls with No More Heroes. There’s just some that aren’t as bad as others.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Perhaps it’s not fair to assign one score to No More Heroes graphics and sound because both categories have their polar-opposite aspects. For the graphics, there’s no doubt that the character design is very strong, and the cel-shaded effects are pulled off extremely well. These are highly stylized visuals, and the fact that it’s a Wii port doesn’t hold them back much.

It’s when you pull a little further back that you start to see graphical problems. Most backgrounds and environments are at best bland and at worst empty and lifeless. This depends on where you are in the game, but whatever section you’re in, there’s bound to be a long tunnel with the same type of enemy running at you. In between core story missions is an open world-lite arena, which is essentially a vacated city with occasional NPCs or cars passing by.

Graphically, the game also gets dinged for clipping issues, particularly with shadows breaking through walls.

A similar issue affects the sound. The voice acting is appropriately over the top, with funny lines written for melodramatic effect. Travis’ voice acting walks the line between goofy and serious, and the accompanying colourful cast is so ridiculous, it’s fantastic. These aren’t put-downs; all of this works thanks to the semi-serious tone to the game.

But step back from cut scenes and voiceovers and you get to the actual in-game voice acting. That consists of literally a few lines from the enemies in total. Yes, their goofy lines are funny the first time you hear them, but you’ll be tired of them within two minutes of encountering them. Repetition is an unintentional theme for the entire game, and that’s certainly the case here.

GAMEPLAY (3/5)

No More Heroes’ gameplay essentially falls under one of three categories:

  • Walk into a room. Beat up a bunch of enemies while listening to the same “funny the first time I heard it” death cries over and over. Walk down a long hall into another room. Repeat and keep going because the game is so goofy that you enjoy the world despite lack of variety.
  • Fight very, very tough boss battle. Laugh while voiceovers contemplate the meaning of existence and the sweetness of the ladies while enduring tough boss battle. Repeat until you beat it or get frustrated and turn it off.
  • Roam around open world. Get motorcycle caught on an invisible edge. Earn money on short side missions to progress. Repeat until you can afford starting the next story mission or you get frustrated with the terrible collision detection and turn it off.

The first two items are a mix of good and bad. The repetitive gameplay can have you peering at the map and wondering just how many more people (who all look and sound the same) you have to go through. Then, you might discover a new pro wrestling finisher for a quicktime event or Travis will get a phone call from Sylvia, his blonde handler whose sayings are as goofy as her accents. Those little touches make the repetition almost forgivable, at least enough to get to the boss battles.

The boss battles themselves offer variety in terms of situation and challenge. Depending on how you enjoy punishing difficulty levels, it could amp up your juices for a fight or it could make you turn down the difficulty level. At the very least, you’ll laugh at the way the No More Heroes saga twists and turns before the boss brawl frustrates you. That’s the thing about No More Heroes — despite its flaws, you can’t help but be drawn into the bizarre universe it’s created.

Which, of course, makes it a bit ironic that when you actually occupy Travis’ world in the open-world segment, the game comes to a standstill. Side missions range from timed brawl challenges to mini-games that probably sounded amusing on paper, but ultimately come off as tedious. The poor controls make a bad situation worse, and it’s a relief to get going on the core story again — unfortunately, you usually have to endure some significant time earning money to get to the story missions.

OVERALL (3/5)

I’ve griped a bit about No More Heroes’ controls and repetition, and it’s true, the gameplay cycle is essentially fight-walk-fight-walk-boss, with the occasional mini-game or side mission (stemming from the open-world segment) thrown in for variety. This is not the pinnacle of quality game design, and yet, the game’s world contains a definite charm. The over-the-top characters, anime/geek references, and hilarious dialogue help smooth over many of the game’s rough patches.

Unfortunately, it’s still a video game, and that means that you still have to play it. One gets the feeling that No More Heroes was born out of a lot brainstorming sessions that ended with, “Crap, our deadline is when?” So many great ideas wind up poorly executed or half-accomplished on the gameplay side, and that’s a shame.

You can think of it in two ways: first, imagine how this game would be remembered had the story and characters not existed (hint: it wouldn’t); second, think about how much better this game would have been had the gameplay aspect been given as much detail and care as the zany world they created. The ultimate verdict is this — No More Heroes has many, many technical flaws but should be experienced, particularly by those who cling on to the geek badge with pride (like myself)… but not at full price. Find a used copy on another console or wait for the PS3 Move edition to go down in price in a few months instead.

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