Make no mistake about it; this game is not another family-friendly Wii title. The dementedly creative minds at Grasshopper Studios have given us a cornucopia of gratuitous violence that is so absurd and stylish that its impact is satisfying and funny, rather than nauseating and serious.
As lead character Travis Touchdown, your goal is to become the #1 underground assassin by killing all eleven ranked assassins on your checklist. Brandishing your “beam katana” (a nod to the Star Wars light saber), you will slice the heads clean off enemies and slice their bodies in half vertically, while fountains of blood spew out and splatter all over the screen. And then there are the powered-up moves…
Combat consists of melee attacks, swordplay, and wrestling moves (which you learn more of as you progress through the game). You generally need to expect to knock your enemies out with a melee attack before your sword can make contact, as enemies are very proficient at blocking. They also need to be stunned for you to perform your wrestling moves. You can attack low or high depending on how you are holding the Wii-mote. When you can attempt a finishing move, directions appear on the screen as an arrow showing you which way to slash the Wii-mote and let the blood start flowing. The combination of moves gives the combat variety that a lot of games don’t offer.
As you defeat enemies, you will also be showered with coins, and a slot machine will appear at the bottom of the screen. Hit the jackpot with matching symbols, and you get a power up that will slow down time or allow you to perform elaborate finishing moves with the push of a button. The slot machine and clattering of coins serve to make the violence even more gratuitous and delightful than the severed limbs and buckets of blood alone.
To get to the boss battles, you’ll need to earn enough money to pay for the privilege to face them. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. You can do odd jobs such as picking up garbage, pumping gas, or mowing lawns. These activities are minigames that have you swinging your Wii-mote and nunchuck with a lot of interesting maneuvers, and are frantic and fun to complete. You can also assassinate targets you are given, which can be anything from shady businessmen with names like “Pizza Butt” to random thugs. Some of these tasks have you killing in different ways, such as a mission for wrestling moves only, or one where you hit baseballs by swinging your Wii-mote to blast the balls through a line of opponents, defeating them. One unfortunate problem with these missions is that if you fail you cannot try again without crossing the map, requesting the mission again, and travelling back to the mission again before you can repeat it. This is a real drag.
There are other uses for the coin you earn. There is an open world, albeit very limited, with a number of businesses you can frequent. There’s a weapons shop where you can get upgrades, a gym where you can improve your stats and abilities by playing minigames, a video store where you can rent wrestling videos and learn new moves, and a clothing store where you can spruce yourself up. You move around town on a motorcycle or walk, but there really isn’t much to do other than kick dumpsters looking for more coin or extra t-shirts, run over pedestrians, or head directly to the aforementioned businesses.
The art design is truly unique, slick, and stylish. The characters look hand drawn rather than computer generated, and shadows are used in clever ways to give them depth. There are also a lot of old-school arcade graphics, such as a pixilated map and 80’s arcade game inspired menus. The open world is another story. Plagued by jagged lines, framerate issues, and object pop-ins, it doesn’t look so great.
The camera controls are not ideal, especially when you’re battling a boss and trying to run, attack, and move the camera at the same time. Holding the Wii-mote and nunchuck to perform all these actions is awkward. You’ve got the toggle to move, the A and B buttons to attack, and the directional pad to adjust the camera. As an alternative, you can press C when you’re locked on to an enemy to put the camera behind you, but you see a black screen for a moment, like an old fashioned camera shutter, and it’s even more disorienting than trying to use the directional pad. The camera can be a real source of frustration during unforgiving boss battles. The other problem that really rears its ugly head during boss battles is the poor collision detection. This is noticeable in other parts of the game but doesn’t impact you in a significant way until you encounter it during a boss battle. It’s irritating when you’re running to try and flank someone and the game makes you bump into thin air because you were next to a beam or other object.
The sound effects are great. Groaning enemies, clattering coins, and gushing blood all sound nice and beefy. The music playing on your motorcycle sounds straight out of a 70’s crime drama. Boss battle music is suitable fast paced electronica. The voice acting seems to be intentionally bad to compliment the cheesy script and plot, and it’s good for a laugh. The game also makes great use out of the speaker on the Wii-mote. You’ll instinctively want to hold it up to your ear when you get a phone call, and it feels satisfyingly like answering a real cell phone.
The game includes a great tutorial that will have you up to speed in no time. And you’d better know what you’re doing when you head into a boss battle. You’ll need some carefully planned strategy and patience to defeat the bosses, with their punishing difficulty.
Are you yearning for a completely over-the-top celebration of blood, gore, and adult humor suitable strictly for mature audiences? Grown-up Wii owners have been waiting a while for this kind of game, and No More Heroes delivers in spades.