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Some renowned author once said that ‘the walls are painted blue’. That was enough for an English teacher to overanalyze and draw melancholiac conclusions that even the poor author hadn’t dreamt of. Call it the ‘English Teacher Syndrome’ because large swathes of online bloggers and youtubers who review different forms of media like books, movies and games, are susceptible to it. In most cases it appears as if the creators had really done a great deal of research and layered their works with subtle meanings that you’ll notice only on diving deeper. In other cases, the creator could be outright trolling us, making us look for meaning when there are none.

Case in point, the first Wii trailer for No More Heroes (previously titled as Project Heroes) introduces a suave, white haired dude as the protagonist, who looks like the lovechild of Dante and Sepiroth, only to be beheaded by a punk with a lightsaber in a one-on-one duel. Then, surprise surprise – this punk called Travis Touchdown turns out to be the true protagonist! And within seconds it’s apparent that No More Heroes is going to be a unique over-the-top hack ‘n’ slash show.

Or is it?

That was just the tip of the grand troll that Suda51, the Quentin Tarantino among Japanese game devs, would go ahead to reveal. Five hours post completion of the game, and I am still juggling on the verge of ‘English Teacher Syndrome’, conflicted by whether to accept No More Heroes at face value, or search for nuances of satirical commentary within its many layers of Kill Bill style violence, puerile dick jokes and fanservices.

Enter Santa Destroy!

You are Travis Touchdown, an otaku who’s broke as f**k and living in a motel of all places. You meet this femme fatale called Sylvia at a bar, who urges you to kill the Sepiroth cosplayer from the Wii trailer and you being a “real gentleman” show your gratitude. And it’s not long before you realize that she’s trapped you into killing an entire roster of underworld assassins. Her bargain: kill the targets to move up in the ranks of the United Assassins Associations and get to spend one passionate night with her. And thus, begins Travis’s ascent/descent into the ‘Garden of Madness’ (which is Sylvia’s metaphorical version of underworld assassins)

No More Heroes is one of those games which seldom takes itself seriously, contrary to Suda51’s Killer7. The protagonist is a shut-in, obsessed with lolicon, spends the mornings watching sleazy rented movies and wrestling videos, and the nights rubbing himself against his anime body pillows (only mentioned). Throughout the game he’s mocked by Sylvia as being a loser and how he’s likely to die before every boss battle. That said, he’s far from you average ‘hero’; there are no heroes/villians in the game, just rivals busy with their own lives, served to you on a bloodstained platter by Sylvia’s organization.

The entire premise of No More Heroes is just how pointless all of it is. There’s no real motive for Travis to kill the other assassins except for banging Silvia…up until the endgame where No More Heroes goes full Kojima-mode and throws plot twists and revelations at our face while breaking the fourth wall simultaneously! And the true ending exposes just enough to sequel-bait us into playing No More Heroes 2. It all feels like a big joke on part of Goichi Suda – ya’ll made it this far, now play the damn sequel!

At face value it appears as if No More Heroes wears its R-rating on its sleeve – the perversive representation of otakus, the American obsession with violence (the town being called Santa Destroy, the polluted beach being called Body Slam beach etc.), all coupled with a protagonist who wields a ‘Beam Katana’ and mocks others for searching for any meaning in killing. The grotesque shower of gore and coins is enough to quench the bloodthirst of all gamers out there. And right from his spikey hair and shiny glasses to his pointy sideburns, Travis Touchdown is designed to be a leering moral vacuum of a protagonist.

However, despite all these crassness, each boss is portrayed as kind of symbolic, with some of their backstories dealing with themes of childhood abuse, vengeance, loneliness, honor or the lack thereof. Each boss encounter somewhat helps Travis to grow as a person as he climbs the UAA ranks, to the point he realizes there’s actually no point in doing whatever he’s doing. But it’s not all apparent at first glance. There’s an argument that you’ve to view Suda51’s works as a satirical commentary without becoming desensitized to violence. But when female characters are introduced with their legs or cleavage first, you might begin to wonder that whether there was any underlying message in the first place. What if Suda51 knew people would start looking for subtle meaning in his works knowing his track record and so he didn’t bother putting in much at all. One big laugh at our faces.

Cranberry Chocolate Sundae!

No More Heroes was designed keeping motion controllers in mind and therefore there ain’t a lot of complicated combos like in Devil May Cry series. Therefore when the game is ported to PC where we could play with standard controllers, it feels a bit too simplistic because a lot of combos are just button-press prompts or joystick movement prompts. On the Wii or Switch, you can use the Joy-con to deal directional deathblows with a swing of your hand, probably makes you feel like a Samurai. Also all the wrestling moves you perform after staggering an enemy, require directional input. Not to mention you charge your Beam Katana by moving your motion controller rapidly up and down, which feels as if you’re wanking in the living room. The fear of your parents walking in and having to explain that the jerking motion is a gameplay mechanic, can never be replicated with a standard controller (unless they look at the screen).

For the first few hours, No More Heroes will seem like a badass hack ‘n’ slash gore-fest – normal and charged high stance attack, normal and charged low stance attack, punch, kick, a devil trigger mode which increases your speed and your beam katana’s output exponentially, tons of wrestling moves and 10 unique boss fights each with a new gimmick! But the downside is all the battle mechanics are available right from start and you’ve to slog through the ten levels using that only. There are no more new combos, nothing, except for few more wrestling moves that you can learn by renting wrestling videos from the nearby store. But that’s not the all of it. Apart from the boss fights and a few side missions, everything else is goddamn slog fest!

Living in Santa Destroy

You see, Travis has to earn to pay off the UAA so that they can organize the next boss fight in Santa Destroy. And he does this in two ways – undertaking menial jobs and/or by carrying out assassination side missions. And by god, how painfully dull the jobs are! They are to show the pitiful life Travis leads where he has to do odd jobs just to eek out a living, and serve as an excuse to design a boring, dull looking and empty city free for Travis to explore on his hilariously long motor bike. Look at Yakuza games, they fill the same city with tons of activities and NPCs compared to that Santa Destroy, which is practically devoid of… everything! Buildings look like blocks of faded textures, the driving physics are painfully bad and NPC voice acting is just awful.

As for the jobs, they include shaking trees to drop coconuts, mow lawn, find missing cats, pick up trash, fill gas etc., and all these you do with only a few button presses. In essence, they’re meant to be pointless, to be ironically boring which goes with the game’s overall depiction of Travis’ lifestyle. Apart from that there are some life-sim elements like working out in a gym, watching wrestling videos (they don’t show the actual videos), petting your kitty, However, dragging your ass through all these menial tasks, then following the same combat mechanics in the next boss area up until the actual boss fight, it only reduces any ounce replayability the game ever had. Like I said, everything is available right from start unlike other hack ‘n’ slash games where you unlock/purchase new fighting styles.

Thankfully the bosses are the star of the show, almost each one with a memorable persona and offering intense one-on-one duels where you’ve to think tactically instead of mindless button mashing. Some have gimmicks like the one on the beach where the arena is filled with hidden holes, or like the one where the screen inverts for a few seconds forcing you to fight upside down, and especially the one where the boss gets killed even before the fight begins and you win by default. I just wish the entire game had this unpredictability without limiting them to boss areas.

 Visuals, Sound and Performance

The PC port of No More Heroes looks far better than the original, the PS3 and the switch version even though the graphics options are extremely minimal – no texture adjustment, shadows, lighting etc. Like I said, the world is hideously empty, robbed off even the basic graphics adjustment options that could’ve made it a bit more ‘immersive’.

The soundtracks are descent There’s one which plays in Travis’s room, one which plays while you’re speeding on your bike, one for every menial job, and finally one for every fight Travis engages in, with ten different variations of the same music for each of its boss area along with each boss having their own theme. And even though the NPC dialogues are painful to the ears, the boss dialogues are well written and their personalities well thought out. As for the performance, No More Heroes is heavily optimized and I didn’t experience even a single stutter.

Real Talk

No More Heroes is style over substance. The celshaded artsyle and soundtrack dabbles in the retro gamer and punk aesthetic. But all-in-all, there’s no real depth to anything in the game. True, ‘English Teacher Syndrome’ will compel you to look for patterns but to be honest, the entire pacing of the game is mundane, and the endgame revelations feel like a feeble attempt at sequel-baiting. Overall, it’s one of those games which is fun for the first few hours  then gets incredibly mundane- in other words, wait for a sale!

Final Review : Recommended


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