No More Heroes came out a little more than a year ago, but I’m reviewing it now since the current economy is helping me appreciate older games I already have lying around my room. I remember playing it soon after it came out and thought it was fun at the time. Once I beat single player story mode though I essentially lost interest in ever picking it back up because that was all there is to it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a game simply having a twenty or so hour long single player mode, but once you beat it you’re through. There’s no way to select levels afterward and replay your favorite parts, so you simply have to make the whole twenty hour investment all over again in order to get the full experience. Fortunately for me it’s a year later and I don’t mind replaying it from the beginning.
But enough about my personal annoyance with the replayability, I’ll step back and give my assessment of the content itself. No More Heroes was a bit of a bait and switch for me. It was made by the (in)famous Suda 51 who is either an amazingly intelligent game designer or the industry’s biggest hack depending on who you talk to (although seeing as he’s only made about two games most people have even heard of, he’s probably simply irrelevant). The other game he’s known for is Killer 7, which remains one of my favorite games of all time, so I expected No More Heroes to live up to its legacy. Therefore, I was disappointed that despite certain stylistic qualities that run between the two, they are extremely different games.
Killer 7 is almost the polar opposite of No More Heroes. While the former had detailed levels, clever presentation, a variety of expressive and developed characters, and an incredible storyline, the latter seems to deliberately go in the opposite direction. It has two main characters who are so stereotypical and flat that it’s actually entertaining to see them constantly develop their undeveloped-ness. The best characters are the minor ones (who also are the level bosses) but they only exist in the cut scenes before and after their battles. None of these are particularly well developed either, but they’re all unique and so creative that they make the boss battles the highlights of the whole game.
The storyline that connects all of the people and places together is also hilariously shallow. It’s extremely self aware though; the game appears to take the storyline very seriously but then makes it clear that it’s actually not serious at all. Like the characters it also deliberately tries to develop the flatness of its plot, squeezing in every predictable cliché it can. Clever twists get set up but are abruptly never followed through.
The actual game itself is fairly simple, you have a
lightsaber beam katana which you use to kill everyone you see. There are a few buttons you can press and occasionally you’ll have to waggle your Wiimote. The fights are made appealing by neat visual touches, like the way you will automatically deflect (some) bullets, the violent finishing moves, and the random superpowers you’ll gain. The controls work very effectively and mechanics are all very simple but intuitive and just plain fun, although the fact that nothing really changes throughout the game makes it a little tiresome after a while.
There are a lots of minigames and sidequests which offer a little variety, although that variety quickly becomes repetitive as well. It really feels like a ten hour game that got stretched to meet the unwritten rule that every game must be twenty hours long.
To summarize No More Heroes: it’s basically a videogame about videogames. It deploys a self aware tongue-in-cheek style somewhere on the line between tribute and parody, but has enough substance that it can stand on its own. Unfortunately it’s a funnier game to talk about than to actually play. Most of the humor is subtle and only apparent after the fact. I imagine all the content was hilarious in Suda 51’s head (“we’ll make the save points toilets! Haha that’ll be great.”) but there are very few actual jokes made in the game. It rarely makes any specific references to other games and primarily concerns itself with general techniques and styles, which makes the whole point seem a little out of focus.
It makes me think of the original Little Shop of Horrors movie which was made as a parody of contemporary B horror movies, but was so similar to them that many viewers were oblivious to the satire and believed it to simply be what it was parodying. The funniest part about this game is how the basic shallow content manages to keep the player amused and immersed for the entire twenty hours. If you play No More Heroes then the joke may be on you.