The best Anime game out there that isn't actually an Anime.
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Unless you're one of those gamers who simply plays the same old rehashes year after year and doesn't truly appreciate the hobby, it's very likely that you've at least heard of No More Heroes. So does the game have what it takes to stand out here in the states, despite the Japanese proving they think Wii is a toy and not a game system?
"If I become number one, will ya do it with me?"
Immediately from the get go, No More Heroes can be described as different, in a good way. If you were one of the few who played Suda 51's previous Nintendo offering, Killer7, you'll know that one of his trademarks is weirdness with style, which NMH has in spades. Delivered in a very anime-esque art style, NMH looks good, even if the graphics could actually be done on Gamecube.
For those of you who do know Killer7, you'll recall that while the gameplay was relatively simple, the plot was insanely complicated, even for story nuts and people to this day still debate over the finer points. Thankfully, NMH's premise is far simpler; anime lover and card collector Travis Touchdown explains it all to you in the space of two minutes. He was broke, got a job assassinating the 11th ranked assassin in the United Assassin Association and plans to climb to the top of the organization, all in the hopes of getting lucky. Though the basic storyline is simple, the cutscenes reveal a subtle commentary about the violence that permeates society. It's there, but you can ignore it if you want.
To help Travis out in his dreams of murder, players are given a beam katana (read: Lightsaber) that Travis apparently won in an eBay auction, and various pro wrestling moves that were learned by watching bootleg tapes (real pro wrestling from Mexico, not the sissy staged stuff we have here). The beam sword attacks by pressing the A button and the melee/wrestling attacks are performed with the B button. If an enemy is dizzy, you can perform a hold. If you're at the end of a combo, you can do a finishing move with the beam katana. Players can also dodge in a similar vein as in Ninja Gaiden, and lock onto an enemy with the Z button like in Zelda. Finally, an element of strategy comes into combat with the ability to change Travis' stance to a low or high one, as enemies may be unguarded on either side. In addition, every finishing move starts a little slot machine at the bottom of the screen and depending on what comes up, you may end up shooting fireballs, turning into a Super Saiyan version of Travis, become incredibly fast, or gain an additional 10,000 dollars. Control quickly becomes second nature in the hands of a pro and I honestly prefer it this way to waggling around the remote like in Red Steel (ugh..).
"I know a lot of gamers don't have much patience!"
So here's the setup. In order to gain entrance to the ten ranked assassins you're trying to off, the UAA requires that you pay an entry fee. Each time you gain a rank, the price goes up for the next fight, and the challenge along with it.
For the most part, fighting these freakish murderers is a ton of fun. From the Samurai girl Shinobu, to the Virtual Boy wearing German scientist Letz Shake (I kid you not), each opponent is different from the last and some may tax you more than you'd think. While the bosses are mostly fun, there are a few problems with the setup, which you don't encounter until about rank five. By this time, some of the bosses are either incredibly easy or are just meant for plot device reasons (ranks five, three and one in particular). While this is somewhat made up, you can't help but think what those bosses would have been like, especially as you had to pay a full entry fee for a cutscene. This is where the game's biggest flaw comes into being.
NMH is touted as an 'open world' game much like Grand Theft Auto, but even if it does do the concept better, the only purpose the 'world' serves is for doing jobs to pay fees and upgrade Travis like an RPG character. Around the town of Santa Destroy there are six key locations; Thunder Ryu's gym, Dr. Naomi's lab, K-Entertainment, the Job center, Area 51, and Beef Head videos. The gym, lab and video store serve as areas in which Travis can be improved; the gym improves his strength, combos and health. The lab allows Travis to buy upgrades for his beam katana. Area 51 lets you buy new clothes & accessories for Travis and the video store gives him four new wrestling moves. For those of us who want the absolute best equipment, NMH delivers so that your fees rarely conflict with upgrades... for the most part. Around the time you get to Rank 3, you'll start to notice that most upgrades are hideously expensive, although this wouldn't be a problem if the way to earn money was better.
In order to earn the fees, Travis takes either part-time jobs or assassination gigs (which are actually gained by doing well at the jobs). The part-time jobs are... well, strange; some don't seem odd, just humiliating like pumping gas, while others like gathering kittens and poisonous scorpions are not only strange but not much fun either. The real money comes from the assassinations, which usually involve killing a set number of enemies under certain conditions. Most of these are simply not worth the money or effort and you'll find yourself doing well-paying jobs over and over, sighing at the monotony.
"Cranberry Chocolate Sundae!"
I am likewise sorry to say that the music in NMH seems underdeveloped. While on Travis' bike, the Schpel Tiger, the same tune loops over and over and after a while it'll surely drive you nuts. As for the on-foot sections, combat constantly cycles remixes of the NMH theme song and though new instruments are used, you'll wonder why they couldn't have just tried a few more tracks.
The voices thankfully do a much better job, and so do the sound effects. To promote the campy atmosphere of the game, voice actors were used for the English translation from the outset and they all fit their characters very well. Travis especially, as he sounds like what would happen if Evil Dead's Ash became an Anime Otaku. What's especially surprising though is that this game hasn't made the ESRB's most wanted list, as frequent cussing and profanity abound in the cutscenes.
The sound effects create an atmosphere that will instantly make any gamers who remember old arcade cabinets like Asteroids enter nostalgic memories. In addition to sound effects taken straight out of Atari 2600 titles, NMH also features completely pixelated power-ups, a top ten score list for assassin rankings and an entire level dedicated to shoot-em-ups. As if this wasn't enough, the combat feels almost exactly like a love letter to Final Fight and Mortal Kombat fans as the paths to bosses contain dozens of identical henchmen to fight with combos, then at the end gallons of blood comes flying out. Again, I'm amazed that this didn't gain the attention of Jack Thompson (maybe he just has a personal vendetta against Rockstar games?).
"Let the bloodshed begin!"
Despite its faults, No More Heroes is still an awesome and addicting title. If you're a person who's been playing since the NES days, or even misses the days of beat em ups like Final Fight, you won't be disappointed by No More Heroes.
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Released on October 21st, 2014
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