This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews No More Heroes.
"No More Heroes" by The Stranglers plays for a few seconds, before it is cut off by Yahtzee saying, "No, no, that's a bit too obvious."
No More Heroes is a Japanese game based around Jedi lightsaber fighting and starring as the main character a hopeless pop-culture obsessed social reject who spends most of his time whining, getting strung along by women and being a generally unlikeable fuckbend. So at least you can't fault it for understanding its audience (predictable joke). The game is brought to us by Suda51, the 51st result of an illegal Japanese cloning experiment to create the world's most auteur game designer, Sudas 1 through 50 having perished after their minds failed to absorb the necessary level of pretentiousness.
His last game was killer7, and let's get one thing straight: I fucking loved killer7. There we were, living our grey predictable lives, playing our grey predictable games, when along came killer7 in a technicolor dreamcoat, leaving slightly perplexed joy in the wake of its huge motorbike, showing exactly what could be done when you flaunt* all established convention and just start exploring what can really be done with gaming as an art form. I still don't know how to classify it - puzzle action-adventure rail shooter? Well whatever it was, it was a preciously unique amusing cartoon whale in an ocean of second-hand bong water. Now we have No More Heroes, a Grand Theft Auto clone. "Shine on you crazy diamond", said Yahtzee, his voice thick like sarcastic Marmite.
Well, that's a bit uncalled for. The experience is still as off the beaten track as I've come to expect. You play Travis Touchdown, the aforementioned speccy narcissistic weirdo characterised just a little bit uncomfortably close to home, who buys a lightsaber and vows to become the greatest assassin in the world. You know how it is - when you buy a barbecue, you throw a lot of parties for a while to fool yourself into thinking it wasn't a waste of money. To achieve his aim, he has to slice his way through ten colourful boss characters in a trippy, ultraviolent, Yellow Submarine-esque odyssey through social satire in between riding his bike, playing with his kitten, and buying trendy clothes in an optional side-quest to look as much like an absolute bellend as possible.
The open world aspect is illusion, the game is essentially linear, not that there's anything wrong with that. There is, however, something wrong with repetition. After you kill a ranked assassin, you go out into the city to grind yourself retarded. To proceed, you have to cough up a sum roughly equivalent to the street value of three human lungs, so first you take a low-paying part-time job which unlocks some higher paying assassination sub-missions, there being a lot of overlap in the industries of litter-picking and professional murder. Next, you're dropped into a room with 50 of the same mouthy big girls' blouses you find absolutely bloody everywhere and get handed a big bag of money once they're all raining down upon the landscape in a million overconfident bits.
Funnily enough, my favourite part of the "between mission" rigmarole is the menial part-time job at the start. Each time, there's a different clever little minigame that tries to make the most of the Wii controls. If they were higher-paying, I'd probably have chucked in the assassination gigs altogether, which can be summed up as, "mash A until bored, then mash B for a bit instead". Actually, the swordfighting is pretty fun, as it had fucking better be, considering the amount of it we have to do, but there's one aspect of it that makes we want to slap Suda51 until his eyeballs switch places, and that's the fact that after killing an enemy, Travis has a random chance of screaming out the name of one of his favourite puddings and gaining superpowers for a bit. And when you put random chance into combat mechanics, all strategy has been thrown out of the window, then scraped off the ground and used to pick up the broken glass. And then Sod's law ensures that the enemy who finally gives you a superpower will inevitably be the last one in the room, leaving Travis running around with glowing Dragonball Z hair for ten seconds seriously menacing the walls.
The actual gameplay of the ranking boss fights usually boils down to, "wait for them to attack, block or dodge it, then bitchslap them a few times while they scratch their heads like silly chimps". But the awkward thing about No More Heroes, or at least about reviewing it, is that like killer7, it's intended to be satirical, and when there are problems with the gameplay, I'm worried that it was intended to be that way as a satire of...I dunno, pretentious video games. And if I were to call it out on that, then I'd lose my credibility with the cool alternative crowd. But then I remember that any game designer who sacrifices fun to make an artistic statement is obviously stuck so far up his own arse that he's in danger of choking on his own head.
Enough ragging, because in spite of the last eight paragraphs of petulant bird-like warbling, I enjoyed No More Heroes a lot. The unpredictable story and quirky aesthetic kept me fascinated enough to keep ploughing through it just to see what happened next. So I'll say the same thing about No More Heroes that I say about killer7 and Earthbound and Branston Pickle: as flawed as it is, get it anyway because you will never experience anything else like it. God knows what would happen if you spread Branston Pickle onto No More Heroes. Possibly the universe would end. And it would be awesome.
* Yahtzee says "flaunt", when correct English would be "flout" - to openly ignore a rule, law, or convention; to treat accepted rules or traditions with contempt
- Steadfastly refuses to use the world 'otaku': Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- You can make your own liquid pretentiousness at home by burning Limp Bizkit merchandise until Limp Bizkit start crying, then mixing their tears with the ashes
- Fuck baby seals