If ever there was a game of two halves it's No More Heroes. The first half, one featuring slick, addictive third-person hack and slash combat, is a genuine joy. The second, featuring mundane mini-games you're forced to engage in if you want to progress, almost ruins the whole game. But it doesn't. No More Heroes just about scrapes by despite itself.
What No More Heroes does well, it does very well. Japanese developer Goichi Suda, of Killer7 fame, has served up an action game as stylish and dripping with gaming cool as anything you'll find on the Xbox 360 or the PS3. The town of Santa Destroy, a sparsely populated, frankly boring settlement where the appropriately named Travis Touchdown finds himself climbing the assassin ladder, is covered from head to toe in a high contrast comic book look. If that wasn't enough to get the cool kids hot under the collar, the game constantly references retro gaming - from the electronic beeps and boops of 8-bit music to the pixelated graphics of 20-year-old 2D shooters.
No More Heroes' combat is where the game shines. It's a weird one - it's simple, lacks variety or real skill, and has no right being this fun. It does a wonderful job of incorporating the Wii's motion-sensing controls into the combat without making it a pain in the ass to use. In fact, it's one of the only games on the system that will make you want to swing the Wii Remote and Nunchuck about. You'll do it because killing endless goons with spectacular wrestling moves and screen-splitting Lightsaber - sorry - Beam Katana finishing slices never gets boring, despite the simplicity. It's no Ninja Gaiden for sure. But it's addictive hack and slash nonetheless.
I've mentioned the unique and compelling art style - it really is one of No More Heroes' best attributes. However, in terms of overall graphical quality, the game leaves a lot to be desired. It certainly looks tonnes better in motion than it does in screen shots, but that doesn't hide the fact that much of the city of Santa Destroy is uninspiring to look at. Exceptions include Travis himself, and the various and wonderfully designed "boss" assassins he needs to defeat in order to climb the assassin ladder. Travis' apartment, in the No More Heroes motel, is also somewhat of a graphical showcase, with numerous nods to hardcore gaming splattered about the place. It's just a shame the rest of the game looks like a first-generation GameCube game.
No More Heroes is also the closest Wii owners are going to get to an adult oriented Grand Theft Auto-style game. I've heard swear words in countless games before - in fact, so pervasive is game crudeness these days that it's becoming difficult to notice. But that didn't stop me almost spraying my morning cup of tea all over my expensive HD television when I heard Travis say the word "f$!k". It's refreshing as a Wii owner to have the chance to play a game so obviously geared towards adults. But what's not cool is that the European version has had all the blood removed. Where blood would spray from the necks of dismembered enemies, pixelated black stuff sprays instead. Not only have European Wii owners suffered through delay after delay for the game, watching on as Japanese and American gamers play and post their thoughts online, but they have to suffer a toned down version as well. To coin a phrase from our US gaming cousins - this sucks.
It's also a stupid decision. In a game full of swearing and sexual innuendo - Travis looks like he's enjoying himself a tad too much when he charges up his beam katana - taking the blood out just seems odd. As a gamer I'm offended by the decision - No More Heroes features hyper-real Kill Bill violence - there's nothing gritty or realistic to see here.
Back to the GTA reference - No More Heroes forces you to engage in a number or random and bizarre mini-games so that Travis earns enough cash to take on the main campaign assassin battles. These range from delivering coconuts to a stall owner by beating up palm trees, to mowing lawns. They all involve clever use of the motion controls in some way, but ultimately they're all pretty boring to play and end up feeling like the real-world chores they're supposed to virtually symbolise.
There's a feeling that the mundaneness of No More Heroes' open-world section is a deliberate gameplay design, as if it is one big in-joke. Indeed the game hammers home the point that hard graft leads to prosperity. There are other signs - for example some of the identical goons you'll have to slice through to get to the bosses glide towards Travis rather than run, despite them having fully animated legs. If you fail a mission or a job you won't have the option of retrying it then and there, you'll have to traipse all the way back to K-Entertainment or the Job Centre and go through the process of accepting them all over again. Travis has access to a cyber-punk style motorbike which he can speed about town. Only problem is it handles like a donkey on Diazepam, and often gets stuck in between objects in the open world. Deliberate or not, things like this are just annoying.
Are we to believe that the open world sections of No More Heroes are deliberately bad, like some kind of pop culture reference to gaming itself, and as a result we have to accept it because it's so damn clever? Should it be praised because it is, in some parts, a bad parody of gaming? In my view, a parody, in all forms of entertainment, works only if it's good in its own right, take for example the Scream movies. Simply parodying something for its own sake is not enough. Look at the God-awful Scary Movie films for example. Because of this, No More Heroes is not gaming's savour, as many have proclaimed. It's much simpler - a funky, fun third-person hack and slash marred by some boring open world side-missions. It's no more simple, or complicated, than that.