No More Heroes is a crazy swordfighting epic from Suda 51, the maker of the unique and compelling Killer7. In the game, you are set up to take out the world's top 10 assassins to prove yourself as the best. We recently had an opportunity to sit down with the game for a couple of hours, play through the first two boss fights, explore our hero's flat and the town of Santa Destroy, and engage in some of the side missions.
Our play session opened with a tutorial on the game's combat system, and this led straight into the first mission--to take out the current 10th-ranked assassin, Death Metal. The combat system is intuitive enough--you move Travis with the Nunchuk's joystick and attack using the Wii Remote. The A button lets you attack with Travis' katana-cum-lightsaber. The height of the attack depends on the orientation of the Wii Remote: If you hold it up, he will attack high, and if you hold it flat, he'll go low. If you keep slashing at your enemy, eventually a finishing move will become possible, which calls for the Wii Remote to be swung rapidly in the direction shown onscreen. A successful swing will see Travis executing the enemy with a slash in said direction, reducing the foe to a cloud of exaggerated black pixels and coins--unless you're playing the US editition, where this stylised "dusting" is replaced with more obvious and visceral fountains of blood.
Each time you perform a finishing move, three slot-machine wheels spin at the bottom of the screen to give you a chance to go into one of four "dark" modes. Each has its own characteristics and bizarre name, which Travis shouts as the mode engages: "Strawberry on the Shortcake," "Blueberry Cheese Brownie," "Cranberry Chocolate Sundae," and "Anarchy in the Galaxy." These modes make combat briefly a breeze. One will slow down time for your opponents, making your sword uberpowerful, and each blow landed will lead to a finishing move that doesn't care about direction. Another will send you into a black-and-white mode that reduces combat to simply pressing the button displayed onscreen to perform an excessively violent one-hit kill. And yet another will let you shoot lethal balls of white fire at all comers.
Your beam katana has limited battery life, however, and it is drained when you fight normally, when you hold down A to concentrate the power for one big attack on multiple enemies, or when you lock swords with an enemy, which happens if you both attack at the same height at the same time. It is recharged when you collect power-ups from crates scattered around the level or when you wave the Wii Remote left and right after pressing the 1 button--though while doing this you can do nothing else and are hence vulnerable to incoming attacks. This doesn't appear to crop up very often, but it does add an interesting edge to break up the run-and-slash combat.
The Wii Remote's trigger is used for melee punch-kick combos that can stun your opponents and is then used to go into wrestling holds once your enemies are dazed--when dazed, your enemies stagger back with stars spinning around their heads in an over-the-top old-school style. Once you have an enemy in a hold, you are then called upon to wave the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in a particular direction to pull off each stage of the throw. The first throw calls for them to be swung upwards at the same time, but the later throws incorporate movement in different directions, sometimes sequentially.
Once you've thrown your foe to the ground, a tap of the A button dusts him with a swift downward blow through the chest. As well as attacking, you have a number of defensive options. Pressing Z locks onto enemies and blocks incoming blows, and the D pad lets you roll out of the way of incoming blows, though in the course of our demo, these were needed only in boss fights and in the most intense combat segments.
After introducing combat in this way, the first level launches you into the mansion of the 10th-ranked assassin, Death Metal, which contains a large number of sharp-suited goons coming at you with swords and guns. You need to eradicate all of the goons in one area of the mansion before the doors open up into the next, but there's not much challenge to the task, since your foes tend to be both easy to find and vocal with their aggression towards you. Scattered around the main sections of the mansion are health-restoring pixelated pizzas, batteries to recharge your beam katana (which saves you from recharging manually), and trading cards. Each mission contains five cards showing the masks of luchadores, which are Mexican wrestlers. Collecting them all unlocks some extra content, though the Rising Star representatives we were playing the game with wouldn't reveal what it was.
Finally, once all the henchmen are dead, you reach the boss fight, which is introduced by way of a telephone call. As you walk down a long hall, the Wii Remote starts vibrating and ringing, and the call is answered as you lift the Wii Remote up--with the sound for the call being piped through the speaker. After a few words of encouragement from the ever-so-slightly mad French woman who sent you on the mission to kill Death Metal, you are presented with the option to go to the bathroom--which lets you save--and the chance to restore your health and katana battery before the fight. In this room, you also obtain your first new wrestling move, via a mask you find on the floor.
The first boss fight is underscored by a rambling, self-doubting, and occasionally funny monologue from Travis as you attack a skull-tattooed psychopath who is wielding what looks to be a giant glowing razorblade. If you defeat him, you end up back in your flat with a big pile of schwag, after a cutscene involving the woman from the phone.
Travis' flat in Santa Destroy provides your base of operations for the game, and it contains everything you could want: a fridge with food to restore your health (with a teasingly unplayable Nintendo 64 next to it), a wardrobe to keep all the clothes you buy and find as you explore, a video player to watch either J-pop videos from Heavenly Star or Mexican wrestling (which will teach you handy melee combat moves), a drawer under your bed where you keep your weapons (and pornography), and even a cat to play with.
On leaving your flat, you are again presented with the same scantily clad French woman, who explains that you need to come up with a sizable entry fee to take on the next boss. She then kicks you in the head and out of her limo as you attempt to place your hand on her thigh after she suggests that you stop complaining about the entry fee and go earn some cash.
Cash is earned through a series of minigames and assassinations. We did one of each, collecting coconuts for a beach vendor by executing melee combos on trees, and taking out the leader of an evil pizza-delivery firm. These missions take place all over Santa Destroy, but luckily you're not limited to moving around on foot--you have a souped-up fat-wheeled bike to zip around town on. The bike is controlled through a Nunchuk-Wii Remote combination. The A button speeds you up, the trigger applies the brakes, and the Z button engages a speed boost, and you can do a wheelie by flicking the Wii Remote up. One nice touch is that if you get too far away from your bike on foot (or if you lose it), you can press the 1 button to have the bike delivered. The game will also reportedly feature races on the bike, but we didn't get a chance to try them this time around.
On top of all this, when wandering around Santa Destroy you can dive into dumpsters to reclaim T-shirts. If you combine the shirts with your original wardrobe and the small selection available in Santa Destroy's alt-clothing emporium, Area 51, you'll end up with more than 100 shirts in your wardrobe. You can also change Travis' shades, jacket, jeans, and belt to get him looking just the way you want. Clothes are also not the only thing to spend money on. You can improve your melee combat at the gym, for a price, and there is a weapon shop where you can obtain new beam katanas and upgrades for old ones. No More Heroes, with its distinctive look, dark humour, and simple but challenging, satisfying visceral gameplay, is shaping up into a game that fans of Suda 51 and Wii owners in general should look forward to next year.