TGS '07: No More Heroes Hands-On
Stylized visuals. Assassins with laser-firing crotches. Yep, it's a Suda 51 game. We try out this unique Wii action game.
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No More Heroes is the highly anticipated Wii game from developer Grasshopper that's been turning heads since the quirky trailers for it first started hitting. Part of that attention has been due to interest in what developer Goichi Suda, aka Suda 51, has been working on next after the very cool Killer 7. However, the other part of the attention is due to the fact that the game looks incredibly cool. After months of seeing trailers and semiregular asset updates, we finally got the chance to try out the quirky new game, which is shaping up to be a fun, goofy, and inventive Wii action game.
The game demo, specially created for TGS, kicks off with the game's "hero" Travis Touchdown getting up off a toilet and setting out to kick some butt. Although this may sound heroic, it's actually not. Rather than heading out to stomp folks for altruistic reasons, Travis is just looking out for himself. The budding pugilist is basically killing his way to the top in order to become the top-rated assassin in the world.
The playable TGS demo offered a glimpse of Travis' journey to the top. In this demo, he fights his way to the 10th-ranked assassin, Destroyman, and takes him out. The level was basically broken up into two chunks: the run through the movie lot where Destroyman spends his time, and then the final battle with him. The jaunt through the lot threw a lot of grunts at Travis and helped to familiarize us with the game's controls and fighting mechanics. During the run, there were crates to be broken and items to be collected-- mostly health-restorative items in the shape of pixelated pizzas. Once we moved Travis far enough into the level, he got a cell-phone call, which piped in through the Wii Remote's speaker surprisingly clearly. The woman on the other end of the line sounded like she was calling from Crazytown, given that she didn't make a ton of sense, but she was certainly good-natured about letting Travis know he was going to die. Once the call was over, Travis ran in to chat with Destroyman, who was in his "alter ego" as an ordinary mailman. Travis' exchange with him leading up to the fight was goofy and also pretty funny. Once Destroyman changed into his costume, the fight and the lunacy began. To the best of our knowledge, this was likely the first boss fight we've ever had that featured an enemy who shot lasers from his crotch, which walks that fine line between awesome and disturbing.
Control in the game is a highlight of the experience, thanks to a very smart use of the Wii controller as well as a combo system tailor-made to show it off. You'll move Travis with the Nunchuk and use the C button to reset the camera behind you. When held down, the Z button locks on to your enemy, and it also automatically blocks if you're not attacking. You'll use the remote to attack by pressing the A and B buttons to punch and kick. You'll be able to perform powerful charge attacks by holding down either button for a bit. The remote's D pad will let you dodge attacks by pressing up, down, left, or right if you're locked on to an enemy, which works well. The B button will also let you initiate powerful multipart wrestling moves that will require you to follow onscreen prompts to wave the remote and Nunchuk in specific directions. The interesting wrinkle to your attack is that Travis' attack level is determined by the height at which you hold the Nunchuk and remote. Holding the controllers rather high causes all your attacks to land from around the chest up, whereas holding them a bit lower directs your attacks to the chest and below. This becomes an important element during battle when enemies start to block your attacks, and was also useful, in the case of the demo, during the boss fight. From what we figured out, if you can match the height of an incoming projectile from Destroyman and time your attack properly, you can actually bat it back at him.
Finally, due to the somewhat budget nature of Travis' lightsaber-like energy katana, you'll find yourself holding down the 1 button on the controller and shaking it left and right to build up its charge. The whole scheme works incredibly well and is very satisfying. There's a very nice, visceral feel during the moments when you're prompted to wave the remote and Nunchuk. Although our first inclination was to wave the remote like a fool to attack (thanks to the plethora of Wii games that have required such things), what we dig the most is that saving that sort of action for finishers and wrestling moves keeps the action from feeling too repetitive--for the demo, at least. We'll see how this holds up in the final game, but we're hopeful because it's all so fun.
The visuals in the game are an eye-catching blend of cool art direction and solid tech that gives the game a funky look that suits the lunacy to a tee. The game's look is a variation on the art style seen in Killer 7, but with far more detail and some very cool flourishes. The level we saw was basically a soundstage and its surrounding area, so there wasn't a ton of room for incredible amounts of artistic flair. That said, there was a lot of funkiness folded in to liven things up. Enemies ranged from standard thugs to guys with bags over their heads. Destroyman was as goofy-looking as you'd expect, which matched his persona. Travis looked pretty cool and featured a good amount of detail on his clothing. Animation was a bit sketchy, but the game is still in development. One minor element we were taken with was the dot matrix-y look of Travis' health (in the form of a heart) and of the icons that pop up around the world to direct you. Along the same lines, enemies explode in a flurry of chunky pixels when you administer the finishing blow (a bit like the way vampires are "dusted" in Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
The audio in No More Heroes is an inspired and slightly loony mix of elements that fit together very nicely. The game's music is solid and helps lend some urgency and energy to the action. The voice work, which is actually in English, is very over the top and a bit cheesy, but given the game's look and premise, it works. The other effects, such as collisions from punches and the like, are very satisfying and have a nice kick to them.
Based on what we played, No More Heroes is shaping up to be a tight Wii action game. The game is fun and manages to effectively combine its eccentricity and goofiness with a solid play system. We're very pleased with how the game is blending those two elements together. If you're a fan of Suda 51 or are just looking for something cool and new for your Wii, you should keep an eye out for No More Heroes when it ships this winter in the US.