Let’s look back to the past for a minute. Back to 2006, when the Wii was still considered a “fad” and the best core third-party game we had on the system was Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition. Back when EA wasn’t prepping a Boom Blox sequel and a Wii version of Dead Space. Back when MadWorld and The Conduit didn’t exist. Developers refused to take risks on the Wii and instead of good games that took advantage of the console’s radically new input device, what we received were buggy PS2 ports and a wider variety of shovelware than we cared for.
It was a depressing situation to say the least, and one that the enthusiast press didn’t do much to help by constantly ripping on the Wii’s hardware, which was weaker than that of its competitors.
Then, along came Project Heroes from Suda 51 with its shining armour and fine words. The debut trailer for the game showed off an enigmatic pair – Helter Skelter and Travis Touchdown – facing off in duel to the death on a dark rooftop against a gorgeous sunrise backdrop. The trailer never made it very clear as to who these two were or what the mysterious woman – Sylvia’s – role in game was.
Following a quick name change, details regarding the game started to become clearer over the next year. For one, it was now titled “No More Heroes.” The game revolved around Travis Touchdown, an otaku living in the town of Santa Destroy, who had managed to eBay a lightsaber (WTF?) and defeat the 11th ranked assassin of the United Assassins Association with it. This allowed him to move further up the ranks of the association by taking on more fights until he was Rank #1, and Travis had set out to accomplish just that. Villains ranged from a postman with a sinister supervillain alter-ego to Holly Summers, a woman with a prosthetic leg that hid a rocket launcher.
Needless to say, most were quite taken aback by the game’s unique setting and didn’t know what to make of it. However, those who were familiar with Suda’s work – Killer7 especially – welcomed the chance to dive into another of his crazy worlds.
In a Western market where high-definition FPSes and online multiplayer reigned supreme, No More Heroes dared to be different and gave us what no other game could: a completely intentional and hilarious mockery of the medium and its fans with humour and in-jokes custom made for our kind. Riddled with pop-culture references and stereotypes that only we’d get, at the heart of No More Heroes was something a lot of us felt was missing from videogames: Pride. Pride in the medium. Pride in its history. And most of all, pride in its influence because NMH signaled the start of “core” third-party Wii support after its release.
To me, No More Heroes will always be the starting point for the improving third-party situation on Wii. Naturally, other developers were planning games for the system by the time NMH was announced, but at a time when other companies were begrudgingly admitting that they “might have” miscalculated the Wii’s success and would “test the waters,” Grasshopper Manufacture was blowing its horn loud and clear and signaling to Wii owners that they could count on their game to provide an experience that couldn’t be replicated on another console.
When the game finally released, it was almost everything that I had hoped it would be. The humour…the Star Wars references…the scene with Travis stroking the anime poster on his wall exclaiming, “Moe!!!” It was another of those cases where you felt like someone had made a game just for you. Thanks to its unique premise and word of mouth, No More Heroes quickly became a fan-favourite and even went on to sell a decent number of units.
Months later, Marvelous teased that they were going to announce a game “the whole world was waiting for” at TGS. While I’m sure a lot of us secretly hoped it was NMH2, we tried hard not to get our hopes up. We had no idea if the first game had done well enough to warrant a sequel and at the time, Suda-san seemed very excited at the prospect of developing his new horror game with EA as a partner.
Naturally, I nearly cried with joy the day No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle was announced. Not just because Grasshopper Manufacture was making another NMH game, but also because this meant that they could potentially address every single issue present in the first game and give us more of what we all loved about it, making Desperate Struggle one of those cases where a sequel actually improves upon what made the original fun in a meaningful way.
While I’m fairly certain Grasshopper knows exactly how to go about developing the sequel, I couldn’t resist the desire to post my thoughts on the series and where I’d like to see it go. Partly because I love NMH so much, and partly because I’d love to see it get a little more exposure. Keep in mind that this isn’t a review of NMH, and neither is it a knock against Grasshopper’s work. Just a few things I find myself thinking about whenever I enter a No More Heroes discussion. It’s also very subjective, so feel free to pitch in with your own thoughts in the comments.
More Cultural Stereotypes: We’ve already covered the French with Sylvia.
How about the Chinese next?
I’d love to see a part of Santa Destroy resembling Chinatown with an underground clan of Chinese assassins who give you crazy side missions like kidnapping an important political figure’s daughter or hunting down a traitor to the organization. Of course, we’d need something akin to the hilarious voice-acting from the original Tenchu on PS1 to top it off. Maybe they could even throw in a couple Ninja Turtles references. This would provide an awesome backdrop for taking on sidequests (thus eliminating the boredom that eventually arose from carrying coconuts all over the place) and also cater to the game’s sense of humour.
Better Combat: Suda-san has already expressed an interest in using Wii MotionPlus for Desperate Struggle and I really hope he goes through with it. I’d love to see a non-Star Wars-related game make use of the device for a satisfying dueling experience, and NMH seems perfectly suited to do it. While the bosses in the first game where a blast to take on, the swordfights against the generic baddies tended to get a little repetitive at times, so it would be great to see a wider variety of enemies and have more moves at your disposal (Shinobu’s “sonic sword” is a good example).
Mapping the A button to quick katana slashes and mapping B along with swipes of the Wii remote to pull off the more powerful moves might work out as far as a control scheme is concerned. Combining the two could allow for a great combo system and the B-swipe moves could be used to deflect bullets as well. Allowing players to deflect bullets themselves would probably feel very satisfying. This could be achieved either via bullet time or – better yet – slowing just the bullets down a tad so you can see them coming. I would also suggest generous use of the rumble in the Wii remote for duels as a substitute for force feedback. This leaves us with the wrestling maneuvers, which could be in the form of quick-time-events that are triggered upon getting close enough to an enemy.
The Story: While developing The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan said one of the primary themes of the sequel was one of escalation. This essentially boiled down to Batman having to deal with a far more dangerous adversary than he did in Batman Begins – one that actually arose in response to the Batman’s existence – and also the fact that just about everything in the sequel was “bigger and better” than in the first movie and explored on a deeper level.
Suda-san has voiced similar sentiments about his own sequel. His comments on how Travis is now “serious about fighting” and is “fighting for revenge” would seem to indicate that he intends to evolve the character beyond just the chauvinistic, sex-deprived otaku (not that there’s anything wrong with that) he was in the first game.
Now, I’m sure there’s a lot of ideas floating around in peoples’ heads about how NMH and Travis should evolve, but personally, when I think of “escalation” with regard to No More Heroes’s world, what comes to mind is, surprisingly, Killer7. There’s been no indication of whether or not Killer7 and No More Heroes are related in any way at all, but I would love to see some sort of connection between the two being explored. The world of Killer7 is crazy enough to be part of a No More Heroes game, and going up against Heaven Smile would be awesome. Heck, maybe you could even run into Harman Smith. It would also provide some great fanservice for us Grasshopper fans and at the same time, tie two of Suda’s games together very neatly.
The Look: Let’s face it. As charming as No More Heroes was, the artwork left a lot to be desired.
Santa Destroy, which was depicted as a happening, colourful city filled with neon lights and orange skies in the announcement trailer was actually quite barren ingame, with very little to see. Colours were washed out; there were generous amounts of grey and brown everywhere, and save for the few trees and landmarks that broke up the monotony; the entire city felt quite unpolished.
On the other hand, while the characters themselves were quite colourful, a lot of the finer details in the textures were apparently lost due to the hard-edged cel-shading filter the game engine used. Don’t get me wrong…No More Heroes was meant to be a gritty game. A perfect balance of the depressingly pessimistic and the utterly fantastical. Just…it would have been nice to see a little more colour and detail everywhere, and if the image below – from a couple fans importing the NMH characters into Gary’s mod and stripping them of the cel-shading – is any indicator, the same cel-shader we all know and love so much might actually have gotten in the way of that. Perhaps a slight toning down of the cel-shading effect is in order?
Grasshopper need only look to the Project Heroes trailer for inspiration. That first trailer did a terrific job of blending hot and cold colours together and creating the look that got so many of us excited for the game. While I understand that the Wii isn’t a powerhouse when compared to the high-def consoles, it would be amazing to see something close to that trailer realized in realtime with some of those amazing lighting effects.
Much to the delight of its fans, Suda has already committed to addressing the majority of the issues that were present in the first game…the lack of activity in the open world, the graphics, the lack of blood in the PAL version of the game. It takes real conviction to admit that there were faults in the game that needed to be fixed, and it’s great to see that Suda and Grasshopper aren’t above looking out for fan feedback while developing Desperate Struggle.
Best of luck, guys…although, you probably don’t need it. We’re buying your game either way. Oh, and Ubisoft? If you’re publishing this game, try giving it a decent marketing push, would you?
Images courtesy of Marvelous and MrWhiteFolks.