If there’s one thing I’ve learned about certain creators in the industry, it’s that sometimes the more esoteric and weirder ones in the fold tend to push out some interesting games. Personally, my first foray into the minds of these so-called “weird” creators was through Hideo Kojima. Sure, it’s a cliche thing to say. But you can’t sit here and tell me that games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and the abject insanity of its latter quarter of of run time wasn’t something that confused yet somehow entertained you. Suffice it to say, Kojima feels comfortable being in a weird an offbeat space.
But Goichi Suda (AKA Suda51) and his team over at Grasshopper Manufacture like to occupy a different kind of weird space. If he isn’t telling a story about a bunch of assassins trying to take down a crime syndicate, he’s teaming up with Shinji Mikami to have a leather-clad badass save his girlfriend from Hell with the help of his boner-joke-machine of a talking gun/motorcycle cohort. While he tends to stray away from making sequels for many of these games, he can’t help but have a soft spot for that lovable otaku assassin Travis Touchdown and his shenanigans in the No More Heroes franchise.
Up until recently, Switch owners were only able to goof around with Travis in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. But with the third mainline entry on the horizon, why wouldn’t you go ahead and port the first two games for some portable assassin action? Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture/Marvelous and published by XSEED, No More Heroes was released exclusively for Nintendo Switch and is the version played for this review.
Set in the fictional California town of Santa Destroy, our aspiring uber assassin and otaku Travis Touchdown lives on the low end of things. He spends most of his money on anime figurines, video rentals, and pro wrestling merchandise, and his funds are typically low. However, he lucks into winning a “beam katana” on the internet and accepts an offer from a mysterious femme fatale to neutralize a ranking assassin.
After eliminating the 11th ranked member of the United Assasins Association, he’s informed that killing the remaining ten will supply him with exorbitant riches and the notoriety that comes with it. However, he himself will become a target for other would-be assassins as well during that ascent.
Light as it is, the plot largely covers Travis’ ascent and the interactions he has with the assassins he has vowed to destroy on his way to the top rank in the UAA. Telling a large and interwoven story was clearly not the priority here, but the game does a good enough job keeping things focused for you to want to keep going. Conversations between Travis and his targets are usually chock full of crude and over-the-top dialogue, but aren’t anything that would feel out of place in the bloodiest action movies.
It’s pretty obvious that Travis himself was the focus here, and he really wears that anti-hero hat with pride. He’s unabashedly dedicated to his otaku lifestyle, occasionally a creep to UAA agent Sylvia Christel, has access to many punk-rock duds, and rides around town in his oversized Akira-styled motorcycle. We do get to see a bit of character development from him; it’s nice to see certain aspects of his personality and code of ethics unfold as the game progresses.
Really, the plot is there to accompany the hack-and-slash gameplay. I’ll freely admit that some people really dig those types of stories here, but sometimes developers use it as more of a gameplay framing device. That’s definitely the case here, and I’m alright with that. Half the fun of watching the cutscenes is just taking in the spectacle with some of the ranking fights and the banter between Travis and his opponent.
No More Heroes sets out to match the spectacle and gore seen in the likes of films like Kill Bill Vol. 1, and I feel comfortable saying that that goal was basically achieved. I enjoy myself a little bit of a brainless action movie fluff plot from time to time, and this fits the bill quite nicely. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but going into a game like this and expecting a Death Stranding-tier plot just feels out of place to even think about here.
Keep On Swingin’
While some of the plot can be a little on the light side, the focus was clearly on the gameplay. Thankfully, the engine here is understandable enough to use with traditional controls. Boiled down to its basic form, combat is a mixture of high and low saber attacks, stuns from the same directions, and sword clash events via blocking. Do enough damage to any one enemy, and you’ll get a prompt to unleash a Death Blow attack that’ll gruesomely dispatch that foe and possibly others around them depending on what type you use. Get a successfully lineup in the slots that roll when you unleash a Death Blow, and you’ll be able to use a cadre of overpowered Dark Side Mode states to tear through the opposition.
Using these on top of well-placed dodge rolls feels pretty fluid, if occasionally repetitive. It occasionally gets tiring after a series of waves en route to your target, but the structure and flow of this game tends to have a way of trying not to stay in one place for too long.
Depending on what you prefer, you can toggle between those more traditional controls or the motion controls that were present in the original Wii release. With the former, slash attacks are assigned to the Y/X buttons, and stuns are assigned to the B/A buttons with a high and low stance for both. Death Blow attacks and clash situations are assigned to the right thumbstick, and really only require the proper input.
The latter is more faithful to those Wii-based motion controls. Thinking of the left and right JoyCons as a Wii Remote and Nunchuck setup, slashing and stunning are done by the right JoyCon, while Death Blow and clash attacks use the appropriate motion for each. While I’ve always championed more traditional controls for games like this, the motion controls seem to have lost nothing in translation. Having the choice here at all is a nice touch and is sure to please more on-the-go Switch fans. Regardless of which style you choose, controls overall are competent.
Settling into the game’s routine is simple enough. In order to even enter the UAA rank matches, you gotta have the dough to pay the entry fee. While this isn’t the case for the first fight in the game, you’re going to have to be sure you have enough cash on hand to even think about stepping into the ring for these matches. How does that get accomplished? Considering you’re a perpetually broke asshole, you gotta take any job that you can get your hands on throughout the open world of Santa Destroy.
This is usually accomplished by going for different assassination missions, Free Fight scenarios, and menial odd jobs. Those menial tasks can range from simply collecting coconuts, collecting trash, mowing the lawn, and so on. I will say that the activity itself isn’t all that bad, but that gameplay loop can be a little grating. Hitting up the same odd job multiple times when you have to loop back and forth between accepting the assignment and doing the menial task to even get past the financial post can be a little bit on the annoying side. Depending on your skill set, certain Free Fights can irk you if you don’t strategize and execute fast enough.
You can also use those funds to buff up your attacks in training, grab new duds, get new wrestling videos for new moves in combat, or buy new equipment. Training scenarios generally involve repetitive commands, which makes sense given that it’s basically exercise to buff up your stats. Much of the materials you’ll come across can be swapped out or used in your rinky-dink (yet somewhat spacious) motel room. While Travis’ otaku nature is on full display here, you can at least pet his cat or grab a bite to replenish health. Saving is done by hitting various toilets throughout the city, which just adds to the deliberate crudeness.
Make enough money to stuff into the ATM and you’ll finally be able to travel around and get ready to go to your next target. That pattern involves slashing your way through waves and waves of no-name foes through rooms and hallways of the selected venues throughout Santa Destroy. Sometimes you’ll get events that are location specific (i.e. hitting baseballs with your beam katana), sometimes you just blow past all the guys to get to the rank boss fight.
Boss fights are basically where the game gets to let loose with different tropes and attack patterns. When you’re not tussling with a guy touting a near Buster Sword-sized blade, you’re going toe to toe with a white-afro-sporting samurai girl. Most of these fights are entertaining, and unsurprisingly require more strategy than the regular foes would offer anyway. Sometimes I fall back and think about Cuphead‘s boss-heavy approach, and I feel that a little more effort was put in the fights here than in other methods of combat. They aren’t boring by any stretch, but the amount of effort put in here sticks out.
The Wii was famously (and crudely) referred to at one point as “two GameCubes duct-taped together,” and the graphical discrepancy between it and its more powerful counterparts in that generation are well documented. It’s worth mentioning here, because the art style used here seemed to have those hardware limitations in mind. Regardless, the original version of the game made up for the lack of detail with a copious amount of style and flash. That boat wasn’t rocked here, and the pseudo cartoonish style is as flashy as it was before. Regardless of whether or not you play it docked or on the go, it’s going to look and play just fine.
Aside from the HD upscaling, you’re basically dealing with the original graphical setup seen in the original with the added benefit of a smooth framerate. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering that porting this game to the Switch seemed like a pretty safe bet from a technical standpoint. I hardly ever experienced slowdown going between combat, free-roaming, and so on. Because of that, I hardly ever thought about any real technical hiccups to speak up. There were times I ran into the stray graphical glitch every now and again, but it’s largely solid otherwise.
Music, on the other hand, isn’t as varied as I wish it would have been. What’s here definitely fits the desired punk-ish or chill vibe, and carries an air befitting Travis’ attitude. Though more often than not you’ll find yourself hearing the same tunes pretty frequently throughout your playthrough. The tracks themselves are fine, I just wish that there was a little more variety while I’m out roaming the city or tearing through foes on my way to the ranking match. It’s a little disappointing, but something I can deal with here.
Thankfully, I feel pretty good about the performance from the voice cast. The script they were given was appropriately over the top, and the way they deliver those lines are about as hammy as you’d expect from this kind of writing. Mixing in crude lines, performances commonly scene in B movies, and and a heavy layer of snippy dialogue somehow comes out tasting good. It almost feels like the kind of junk food I know I shouldn’t be eating, but go ahead and chow down on without regret.
Making the Cut
So where does all this leave No More Heroes at the end of the day? Personally, I feel fine with seeing a game like this make its way onto the Switch like the pile of other classic games that came before it. The response it received in its original release was good enough to warrant a sequel, so it should go without saying that what’s here in this game is worthy of your time. While it would have been nice to see some of the content from Heroes Paradise, having the original game available on any modern platform is a welcome addition to the Switch library.
No More Heroes is still a game worth playing in 2020. While it may sport mature content, the attitude throughout is anything but. It’s a game full of flash and fun, and seeing it and Desperate Struggle drop on the Switch before III‘s launch is the perfect excuse to get yourself acquainted with Travis Touchdown for the first time, or all over again.
Years later, it’s still a bloody good romp worth a good slash with the added benefit of portable play. Head on down to Santa Destroy, you’ll leave happy.
Review copy provided by XSEED Games for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of XSEED Games.