Sunday, January 27, 2008

No More Heroes - Ranked 7th

Why did I get this game? Well the premise is that you play as an American anime nerd named Travis Touchdown who wins a real life light saber on eBay and decides to use it to become the world's best assassin. How can one not want to play that game? Additionally, the game play is supposed to be a mish-mash of Devil May Cry and Grand Theft Auto. All of this is presented in a neat cel-shaded aesthetic.

My overall impression of the game so far is that it's awesome despite having some flaws.

Some of the gameplay works very well. The swordplay mechanics are great. I love slashing at foes, attempting to kill one while avoiding others, and putting together combos of slashes and wrestling moves. The motion controls of the wii remote are very well used in this game. It probably would have been too error prone to attempt to determine whether the player was making a horizontal or vertical strike, so instead the A button slashes and whether it is horizontal or vertical depends on the position of the remote. Additionally, motion controls are used for winning battles of strength, wrestling moves, and finishing blows and they work perfectly for those.

Battles tend to be frenetic and intense - especially when you are taking on multiple thugs at once. You have to strike a balance between finishing off the foe you are attacking and dealing with the other foes surrounding you. After taking down one foe, you often need to immediately dodge out of the way to avoid the blow coming from the guy that ran up next to you while you were fighting. All this slashing, dodging, and waving the controllers around is amplified during boss fights. The boss fights are very well done with each boss having unique attacks and moves that you have to learn in order to defeat them.

Unfortunately, the gameplay mechanics aren't all roses. The camera in this game is pretty bad. You often have to move it as much as you move your character which is nearly always a bad sign. The fact that the camera doesn't move well with you character can absolutely wreck you when fighting a lot of enemies and especially in boss fights.

The game takes place in a fictional California town of Santa Destroy. While the game was compared to Grand Theft Auto in terms of freely roaming the city, this description isn't really apt as there is precious little to do in the city. While there is other traffic and pedestrians you see and can hit while walking around or riding your motorcycle, they never react to you, making the city feel pretty lifeless. Really, I think it is best to think of the city as more of a hub than the open cities of the GTA games. In the city you can go to various shops or take on side missions to make money before going to the fuller levels where you will fight the next ranked assassin.

For a game with such a bizarre premise, it is actually more subtly wacky than I would have thought. The game has a kind of internal logical consistency even if it wouldn't make any sense in the real world. The characters you meet all have bizarre philosophies about life, how to get ahead, and what to do, but they involve things like cleanliness, collecting balls, and using the force while avoiding the garden of madness. The dialogue is similarly just subtly bizarre. Kind of like a cross between David Lynch and Hideo Kojima. Seriously, the conversations you have with the bosses before and after you fight them have a very Metal Gear Solid feel to them. Characters wax philosophical when they should be killing each other and it doesn't really make sense. All this does make the plot a little opaque and hard to pick up. The background for the story was done in two lines and the fight with the 8th ranked assassin contained one or several plot points that made no sense to me.

Besides the poor camera and lifeless city, my other big complaint is how the side missions work. You need to go to one location to get them, then drive to wherever the mission is located, and then if you fail it, go all the way to where you got the job and then back on to the starting locating to try it again. Other minor complaints include odd graphical issues (textures and pop-in) and characters and especially your bike getting stuck on terrain and other obstacles.

Still, the game gets so many details right, that it is easy to overlook the big things it does wrong. Details include:

Travis' apartment being decked out with anime stuff. Posters on the walls, a giant gundam in one corner, toys on the shelves, anime woman pillows, his cat occasionally grabbing onto the fish hanging on his fan, and a tissue box by the tv chair.

The fact that to recharge your light-saber, you make a masturbating motion (and Travis acts like he is doing just that)

Wrestling references (predominantly Mexican wrestling references) peppered throughout the game including trading cards of wrestlers, and a mysterious acquaintance who leaves you notes and helps you remember moves.

Moai statues scattered throughout the city.

The fact that, during the loading scenes you can make the spinning "wait" star bounce and send it flying around.

After you kill each assassin there is a message on your answering machine from the video store about some adult video you ordered or that is overdue.

8-bit style victory screen after you kill an assassin and take their rank.

Customizable outfit of sunglasses, leather jacket, jeans, belt, and t-shirt (all of which can be bought, or for t-shirts, found in dumpsters).

Receiving cell phone calls where the Wii remote vibrates and then the person's voice comes out of the remote.

Dialogue such as "If challenge were a taste, you'd be quite delicious!"

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