Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review - No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise

Heroes' Paradise is an HD port of 2007's No More Heroes, one of the more critically acclaimed games released on the Wii in the system's early days. The PS3 port, released three years after the original, adds new sidejobs, five new boss fights taken from No More Heroes 2, and improved visuals. Like the Wii version, the game supports motion controls, but they're optional here. You don't need a Move controller to play this game, and in fact, it controls a lot better without one.

No More Heroes is a stylish beat-em-up by Grasshopper Manufacture, a company famous for bizarre, style over substance games. I became a fan of the company after finding the PS2 version of their first cult hit, Killer7, in a bargain bin for $10 very shortly after its release. There was a lot of hype in gaming communities over No More Heroes leading up to its release. It was a "Mature" Wii game, it was finally a game that let you control a lightsaber with the Wii Remote, and director Suda51 had a lot of good will coming from Art Game Critics after Killer7. Unfortunately, that didn't help the game sell very well.

The protagonist of the game is Travis Touchdown, an enigma of a man whose personality varies between pro-wrestler, creepy anime goon, and hipster. He buys a lightsaber on Ebay, fights a dude, and begins a journey to becoming the world's best assassin (by killing the other assassins ranked above him) guided by the demented, wonderfully voiced Sylvia Christel. The title's appropriate; Travis is no hero. He's a monster in a world of monsters, but at least he loves cats.
In between stages and boss fights, Travis must make money. You can dig through dumpsters (finding t-shirts that would made Salvation Army fans envious), take on sidejobs, or enter arenas where you'll brawl with low-level enemies for bucks. Unfortunately, you're going to be repeating yourself a lot in order to make enough money to unlock each stage and weapon. There were 10 sidejobs in the Wii version, which included activities like catching neighborhood cats and cleaning up graffiti, and 4 new ones are added to the PS3 release, but they're honestly not a lot of fun.

You'll be redoing jobs and fights over and over and over again to gain money, and to make it even more miserable, you'll be spending a long time driving between jobs/home/fights, turning what should be a 6-8 hour game into a 16 hour one. Is this a commentary on the monotony of every day life? Maybe. Is it boring and horrible, and does it hurt the game? Yes. Very much so.

The PS3 version adds the option to instantly move to a job if you've already completed that one previously, but all this does is lower the repetition from "horribly tedious" to "pretty tedious." The game's setting, a southwestern US town known as Santa Destroy, has a lot of fun signs and businesses that you can never interact with. A good 95% of the town is window dressing. You cannot interact with its NPCs, you can enter almost none of its buildings, and aside from t-shirts and powerup balls (that only take about an hour to find 100% of) there's nothing to explore for. There's a very good reason this was toned down for the sequel.

The boss fights are almost all very fun. The game's balance isn't great; some of the first bosses are the hardest, while some later ones will give you no trouble at all. Still, they're exciting, the characters are generally pretty funny, and the added boss fights from No More Heroes 2 are a really nice bonus for people that have played the Wii version already. Some of the stages are too long, and some environments are repeated as you get towards the end of the game, but the bosses themselves are great.

The visual changes between the Wii and PS3 versions are definitely noticeable in more ways than just the higher resolution. Character models look fantastic, and are far more detailed than before, while still keeping the same aesthetic. The signs and posters around town look great, and there are better textures in stages. That said, the town itself still looks pretty boring, and there's still a lot of anti-aliasing problems on the environments. The music and frame rate will occasionally hiccup while driving your motorcycle around town. I can't recall if this issue was present in the Wii version.

Controls are a frustrating issue. In combat, motion controls are only used for finishing moves, angling your remote to aim your attacks high or low, and for doing special moves. It's well conceived and aside from a couple wrestling move finishers, works perfectly on the Wii. On the PS3's Move controller, it works pretty badly.

To recharge your lightsaber, you need to shake your remote up and down. This works great on the Wii remote, great on a standard PS3 controller, and absolutely horribly on a Move controller. I'm not sure what went wrong here; it's the first game I've played where the Move controller feels this unresponsive. It almost always feels equal or better to a Wii remote, but here, you're going to spend a lot of time with it completely ignoring your movements.

You're going to be at a big disadvantage against the harder enemies if you play using the Move controller. Thankfully, the standard PS3 control pad works fine, and makes dodging attacks and recharging much easier. The only oddity to it is that you have to press the R3 button before moving the stick to perform finishing moves, but you get used to this quickly enough.

Overall, this is a nice port, and it's worth playing if you're a fan of the series. For newcomers, the game might feel really dated. It really has no reason to be as long as it is, and if you're someone who cares about unlocking Trophies you're going to be spending way too much time pumping gas and fighting the same trains full of dudes. This version also has paid downloadable content to unlock new bikes and swords but I'm not sure why you'd want to bother.

It sounds like it's not going to happen, but I'd love to see No More Heroes 2 get the same treatment the original did with this port. More than that, though, I'd love to see Suda51 take a break from his cartoonish mayhem comedies for a little while and get back to the creepy surrealism he produced so perfectly in Killer7. Looking at his current and upcoming output, it doesn't look like that's happening.

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