A Wii classic finds some new life on Nintendo Switch.
This review will tackle the port of the original No More Heroes in terms of how the new release plays on Switch and how the game has held up from the perspective of a longtime fan. For a review that tackles the content and mechanics in greater depth, check out Jonny’s review of the original Wii release.
When No More Heroes released on Wii in January 2008, I was 13 years old. I was in love from the second I started playing it to the moment I finished, and to this day, I’ve called No More Heroes (and especially its sequel) among the best action games of all time. The ultraviolence, the combat, the boss fights, and the over-the-top sense of humor and style, for me, could only be described by a chef’s kiss.
In the years since, the incredible sequel came out as well as the (in my opinion) disappointing spin-off Travis Strikes Again, and when I met Director Goichi Suda (AKA Suda51) at two PAX Easts over the years, I asked him (to no satisfying answer) when a third mainline No More Heroes would come out.
Well, No More Heroes III is coming out next year, and alongside an excellent trailer that came out last week, ports for the first two No More Heroes games were both announced and released on the Nintendo Switch eShop. As excited as I was (and even though I bought both the morning they went up for sale), I was a little worried. I had not played the original No More Heroes for over a decade. How would the passage of time treat one of my darlings? Would the re-release even be good?
The answers to those two questions are “mostly well” and “YES.”
No More Heroes is still a game where you, the otaku/wrestling fan/assassin Travis Touchdown, goes on a mission to become the top-ranking assassin in the United Assassins Association after winning a beam katana in an auction. Starting at #11, the game tasks you with murdering the top 10 assassins in the UAA, all found in Santa Destroy, California. These boss fights take center stage in the game, and are all generally action-packed, badass, extremely bloody, and ridiculous. One such fight is against Shinobu, an 18-year-old high-school student who is a master with the katana; another is against Dr. Peace, a corrupt detective, gunslinger, and karaoke enthusiast.
These fights (and the levels leading up to each fight) facilitate the game’s third-person action combat where you hack-and-slash your way through enemies, creating outrageous amounts of blood in the process. There are also some deeper elements to the combat, like wrestling moves and a slot machine activated upon a successful Death Blow (i.e. kill move) that can grant you various awesome power-ups. Also, you famously charge your beam katana by shaking it up and down in a rather suggestive way.
The combat side of the game holds up beautifully. The over-the-top violence and fun combat are exactly as I remember them. While it is generally simple compared to many of the Platinum games released in the years since, and even lacks the depth of, say, Yakuza, I still had a blast with the boss fights and general combat.
In the original game, much of the combat was controlled by waggle via the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. While you can use the Joy-Cons like Wii controllers in the new release, there is now a range of control options, from the Joy-Con-as-Wii-Remote method all the way to a no-motion-control, all-button method in handheld mode. I played the new release of No More Heroes, from start to finish, in handheld mode without being asked to use motion controls once. I loved it, and I never want to go back to the waggle method. Attacks are mapped to the face buttons with high and low options, and forced waggle (like charging your beam katana, Death Blows, and wrestling moves) are mapped to the right and sometimes left sticks. The game is far easier to control this way, and while I was a skeptic, I am now a believer.
Outside of ranking matches, you’re put in an open world tasked with raising money to pay a fee for the next fight. You raise this money through silly part-time job minigames like mowing lawns, collecting stray cats, and picking up scorpions, as well as assassination missions where you earn big bucks completing challenges by killing different enemy types in different contexts. In the open world, you can also train to get stronger, buy new katanas and clothes, and do a few other things.
While I appreciate the effort in making No More Heroes into an open-world game and enjoy riding around on Travis Touchdown’s motorcycle, the open world is generally pointless, unnecessary, and requires a lot of needless driving from place to place that does little other than waste time. Also, while the side missions are fun, the mini-games (while funny and weird) play poorly and are, on average, not very fun. However, I’m pretty sure this is less a product of age and more how the game has always been. I remember the mini-games and open world being something I had to deal with to get to the fun part more than something I actually loved. In retrospect, it might actually be a good thing that No More Heroes 2 took the open world out of the game.
As for the writing and story, my thoughts are a little more mixed. While the game (and its story) is still ridiculous, stylish, and silly in all of the best ways, the game’s edge and violence are no longer as pronounced as they were to me in 2008. For example, as bloody as the game is, most of the game’s gore consists of cartoonishly sprayed blood and sliced up bodies/limbs without visible organs or bones generally, and the vulgarity doesn’t really go past a soft R-rating by today’s standards. This is neither a good nor bad thing—it just surprised me how muted my response to this game’s shock factor was this time around. Also worth noting, one or two of the sexual gags go into slight “yikes” territory by today’s standards. For example, in one early scene, Travis approaches Sylvia with the intent of feeling her up without her suggesting consent or even explicitly noticing at first. He ultimately gets kneed in the face for it and does not succeed, but it was still uncomfortable to watch.
Independent of how the game holds up, the porting job is excellent. It runs great (even on handheld), and it looks way better than it ever did on Wii. And again, I can’t say this enough, if you want to play the game without any motion controls, rest assured that the transition to button-only play was impeccable. While the Wii has the original control scheme and the controller speaker that can play Sylvia’s pre-match phone calls (they’re in-game in this version), I truly believe that Nintendo Switch is the best place to enjoy this game (even factoring in the PlayStation 3 port with extra content) if only due to the ability to play this game smoothly and on the go.
My 10-12 hour tour of Santa Destroy was a welcome one, as I got to re-experience a beloved game from my past with better visuals and a new, more enjoyable control scheme. For the most part, the game has aged quite well. The combat, gore, and boss fights remain a delight, and even while my issues with the less-good stuff—the time-wasting open world and the mini-games—have become more pronounced with over a decade removed from the classic, I still love this thing. No More Heroes is filled to the brim with style, and the Nintendo Switch version is a fine place to experience it for the first, or second, or tenth time.