The No More Heroes series strikes us as being one loads of gamers have heard of, but few have played. Almost the dictionary definition of a cult classic, it launched on Wii in 2009 when the platform was struggling with ‘shovelware’ and a perception of being a console for grandparents.
A lot of gamers (myself included) had turned their back on the Wii by this point, missing out on a game that garnered great reviews. It’s most fortunate, then, that both the original No More Heroes and its 2010 sequel are now on Switch ahead of next year’s third entry.
The first No More Heroes sees Travis Touchdown out to become the number one assassin, killing his way up the ranking boards of The United Assassins Association. To do this, the eccentric lead must raise money to enter fights by completing odd jobs around town, such as collecting coconuts and mowing lawns.
We’ll get to the odd jobs later. First, let’s talk about storytelling. Travis is, to put it mildly, unlikeable. He’s misogynistic, only competing to be number one so that he can sleep with his handler, Sylvia. Unlikeable characters are fine, but the game tends to share Travis’ perspective, ogling its camera over Sylvia’s bra and panties, and generally treating all other female characters (who inevitably fall in love with Travis) like objects. You could argue that there’s a degree of satire in this. No More Heroes revels in nihilistic excess of death and sex, but I don’t think the satire lands.
As for the odd jobs, Travis rides around Santa Destroy – an American town seemingly created by someone who has never stepped foot on American soil – on his massive motorbike while looking out for missions. These are mostly tedious. That’s the point, I think – it’s a parody of games like GTA that involve outrunning the police on the way to a mundane fetch quest. I’m not sure that makes them any more fun here, though.
Assassination missions feature, too. These are much better, revealing that behind the breezy, funny, and janky exterior, NMH has a surprisingly deep combat system. There are high and low attacks and finishing moves activated by Joy-Con swipes or the analogue sticks. There are even stun and grappling systems. This all adds up to chunky, fun combat that makes taking enemies heads off in an explosion of gore very satisfying. If only the enemy death sound wasn’t so excruciating.
All this is just the build-up to the real strength of NMH – the boss battles. Bosses are memorable and full of character. From an operatic killer who resides in a baseball stadium, to an actor who turns into an Ultraman clone. These fights are unique and made even more amusing by the American setting.
The Switch does the ageing duo proud. It’s a mostly solid 30fps (albeit with a few dips in the open-world city) and while you can tell this was a Wii game originally, the visuals have just enough flair in their design to prevent ugliness. Control options are great, too. You can use the Joy-Cons as Wii controller stand-ins or use the Pro Controller – our preferred method. In fact, playing with the Pro Controller feels like the way the game was always meant to be played, even if you can’t move it up and down to mimic the masturbatory gesture to recharge the ‘beam katana’.
Despite its age, No More Heroes is enjoyable. Even though it feels like a typical 15-year-old boy’s dream game come to life, it’s still worthy of an 8/10.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is better in many ways. Most of the original’s faults are rectified – odd jobs are placed by faux arcade games, and everything feels like a step up in terms of production values, with superior and smoother visuals.
Unfortunately, though, it also adds even more sexism (there are parodies of Japanese anime that made us feel very uncomfortable regarding the depiction of minors) and nihilism, this time doubling down on the first game’s fourth-wall-breaking. NMH needed to learn when to exercise restraint, mastering how to play it quiet to make the louder moments hit hard.
Desperate Struggle just dials everything up to 11, with no subtly, and this makes it a weaker (in a 7/10 kinda way) sequel.
If you’ve ever taken a fancy in NMH, these conversions are the best way to experience the series, and I’d highly recommend giving the first game a go. Just beware that their attitudes are as dated as the Wii itself.
No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2 are out now on Switch, priced £17.99 each.