The backwards order in which I decided to review the first No More Heroes and its sequel has given me a unique take on the two re-released titles. Here were two games I thought I had a solid opinion on, the original game that laid the groundworks and the second that did it better with more kinetic action and a much tighter adventure. I’d played through the first one years ago when I was much younger, so it was only really the second game that I needed to form a “new opinion on”, and once I’d finished that one I was almost certain how I’d end up feeling about the original. Something spurred me on to do a full playthrough of this port and have a new perspective many years on from the Wii release I had growing up.
A funny thing happened when I finished No More Heroes. I ended up liking it a hell of a lot more than the second game, a title that I thoroughly enjoyed, and it arguably does a lot more than what I had previously considered an improvement. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is great, but the original No More Heroes is a gem.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what makes No More Heroes so great, let’s discuss the Switch port. Just like No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, this is easily the best way to play the game thanks to its steady framerate, with the option for no motion controls being a massive plus for the gamers who don’t want to swing their controllers around. I found basically no issues throughout my playthrough, and I’d argue its status as the first fully uncensored and widely available version of the game, it’s completely worth it for those improvements alone. This is easily the best looking, sounding and feeling version of the game out there.
No More Heroes has you playing as 27-year-old Otaku-assassin, Travis Touchdown, as he tries to make his way to the top of the UAA in order to become the number one assassin and do uh… other less unsavoury things. The story is a lot of fun and features some really interesting character archetypes that spout off philosophy before every fight. Travis is much more rounded in this game and feels like a much more unique character than the genuinely-cool protagonist he ends up being. Although I really enjoyed the faster-paced antics of the second game, there are a lot more interesting theming and moments here that really stuck with me.
The earliest example I can think of that really made me think twice about how I’d previously considered No More Heroes is during the first boss fight. As you’re taking on the 10th assassin, Travis is monologuing in his head about how he views the situation he’s in and his fears and hopes for the future and it’s a genuinely incredible scene that only happens in that one battle. Listening closer to that made me realise that the first No More Heroes is much less about awesome assassins and blood pouring out of enemies, it was actually about the glorification of violence and the path that it leads Travis down, along with a commentary on nerd and working culture. Travis isn’t an assassin in this moment and it really shows his true character that you then see glimpses of throughout the game. Comparing this to the one-liners and angst of the second game and there’s just a much more personal vibe to the first that once I noticed I couldn’t stop thinking about.
Of course, if you just want to view it as a wacky adventure with awesome gameplay and a great style, you can also definitely do that but I think there’s really something to be said about digging deeper with this one. Looking at it like this also helps excuse, or at least explain, some of the gameplay flaws that I had initially hated during my first playthrough many years ago.
Most of No More Heroes has you running through some basic levels with hack-and-slash combat that still holds up well today. It’s pretty simple, but the mix of different beam katanas and wrestling moves means there’s a lot of fun to be had. These levels culminate in a boss battle against the ranked assassin, and these are really the highlight of the experience. Each battle comes with some awesome cutscenes that show the cruel reality of what life will be like for Travis if he goes down this path and the gameplay mechanics feel like they’re at their best in these fights.
One gripe I had with the battle system is that the random power-ups you can get can, more often than not, get in the way of actually playing. Having to wait twenty seconds for the projectile power-up to go away so I could interact with something was genuinely annoying and something that could be worked out with a cancel button.
When you aren’t going up against hundreds of thugs with guns and swords, you’re going to be in the open-world environment and that’s easily one of the most divisive parts of the game. To earn the money needed to participate in the fights, Travis has to take on odd-jobs like coconut collecting and filling up cars at a gas station which essentially act as minigames. Between every fight you’ll unlock a new side-job as well as some side assassination gigs, and you’ll need to be completing almost all of them in order to afford the ranked battles and even more so if you buy the extra weapons and training. When I first played No More Heroes, I didn’t really get why this part of the game was included and mostly just wanted the action, which I guess was very in-line with how Travis probably feels. Seeing Travis ride around on his massive motorcycle, beam katana at his side ready to take on the next assassin and yet having to go fill up people’s cars to make ends meet is the entire point. You can’t have these glitzy boss battles without a little bit of build-up and preparation, and you have to do the same thing as Travis does and earn your way into these fights.
All of this grinding also results in No More Heroes being about twice as long as the second game, which I’d argue isn’t really a positive or negative. I enjoyed the brisk pace of the second, but I also felt like this first title made a much bigger impact with the lengthened run-time.
If you don’t get that, or you simply don’t think it’s a good excuse for having to grind mini-games before actually completing stages then I think that’s a viable argument as well and even one that I previously shared before giving the game another go. Once you’ve realised the flow of the game, you almost start to appreciate the down-time and plan for it. It’s a really weird choice that I think pays off in the end, even if it can feel a little repetitive by the end whether purposeful or not.
If you can look past that repetition and see it for what Suda intended, then No More Heroes is going to be one of the most memorable games you play on the Nintendo Switch. If it’s your first time then it’s a fantastically unique game that you’ll probably enjoy whether you look deeply into it or not, and if you’re replaying it then this is unarguably the best format there has ever been to do so.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by XSEED Games