When you aren't fighting, you can roam about Santa Destroy on your motorcycle in a free-roaming, Grand Theft Auto-inspired manner. You shouldn't expect the kind of spirited freedom a GTA title provides, though. While there are some traffic and pedestrians, the city is really your key to moving from one mission to the next, and doesn't reward you with any meaningful surprises. That isn't to say there isn't anything to do outside of combat, though. In fact, to stay in top form, you'll need to go out on the town. There, you can make some purely cosmetic purchases, such as some new T-shirts or a spiffy new jacket, though your money is better spent on more impactful upgrades. A trip to the gym, presided over by the creepy Thunder Ryu, will reward you with a few minigames and a stronger body. You can purchase new katanas and upgrades from Doctor Naomi, or videotapes that teach you new wrestling moves from the local rental shop. Once you're done shopping, you can perform more side missions, or head back to your apartment where you can pet your cat, save your game by sitting on the toilet, or try on your new clothes.
The mission structure isn't as fully fleshed out as it could have been. Generally speaking, after each boss fight, you unlock only two new missions, and while you can revisit any mission as many times as you want, many of them are identical, so you may wish for a little more variety--especially when most enemies you face in a mission are the same. Still, there is plenty of diversity to be found. For example, in some missions you may need to slay every enemy without taking a single hit, while others may occur entirely in dark mode, or may allow you to only use wrestling moves. The crazy side jobs that you need to take before unlocking new missions are also nutty enough to keep you fascinated. You'll deliver coconuts that apparently weigh a hundred pounds, wash graffiti off of walls, and scour the beach for hidden mines. They're simple tasks, to be sure, but they use the motion controls well and are just crazy enough to make you wonder what weird job you'll be taking the next time around.
In keeping with the stylish combat and crazy dialogue, No More Heroes' visual design is brimming with strong color choices and benefits from some crisp cel-shading and well-done shadows. Clean textures and exaggerated animations are among the many visual highlights, and some of the kookier boss designs are terrifically insane. There are some graphical issues, however, found mostly in the frame rate, which has a tendency to slow down a bit when you're zooming around on your bike or dicing up a half-dozen foes at once. Nor is the game a technical powerhouse, relying on its powerful art design to carry the load and content to leave its edges jagged. In fact, No More Heroes seems keenly aware of its technical shortcomings: Its minimap and health indicator are pixelated by design, and the menus themselves hearken back to the 8-bit days, as if to embrace the game's focus on style over technical prowess.
It's every Star Wars geek's dream come true.
The sound design is terrific across the board, however. Not only is the off-kilter soundtrack the perfect complement to the ongoing zaniness, but the sound of combat is loud and quirky, down to the bloodcurdling cries of your delimbed opponents and the tinkling flow of coins into your coffers. The remote's speaker is used quite well here, emanating the prototypical groans of your katana to fantastic effect. The speaker is also used to simulate a call on Travis' cell phone, and done so well you will probably hold the remote up to your ear as if it were an actual receiver. The voice acting is pitch-perfect in most cases, down to Sylvia's lugubrious French sarcasm and Travis' immature bloodthirstiness.
A fairly standard play-through will probably net you around 12 hours of gameplay your first time through, though you could blow through it quicker if your goal is simply to get to the end as quickly as possible. But even with the element of surprise removed, the fantastic combat is more than enough reason to revisit No More Heroes. This time, SUDA-51 has delivered a game that can match its absurd premise with equally stimulating gameplay, making for one of the most unique and satisfying action games in recent memory.