In the bizarre California metropolis of Santa Destroy, your trainer encourages you to get naked for your workout, and hired goons bemoan the loss of their spleen when cleaved in two. If you've played any of director SUDA-51's previous games, especially 2005's Killer 7, this kind of irreverent and ironic humor won't come as a shock. What may surprise you, however, is that while No More Heroes brandishes a similarly high-concept story as its love-it-or-hate-it forebear, it features plenty of rewarding, visceral action to complement the intrigue. The eccentricities guarantee that you've never played a game quite like this before--but it's the exciting, blood-spewing combat that will keep you constantly enthralled.
If you need further proof of this game's nuttiness, consider the story. As Travis Touchdown--an action-figure owning, porn-collecting, card-collecting obsessive--you find yourself caught up in the melodrama of a real-life assassination leaderboard. Armed with your trusty beam katana (obviously meant to approximate a Star Wars lightsaber), you slice your way through a dozen killers in your quest to earn the number one rank. Narrowing things down to such a simple description doesn't really do the narrative justice, though, since the absurdity of the premise permeates every aspect of the game--its characters, its references, even its gameplay. The sexy, sophisticated Sylvia taunts Travis with her French accent and feminine curves over and over, only to leave him high and dry; boss characters sing lounge music in baseball fields and attack you with killer shopping carts and prosthetic legs; and you earn side money by mowing lawns and filling gas tanks at the local service station. It's pure insanity, but you won't be able to avert your eyes.
Travis' dry-cleaning bill must be through the roof.
No More Heroes' combat is its shining star, and not enough can be said about its over-the-top, cheerful violence. Armed with your weapon of choice (you can upgrade your katana or purchase new ones, provided you earn enough coinage), you'll take on a decent number of mercenaries on any given mission. You'd think that since you're brandishing a lightsaber, the game would force you to swing the Wii Remote to approximate the experience. Instead, basic combat is on the simple side: You swing your weapon using the A button, and perform hand-to-hand moves using the B button. Remote-waggling is reserved for finishing moves, but it's important to note that every kill is finished with such a move, so there's no shortage of wrist movement here. If you deliver your final blow with your katana, it may be as simple as a flick to the side, while at other times, you can jerk both the Nunchuk and the remote for a theatrical, painful-looking wrestling move. The combination of old-fashioned button-mashing and high-energy yanks and waggles makes for fun, often breathless encounters, and while the same basic movements account for the bulk of the action, it rarely feels repetitive.
Much of this has to do with the exuberance of No More Heroes' brutality. Each enemy spurts seemingly endless showers of blood and coins, so expect to see your screen filled with red streams and golden glitter when you manage a sideswipe through multiple foes at once. It's quite cartoonish, actually: Everything kicks into subtle slow motion when you divide a foe in two, a ring of stars rotates above a stunned enemy's head to the sound of bird chirps, and a small slot machine spins at the bottom of the screen after every finishing move. It's not just for show, though--earn a triple match, and you activate one of your darkside powers. In one case, the entire screen goes gray, and a single button press allows you to attack each foe, one at a time, with a spectacular, stylish thrust. In another, your foes slow to a crawl, allowing you to carve them up with greater ease. These temporary power-ups are awesome to watch and an exhilarating reward for successful combat maneuvers.
There are some subtleties to the combat. When you are locked onto an enemy, you can block attacks and deflect bullets, and use the control pad to dodge. You'll take a higher or lower stance depending on how you hold the remote, may need to stun enemies with a kick before you can damage them, and in some cases, have to defeat them by using alternative means. For example, in several side missions, baseball players clad in Warriors uniforms pitch baseballs at you, and you have to bat them through an entire row to defeat them. You also need to pay attention to how much electricity your katana has, as well as your own health. You can find power-ups to fully recharge your saber, though you can also charge it up by holding the 1 button and shaking the remote up and down (which also results in a pretty lewd-looking act onscreen--and in real life, for that matter). You'll find plenty of health chests scattered about when needed, though apart from boss fights, you'll rarely need them: As fun as the combat is, you won't often find yourself teetering on the verge of death.
The crux of the action is found in No More Heroes' numerous and impressive boss encounters, where you'll use these subtleties to your advantage, though they don't usually present a foreboding challenge until the final few fights. Yet they're still enormously entertaining, thanks to your opponents' melodramatic (and often hysterical) soliloquizing, interesting attacks, and pure wackiness. Holly Summers launches missiles at you from her fake leg, while Stage magician Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii locks you up in the box used for his disappearing act--an attack that kills you instantly if your Nunchuk-flailing skills aren't up to par. Bad karaoke, thinly veiled Star Wars references, and killer hand buzzers are among the many highlights, and just when you think that things couldn't get any stranger--well--you're forced to reevaluate.