Eh, I’m not convinced by this HD remaster of hack-and-slasher No More Heroes. This is as barebones a port as you can get, really. And even if you can get past that, I’m not sure the game holds up 14 years later, on a new platform and with a new control scheme. Unless you’re powered entirely by nostalgia, I’d say it’s a middling time.
In No More Heroes, you play as Travis Touchdown, this anime-obsessed porn junkie who wields a lightsaber and speaks exclusively in one-liners. Your mission is to climb the ten ranks within an assassins organisation and become the number one killer by murdering your way to the top. I’m not clear on a more specific motive – there’s a highlight reel at the start which I think was meant to explain what’s going on, but it zipped over my head. All I truly understand is that Travis is desperate to shag Sylvia, the person that guides him to each target.
No More Heroes follows a set rhythm. The game is split into ten boss fights, and to take on each assassin you’ll need to pay an entry fee. To earn money you ride around the game’s open world on your bike, taking on menial tasks as well as combat challenges. Once you’ve earned enough, you cash it in, take on a boss, then repeat the process.
These menial tasks really are menial, by the way. Some of them are oddly satisfying, like mowing a lawn, with more money awarded the more grass you’ve cut. But many are downright dull: you run up to trash and press A to pick it up, or you shake trees to pick up coconuts and deliver them to a counter. Yakuza games do these kinds of mundane tasks so much better by transforming them into wacky mini-games. Perhaps here they’re meant to be ironically boring and therefore funny, but I just thought some of them were a literal waste of time.
The assassination missions, though? Not as bad. They task you with killing enemies in a time limit, or taking out a special target amidst a gang of bodyguards. They don’t feel as tedious, but the combat does get old pretty fast.
Now, one thing that doesn’t get old for me are dick jokes. The original No More Heroes launched in 2007 for the Nintendo Wii, a time when dick jokes were clearly at their peak. Knobs, peen, Johnson – if you said any of them out loud? Funny. But the motion of buffing the baloney with a Wii remote was outright hilarious.
I’d crease up in 2007 if Travis Touchdown did a dick joke on screen as I ferociously waggled my controller up and down. But cut to me in 2021, stony-faced with an Xbox controller in my hand, moving the right stick up and down. Without motion controls, not only is the magic lost, but so is the fear of your parents walking in and having to explain that the jerking motion is to charge your laser sword, look! Honest!
This sentiment extends to combat in No More Heroes, something that you’ll be doing a great deal of. It’s simple hack-and-slash stuff. Lock onto an enemy and they’ll either guard high or low, so you’ll need to choose a basic attack that’ll sneak under or above their stance with a quick mash of the right buttons. You’ll then string together a combo, reduce their health bar to zero, and from there you can finish them off with a flourish, i.e. dice them to shreds with a quick flick of the right stick.
Press A or B, and you’ll smack enemies with your fists or crunch them with a high-kick. Sometimes this’ll stun them, opening them up for a sweet wrestling move. Again, you’ll need to follow the prompts on screen, flicking both thumbsticks in the right directions to tombstone piledrive that baddy into concrete.
And that’s largely it for combat. There’s a dodge roll, and you can slow time if you dash correctly. Sometimes after you get a kill, a slot machine at the bottom of your screen gives you a power up and Travis yells things like, “STRAWBERRY ON THE SHORTCAKE”, presumably because this dessert excites him. I liked one of these in particular which caused all enemies to freeze as I strutted up to them, pressed a button, and executed them one by one in flashy, brutal ways.
Thankfully boss fights are less repetitive and offer much more of a challenge than the standard battles. They’re intense one-on-one duels where you’re dodging the boss’s moves and waiting for openings to strike. Most have gimmicks, like one where the arena’s filled with holes you can fall into, or another where the screen flips upside down. These battles are a highlight – though I found the last two fights particularly frustrating, mainly because it was never clear when the bosses were vulnerable. In the end I mashed buttons and scraped through, which felt like a step backwards.
No More Heroes is at its best when it switches things up entirely. At one point Travis sits down on a train, dozes off, and suddenly you’re playing an old-school bullet-hell game. Another time you’ll find yourself swinging at baseballs and knocking them down like pins in a bowling alley. I wish it was this unpredictable throughout, but these moments are few and far between.
Brief bursts of chaos aside, much of No More Heroes becomes very samey, very quickly. As it was designed with motion controls in mind, I understand that much of the interaction can’t be too complex, including the combat. But when you’re sitting down flicking a couple of joysticks to and fro it exposes the combat for how simplistic it really is. I bet it’s far more fun with a Wii remote in hand, because at least you’ll feel part of the fight as you swing at air. Pretending to be a samurai warrior in your living room is one thing, but with a bog standard controller I felt rather detached from it all.
Detachment largely sums up the HD remaster in general. This version of No More Heroes lacks so many basic PC port musts: mouse and keyboard support; support for PlayStation 4 or 5 controllers; a way to exit to Windows in-game. And graphics options are incredibly minimal, so you won’t find texture sliders or shadows or such. I didn’t experience any crashes or frame rate stutters (although there was one weird glitch where I’d died but the boss kept bopping my corpse and the camera was shaking all over the place) but a port being stable is sort of a low bar to clear. Bit shite, really.
I do think that the world and the general style of No More Heroes hold up nicely, though. The cartoony aesthetic still looks strong, and the general absurdity of the world and the dialogue was genuinely funny. I also adore Travis, who’s a dorky badass that consistently cracked me up with jarring lines like, “That was my kill, you naughty boy” and “What a pussy!” At one point he suplexes an assassin after cutting her hand off, then speaks directly into her ear as they lay tangled on the ground. You only get to see him in full-flow during cutscenes, though, which is a shame. During combat and exploration, he’s flamboyant, sure, but rather muted.
It’s Travis who carries this version of No More Heroes, and occasionally makes you forget that you’re actually playing what is a rather mediocre port in 2021. Unless you’re a mega-fan, I don’t see why you should play this version over the Wii one, because it lacks many basic PC-specific improvements you’d expect from a remaster. But mainly, it loses a lot of charm without those motion controls. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe it’s time for me to pick up a Wii.