Review: No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise (Sony Playstation 3)

No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Grasshopper/AQ Interactive
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 08/16/11

So about three years ago, No More Heroes was released on the Wii to mostly strong critical reviews and adequate, if unexciting, sales. Those who “understood” the game praised it for its interesting style, its creative and satirical story, and its fun gameplay; those who didn’t found the story to be trying too hard and complained of a mechanically unenjoyable and repetitive experience. Its sequel, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, continued that trend, and it seemed as though SUDA 51 might have moved onto other projects in the wake of the less than receptive response gamers gave the series. Well, Travis Touchdown is back again in a PS3 port of the original game, the titular No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, which includes the original game with updated high definition visuals, as well as content from the sequel and all new content exclusive to this release. In addition, the game fully supports the Move as well as normal controller play, so even those who had issues with the Wiimote controls of the original can play with a controller as they’d wish. However, the adding in of new content and control schemes doesn’t specifically guarantee that the issues of the original game are addressed, unfortunately, and so it is with No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, as while this is very much a solid remake of the original game, it’s still, in many ways, as flawed as its predecessor.

The story in No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise is functionally identical to that of its predecessor: you take on the role of Travis Touchdown, a dorky otaku/gamer/wrestling fan with more sexual energy than brains, whose only goal in life, at this point, is to ascend to First Rank in the Assassin’s Guild, either because he wants to fight someone who’s better than him or because he wants to sleep with his handler Sylvia, depending upon the cinematic. Along the way he does battle with a cast of colorful characters in various locations inside and outside of his home town of Santa Destroy, ranging from a corrupt detective with a broken family to a one-legged warrior with a part-time modeling gig to a magician to a wannabe superhero and beyond. The core concept of the story is simple enough that it works… reasonably well on its own, from the silly names to the even sillier themes running through the game (over half of the shops in Santa Destroy are named after wrestling terminologies, so you get Pizza Suplex and Luchacho Gas) but it never really knows what it’s trying to do, and time has not improved this fact any. Half of the story is pure comedy, satire and slapstick humor, whether its poison pen be directed at otaku (fanboys) or American culture or what have you, but the other half treats the subject matter with strong seriousness, and the two elements intermix so much that the plot elements end up banging into one another and clashing more often than they work. The story ultimately seems as if it’s going for a serious resolution as you move closer and closer to the final battle, only to yank the rug out from under you, more or less, by spending nearly every possible moment that it can from the cinematic prior to the battle with the First Ranked assassin all the way up to the true ending breaking the fourth wall and making all sorts of jokes that wouldn’t be funny in a GOOD story, let alone in this one. The story still has this “LOOK AT HOW FUNNY I AM” vibe to it that isn’t as clever as it thinks it is or as it wants to be, and while it works in places, it doesn’t work as a whole, leaving the whole thing humorless and occasionally uncomfortable.

The visual update given to No More Heroes for its PS3 release is generally very solid, and the game maintains the visual style of its predecessor while also looking rather solid on its new home. The animations and character models are all impressive looking and have been well translated, and the environments also look quite competent and excellent. The game doesn’t translate over the shadowy cel-shaded visuals of the original, instead going with a cleaner look that make the characters look more lifelike (if somewhat less artistic), but the game looks like more than just a hi-res port of the original, and that works well for the experience. Also, the game translates the ultra-violence of the original to hi-def as well, and the effects are impressive in an over-the-top fashion when Travis takes someone’s head off in battle and a geyser of blood rockets out. The game also retains the odd 8-bit visual effects that the original used, such as the pixilated lifebar and arcade-style scoreboard when you finish an assassin, and improves the draw-in issues from the original noticeably. There are some visual hiccups here and there, unfortunately, with the frame rate, but this doesn’t impact the game mechanically so it’s not too problematic. Aurally, the game is as good as it ever was, for the most part. The music is still fantastic, combining strongly composed action tracks with odd throwback tunes here and there, though some tracks have noticeably been changed (most notably, the Genki Rockets track “Fly” was removed from the game and replaced with some weird hardcore track). The voice acting is still superb as no one sounds at all miscast and the vocal performances are top notch across the board. The sound effects are still excellent, between the powerful combat effects and the silly 8-bit effects that pop up throughout the game, though the game unfortunately loses the speaker effects of the Wiimote in translation, so that little piece of personality is gone. There are also occasional aural hiccups, most notably when driving around Santa Destroy, where the music will stop and start up again, though, again, this does not impact the game mechanically in any noticeable way.

No More Heroes on the Wii was an exclusively Wiimote/Nunchuck game, but Heroes’ Paradise allows you to choose whether you’d prefer controller play or Move-based motion play, and each has its strong points. Playing with the Move will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the Wii original; you’ll use the Move Navigator or a controller’s left stick to move Travis around, while the Move controller itself is used to interact with things and to beat down enemies. In combat, the Move can be held up or down to indicate whether you want to make high or low attacks, pressing the Move button attacks enemies, pressing the T button punches or kicks enemies to stun them (dubbed “beat attacks” here), Triangle resets the camera, X and Circle on the Navigator turn the camera, L1 kicks on the minimap and L2 locks on to enemies. Out of combat, most of the buttons retain those same functions, though the Move button becomes an all purpose Interact/Confirm button and the T button cancels out of menus and such. You can also jump onto Travis’ bike in the free-roaming sections, at which point X accelerates while L2 hits the brakes and reverses. When playing with the controller, the game simply uses one side of the button map (Square and X) for low attacks and the other (Triangle and Circle) for high attacks, with the upper buttons using your saber and the lower ones making use of beat attacks, and the camera is assigned to camera duty, but the other controls more or less work as normal. Between the two, the controller seems more intuitive in some instances, while the Move controls seem more intuitive in others, but for the most part, you’ll find that both respond well enough and work as intended, so that fans of motion controls or regular controller play will both be satisfied with the mechanics.

As with its predecessor, No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise divides the game up into three styles of play: assassination missions, which do what they say on the box, free-roaming sandbox exploration of the town of Santa Destroy, and “part time jobs”, which are silly little mini-games you take on to earn cash. The assassination missions, be they part of the storyline or just the random cash-earning hit, are what you’ll spend most of your time doing, and as you’d expect, they boil down to you moving through an area, hacking apart everything you see while trying not to die. As noted above, you can choose to attack high or low, as enemies can guard high or low as well, and attacking at the height they’re NOT blocking is often key to taking them out with minimal damage received. Stunning the enemy allows you to slice up their sweetbread unimpeded, or to grapple them (T when using motion controls, R2 when using the controller) to suplex the crap out of them with a motion flick or direction press, depending. When an enemy has been damaged enough, a display will come up that indicates a direction when using the Move or to press R3 when using the controller (and then displays a direction once you do so); hit the direction correctly and you’ll rip into the enemy violently, which often ends their harassment of you in the most final way possible. If you happen to strike when the enemy is doing so, you’ll lock up with them, and by rotating the Move or the stick in the required direction, you can then break the lock up and take a free shot as them (again, by way of the killing move inputs listed above) which will either do heavy damage if they’re too healthy to kill, or will kill them outright if they’re not.

Travis can also lock onto enemies to focus on one foe at a time, which allows him to auto-block attacks when not attacking, and you can either flick the right stick or the Move while in combat to make Travis dodge an attack, which can disorient the enemy and allow you free shots if done right. Travis’ beam saber has finite charge built into it that depletes by using it to attack and block, however, and to charge it, you’ll have to press Square with the Move or R1 with the controller, then shake the Move or controller up and down as Travis shakes his saber up and down in the most obviously crude motion possible. Aside from the addition of controller support, the mechanics from the Wii game to the PS3 game are largely unchanged, though one thing has been added to the game that is definitely a positive thing. In both games, when Travis kills enemies during storyline assassination missions, a slot machine will run, giving Travis the chance to earn the use of a Dark Side power, which might jack out his abilities, give him the ability to fire off beam attacks that one-shot enemies, and so on, which are both fun toys to use as well as useful power-ups in some of the more difficult sections of the game. In the Wii release, the Dark Side power earned would be instantly used… often just after you’d killed the last enemy in the zone, thus completely wasting the power. Here, the game allows you to store up to three at one time, which you can use whenever you wish from the moment you earn it until you encounter the boss, allowing you to stock power-ups and burn them at your preference, or save them for additional rewards.

Your more standard assassination missions involve simply killing lots of enemies until you’re dead or they all are, but the story-specific assassination contracts are often a bit more involved than that. These missions generally require you to go through a series of thugs to reach their boss, which mix up the normal combat situations one would expect with segments where you have to knock back flaming baseballs at the enemy or run through an area fighting enemies that can set you on fire or what have you. Once you get to the boss of the segment, on the other hand, is where things really pick up the pace. See, each of the bosses in the game has a generally odd personal affectation about them that makes them unique in some way, and more than a few are attempts at satire to some degree (Destroy Man, as a primary example). The main point of interest about the bosses, however, is not their personality, but their methods of fighting you; that they all have fairly interesting and unique ways of engaging in combat with you that require more than just hacking into them and hoping for the best. You might have to fight an enemy who shoots repeatedly at you who you’ll have to dodge like crazy just to GET to, or someone who traps you in tiger pits and throws grenades at you, so you’ll have to keep your thinking cap on as you take on the bosses in this game. Heroes’ Paradise also introduces dream sequence battles that are offered after ranking battles; if you accept, Travis will fall asleep on the toilet and wake up in a dream arena, where he’ll face down one of the bosses from No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, though these boss fights aren’t specifically as involved as the main storyline battles.

Outside of battle, Travis can drive or walk around Santa Destroy, visiting various locations around town, or he can take on part time jobs to earn cash, as each boss battle requires you to pay an entry fee, and most of your upgrades and fashion options require this also. Meandering about the city basically works as one would expect in a sandbox action title; you’ve given a huge map and various points of interest, and Travis can walk or drive his motorcycle to each one, or you can just wander around, digging up cash and kicking in dumpsters for cash and hidden stuff. You can visit locations around the map to upgrade Travis’ skills and beam saber, learn new grapples, buy new threads, and take on missions and odd jobs, among other things, so there’s reason to do so beyond simply wandering about, but if you want to just do the bare minimum, the game doesn’t force you to go exploring. The various part time jobs that pop up are exactly as you’d expect: various places around Santa Destroy need something “normal” (IE something that doesn’t involve killing) done and Travis can do these things for cash. These jobs are essentially little mini-games that could have you mowing lawns, directing ships, pumping gas, catching scorpions, and so on, and while they’re essentially meant as a simple cash-earning distraction to break up the game a bit, you’ll also unlock assassination missions through doing these that pay out cash prizes, so if you’d sooner kill for your money, hey, go for it.

You can pretty much roll through No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise in anywhere from ten to fifteen hours, depending on how much time you spend on exploring and buying stuff for Travis, though there are some things to keep you coming back. There are multiple difficulties, one of which is only unlocked upon completing the game, and there’s also a New Game Plus mode to come back to, which keeps Travis intact from his last playthrough and allows you to collect more goodies in a second go, perhaps on one of the other difficulties. There are also Trophies and collectible cards to acquire, and various hidden objects around the game world to go hunting for across the different playthroughs if you’re a completionist. Heroes’ Paradise has also added a few more bits of content, such as the ability to replay boss fights you’ve completed from Travis’ apartment or review cutscenes you’ve seen previously, as well as a “Very Sweet” mode, which dresses up all of the women in provocative outfits (well, more provocative), for those who are intrigued by this thing. Between the collectibles, the unlockables, and the all new PS3 content, a lot of content has been crammed into Heroes’ Paradise, and with the budget price tag of forty dollars, it’s hard to go wrong if you’re a fan or a newcomer.

That said…

While a lot of the technical issues with No More Heroes have been fixed, the game is largely a clone of its predecessor in many respects, and unfortunately, that means that for all of the good things it carries over, it carries over many of the bad things too. For one thing, the combat is still shallow and becomes tedious in a hurry, and while many of the boss battles spice things up a bit, you’ll have seen all the cool stuff by Ranking Battle Four, leaving the game as a straight slog to the end from there. When fighting bosses, you can bring the full power of Travis’ skillset, limited as it is, to bear, but outside of boss fights, grappling or planning in general aren’t particularly necessary unless you’re playing on Bitter (the hardest difficulty), to a point. Even then, though, you’ll likely just end up blocking occasionally and spamming attacks frequently until everything’s dead, which eventually gets tiring. The original Wii release felt like the sort of game that could have stood to have some fat trimmed, and while the added content is nice, this release feels much the same towards the later segments of the game. It’s not that too much content is a bad thing, but when you spend hours in innovative and complex boss fights, only to get to the rehashed Rank Two fight in its entirety, the game becomes openly tedious. The game is still as unbalanced as ever, thanks to a “final” boss who hurts like crazy and several bosses that come equipped with instant death attacks but nothing else of note, the free-roaming sandbox mechanics are still boring and still feature poor controls that don’t function well and often feel like you’re fighting against them and collision detection issues, and the part-time jobs still feel tacked on more than anything else. The PS3 release also has some odd control issues that pop up, such as the game registering normal strikes as charged strikes, which, while this doesn’t pop up often, does cause problems at times.

But these are symptomatic of a bigger issue, which is that No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, despite adding in some new content and mechanical changes, simply doesn’t add anything of real substance to the original game. The handful of new boss battles added might have been nice if they weren’t battles against characters from No More Heroes 2, and while the option of Move and controller play is nice, as is the addition of being able to store Dark Side powerups, the only new additions are the improved graphics and the “Very Sweet” mode, which is basically just a fanservice mode. If you’ve never played No More Heroes this is okay, as the game will be new to you, but for those who’ve played the first two games already, this is basically a prettier release of a game you’ve seen eighty percent of already, and that game hasn’t aged especially well on top of that. From a mechanical perspective, No More Heroes 2 was a superior product in a lot of ways, and while this game didn’t have to go THAT route specifically, the game still feels as mechanically awkward as the original, some several years later. As a product, Heroes’ Paradise is certainly an experience, whether it be a good one or a bad one, but as an actual game, the original was limited in many respects, and this rerelease, while prettier, is honestly no less limited when it comes down to it.

All in all, No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise is the sort of game that will amuse diehard fans of the first game and may be worth a look for those who’ve never played it, but those who enjoyed the mechanical improvements of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle or weren’t impressed with the first game aren’t going to have a lot of fun here. The game looks and sounds good, and the option of Move and standard controller play is a welcome addition to the game. The controls themselves are simple enough to understand and work with, there’s plenty of new and existing content in this version, and some imaginative elements to the boss battles keep things interesting for a while. However, the game still becomes tedious in the late stages of the game due to a story that feels confused about what it wants to be and mechanics that are often either unfriendly or repetitive. Further, the added content is mostly aesthetic in nature and fans of the franchise will have seen nearly all of it already, and while the game does add in some minor mechanical positives, it’s not as mechanically polished a product as its sequel. For those who are diehard franchise lovers or have never played the games before but have been intrigued by the hype, No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise will likely be a worthwhile investment at its reduced price. For those who found the sequel to be a big improvement, found the original unexciting, or simply want significant additions in a remake, however, this isn’t going to please any of those people, and is likely to only really appease an even smaller niche audience than the original.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: MEDIOCRE
Replayability: BAD
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: BAD

FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise is the sort of game that will please big fans of the game it’s remade from, and might entertain new players with no exposure to the series, but lacks the significant content additions or mechanical repairs that would be needed to appease anyone else. The game does look and sound very good, and the option of being able to play the game with both the Wiimote and the controller is certainly a welcome one. The controls themselves are simple enough to learn, and there’s a good amount of content to the game based purely on volume, both old and new, that could keep a player interested for a good while if they’re interested in the core product. The story is still a bit of a mess that never decides if it wants to be serious or a parody, however, and the game mechanics retain the same odd flaws and repetitive feel of the original. On top of that, the added content that this remake touts, aside from content that was pulled into the game from No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, is mostly aesthetic in nature, and while there are some minor mechanical improvements, the majority of the game is the same thing it ever was, warts and all, with some prettier visuals. If you’re the sort of person who has never played a game in the franchise but is curious about it, or loved the first game with a passion, No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise will certainly be worth a look. However, if you’re looking for a beefier remake, weren’t impressed with the first game, or were more impressed with the Wii sequel, you won’t find anything to keep your interest here, as it’s essentially the same game with some minor additions and many of the same flaws.

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