Flaws? Yes. Good game? Overall, yes.
You play Travis Touchdown, a young confident assassin dude who bumps into a woman representing the United Assassins Association (UAA). You discover that there are ten assassins ranked better than you, so Travis decides to take them on, one by one, in order.
That, in a nutshell, is the heart of the story and the gameplay — ten sequential boss fights, with a (lacklust) sandbox/open world element in between them. As you transition from sandbox mode to combat mode, Travis will face dozens of ‘throwaway’ enemies, slicing them down with his Beam Katana and DDT’ing them into the pavement with a variety of wrestling moves.
The opening tutorial will explain all of Travis’ combat abilities to you. Oh, I ended up playing NMH with a DualShock3 controller as I found the Move implementation to be a little flaky and inconsistent, and frankly unnecessary. I have never been a fan of games that require standing up and flailing around though, so I was not surprised when I opted for the standard controller method instead. To me the experience with the DS3 is just as good or even better than using the Move anyway. You still use motion control with a SIXAXIS or DS3, to recharge the Beam Katana, and while it seemed silly, it was an understandable decision to port that control mechanic over.
Anyway, as for your fighting abilities, the Beam Katana can attack high and low, and switching between the two is moderately important as enemies will defend themselves from one attack or the other usually. Some will stubbornly block, and for those Travis can stun them with X or O, which opens them completely up for Katana attacks or a wrestling move. The wrestling attacks are fun — you just press R2 next to a stunned enemy and then move the left and right sticks as the screen prompt indicates. At least on the default difficulty, NMH was not too picky about how accurately I pressed the joysticks, which I liked.
Far more common than wrestling attacks are the finishing blow attacks. These occur when you have an enemy beat down to near death or you have won a weapon’s clash (where your weapon and theirs clash, and you spin RS for a few seconds). When the prompt appears, you have about two seconds to press the RS in the proper direction. Doing so will cause Travis to unleash a final blow, finishing that enemy off and potentially hurting others in the immediate area. Charged attacks are good for taking out multiple enemies or doing a narrow, powerful attack to a single foe.
All Katana attacks, especially the charge attack, drain the Katana’s battery, which is permanently situated (in combat scenarios) on the right side of the screen. To recharge, you have to press R1 and then shake the control up and down for about five to seven seconds. When you’re in the middle of a room with a bunch of bad guys chasing after you, this can be easier said than done, which is pretty annoying. Thankfully, the bosses (again on default, aka “Sweet” difficulty mode) almost always let me recharge without effectively attacking me.
Blocking and evading are important components of the combat in NMH. On Sweet difficulty, Travis will take care of all of the blocking himself, as long as he’s standing still or is locked on (L2) to his opponent. If abused, it can make the already monotonous and jarring combat even worse, so I’d advise to either play “Mild” difficulty or just not let Travis do all of the blocking automatically. To roll, you hold L2 and press left, right, or back, you actually cannot roll forward which I thought was a surprising design decision. It doesn’t always make sense to roll towards an attacker, but it actually often does, in fact, if you think about it.
To sum up on the controls and combat in general, it’s a mixed offering. I like the variety of ‘abilities’ Travis has, from high and low Katana and stun attacks to great looking wrestling moves, but I grew really tired of the ‘finishing blows’ sequences and the quirky blocking and evading system. Evasions, I didn’t mention earlier actually, can cause a lot of camera shenanigans, too. Also, I thought recharging the Katana was going to be a pain, but it turns out that you don’t have to really do it all that often, thanks in part to battery recharge pickups.
So when you are not in the middle of one of the combat levels that leads to the next boss battle, you are free to roam one of the dullest sandbox cities ever created, Santa Destroy. Travis stays at a hotel, from which you can alter his clothing (jacket, sunglasses, shirt, pants), get a bite from the fridge (restore your health), take a crap (save your game), pet your cat, view unlocked cutscenes, and a few other miscellaneous tasks.
Outside of the hotel, you are free to use your massive motorcycle to zip around the town. It’s pretty small compared to other sandbox cities of this generation, but it’s honestly bigger than it needs to be. There is a lot of driving around that just ends up being pretty pointless. The open world aspect of NMH has lots of various side missions, some combat related, others are mini-games. These side missions help you earn money, which is required to unlock the next cutscene, and therefore the next level which leads to the next boss fight. There are forty-nine of glowing spheres to collect around the city as well, but given that the city and the driving aspects are not compelling, I don’t see myself spending much time on that quest.
I did find myself spending time on a couple of things I really didn’t expect to, though. Saving your game in NMH is annoying. It requires going to the bathroom, and going through many doors in NMH means load screen time. This happens during the combat missions as well in the open world. After the save screen appears, though, you still have a longer than usual save time, and then another loading screen to contend with. I try not to get overly excited about little nags like that, and truth be told in NMH, you won’t be saving your game all that often. But, when the loading screen is popping up as much as it is, again for just about every door Travis goes through, it gets to be a drag. I couldn’t help but wonder if the port could have been better optimized in this regard, considering this was a Wii game to start with, and heck, there is a 3GB required installation, too.
Another less technical issue I would quickly mention is Travis Touchdown himself. Generally, the playable character in a single player game is usually likeable, or just nameless and faceless, or generic. Travis Touchdown ends up being one of the few playable characters that I can think of in my gaming history that I just couldn’t associate with, or even like. In fact, I think the last time I felt this way about the playable character was in Shadows of the Damned, a fine game, but Garcia reminds me a lot of Travis Touchdown now that I have played NMH. Both characters are young, arrogant, super-brash, perverted, skilled killers. It’ll be interesting to see what Suda does with Lollipop Chainsaw in this regard, but I think the protagonist is already looking a little fresher than Travis and Garcia.
‘Fresher’ is actually a reasonable way to describe the graphics in Heroes’ Paradise as well. They certainly aren’t going to impress even a casual PS3/360 gamer, but they are, in my un-scientific comparisons to the Wii version, significantly better. That’s not to say you won’t have some clipping and some tearing here and there, and even some framerate lulls (like when a bunch of enemies get killed at once), but still, this is a lot better looking than the original. I will say that the graphical detail of Travis felt kind of at one level, but the city of Santa Destroy was at a much lower level. That contrast didn’t play in the overall
visual experience’s favor, and I thought it worth mentioning.
From an art direction standpoint, I can’t get into a lot of Suda’s thoughts. I had the same issues with Shadows of the Damned, but in NMH, the whole 8 bit, retro theme for icons, prompts, and music, just seemed forced, contrived, and out of place. It’s a very quirky game obviously, if you have seen any of the cutscenes, but I didn’t see any reason to mix that quirkiness with a retro videogame palette. Again, just a personal gripe, but it is what it is. As for the sound, I found the combat music grating, but the voice acting is alright. I also got really tired of hearing “my spleeeen!” during finishing blows, too.
All that said — when you take away the flaws, be they technical from the port, or from the original game, or other flaws in design decisions — you have a game that is fun and compelling enough overall to keep you going. Admittedly, I wanted to see what was going to happen next. I wanted to see who Suda came up with for the next boss. I wanted to get to that next cutscene. The story and characters ended up stealing the show because the gameplay itself fizzles out around the halfway mark, or it did for me. I’m planning on playing through NMH2: Desperate Struggle now too, although with the holiday gaming season kicking off next week, it’ll probably have to wait until the winter dry spell.
To the summary…