It's been a little over three and a half years since otaku-turned-aspiring assassin Travis Touchdownfirst trekked to the top of the UAA's shady standings, murdering and monologuing his way through 11 outlandish enemies with self-aware swagger. Outside of a stellar sequel -- 2010's No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, a spectacular slash-'em-up that improved on many of the first game's faults -- there haven't been many rivals to the Number 1 rank. The barren streets of Santa Destroy have gone unmolested, and our dusty beam katanas have been cursed to a long limbo of inactivity.
Enter No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise, a prettied-up port of Grasshopper Manufacture's first Wii title, now made a PS3 exclusive for its Western release. The Wii Remote/Nunchuck "old guard" has been subbed out for either the default DualShock or the PlayStation Move motion controller, and the game's blood-stained baddies have all seen a sweet HD makeover.
But before you order a one-way ticket for the Garden of Madness, know this: while it's still the same great game from 2008, Heroes' Paradise feels more "re-skinned" than "remastered."
For the uninitiated, No More Heroes is essentially a string of bizarre boss battles, broken up by bouts with same-suited thugs across increasingly eccentric environments. Travis is tasked with hacking, slashing, and suplexing through this absurd orgy of gore (goregy?), handy-dandy lightsaber beam katana in hand and an ever-present smirk plastered on his face. But the road to victory isn't cheap -- French sexpot Sylvia Christel is dead-set on making a monetary gain from Travis' ascent, and she posts ever-escalating entry fees for the madcap murderer to meet before each and every match.
The game's core combat is as outlandishly action-packed as it's ever been, and the Move, which handles almost exactly the same as the Wiimote (let's face it -- NMH has never been about precision), is a solid stand-in that works well to simulate the frantic fighting. Yes, the constant catch-phrases that the A.I. enemies spout ("My spleen!!") rarely see much diversity, nor do their copy-and-paste appearances, but more often than not the game's just plain fun, despite feeling like it was released three and a half years ago.
And then there's the real meat: the melodramatic bouts we like to call "boss battles." The members of Travis' rogues' gallery are as colorful as they were three and a half years ago, and they all put up a solid challenge that varies from opponent to opponent. There are even a few familiar faces from Desperate Struggle that make appearances in the hotheaded hero's (optional) dream sequences, and while there's little context (or much challenge) to these battles, they're still nice bits of fan-service that should please Grasshopper faithfuls.
All that said, when Travis' beam blade remains in its holster, things tend to chug quite a bit. His oversized motorcycle still handles like a tank with its treads coated in molasses, and the empty open-world of Santa Destroy (a "knowing deconstruction of this generation's obsession with open worlds" or not, it's still not any fun) is a chore to traverse. A slight collision with a passing vehicle will bounce your bike around like a ping-pong ball, and the sticky, clunky controls are endlessly frustrating.
Grinding to raise the aforementioned entry fees is almost always just as boring an affair -- especially as a following act to Desperate Struggle's intuitive take on Travis' part-time work. True, there are a few new wrinkles to the assassin's 9-to-5, but jobs like "Sign Spinning," "Kitty Racing," and "People Bowling" aren't interesting enough, nor do they pay well enough, to justify more than a quick look. There are a few amenities added in to make these tasks feel a bit less punishing (you can now skip straight to previously completed assassination missions, or retry failed missions immediately, for instance), but the glacial, grind-heavy off-hours I spent in Heroes' Paradise still made me feel like I was spoiled by how well they were done in Desperate Struggle.
Then there are the technical issues. No More Heroes wasn't a stranger to occasional slowdown, sure, but there are some pretty prominent moments of stuttering and chugging in Heroes' Paradise -- which is, again, a PS3 port of a Wii game from a few years back. When clearing five enemies simultaneously in a closed-off, one-room parking garage, it just grates to see the action slow to a crawl for several seconds as my opponents' arteries explode into faucets of crimson. There's also some serious screen-tearing when the camera rotates both in-action and during cut-scenes, and some inconsistent textures will pop in to remind you that you're indeed playing a port that could've used a bit more polish.
But hey, none of us are exempt from aging, and despite its wrinkles, No More Heroes has landed on an HD console with a good amount of grace, and its integrity intact - er, actually, after looking at the female characters' revamped costumes in the new "Very Sweet Mode," I suppose that one's up for debate.