It may sound like a ridiculously simple concept, but people generally like video games that are fun, and conversely, tend to dislike those that suck. It doesn't matter if it’s Modern Battlefield 3 or Princess Barbie’s First Unicorn Ride, if the gameplay is good, it will usually find an audience.
You can imagine, then, how the requirement to mow lawns before taking on the next boss in No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise could fall foul of this fairly basic guideline.
And before you fire up the ol’ cranium to concoct some fever dream involving the piloting of an office-block-sized combine harvester with sawgun attachments to mow said grass, the reality is that you use a regular-size lawnmower and there are no weapon attachments. It is, therefore, about as much fun as pushing a real lawnmower but with none of the goodness that comes teamed with being in the sun, or getting something slightly manly done. But more on this later.
Heroes’ Paradise is a loopy third-person slash-‘em-up that is actually a port of an early-2008 Wii game, and it shows. Despite being given the HD treatment, protagonist Travis Touchdown and his environs look quaint by today’s standards, something the action (with finishing moves that are Move supported) is not kinetic enough to rectify.
Your goal as Travis is to kill the top ten members of the United Assassins Association, but before you can fight each you must first save enough money to pay ‘administration costs’ to the UAA. Travis fights initially to finance his anime fetish and womanising ways – a pair of causes as noble as any – but soon he becomes motivated to harness his ambition, and from there the narrative gets weirder rather than wider. One thing remains constant; you’ll earn money through yawn-inducing minigames then hack your way through a few minions before facing one of the ten or so UAA ranked assassins.
Combat is serviceable, just. That your main weapon is an electric katana makes things satisfyingly gory, but next to something like Arkham Asylum, the Heroes’ Paradise control system is squirrelly and battles are repetitive, if marginally deeper than they first appear. You’ll spend most of your time hacking bad dudes up with your blade, but for variety’s sake you can throw in a kick, punch or throw, which come in the form of wrestling moves which you “remember” by finding wrestling masks scattered throughout the game.
Amusingly, Travis attacks whoever is closest at the instant he is throwing his next punch, resulting in combos being shared across many faces rather than concentrated on one unless you hold L2 to lock on, which hampers your movement.
Blocking (automatic on ‘easy’ provided you remain still) and slicing up bad guys drains your katana’s battery, adding an extra wrinkle to things, but fortunately a vigorous vertical shake of your Sixaxis pumps energy reserves back up (and I defy anyone to keep a straight face as this process is played out onscreen).
Once you’ve inflicted enough damage on any one opponent you’ll enter death blow mode, a quick time event finishing-move minigame which generally ends with Travis bisecting an enemy one way or another and collecting a little loot for his trouble. Noobs and the tremble-handed will be spirited to hear that these combos are very forgiving, probably due to their platform of origin’s relatively imprecise controller, although prone foes can be tricky to despatch as the ground finish combo is a bit finicky about where you are standing when the requisite buttons are mashed.
As an added bonus, successful death blow combos activate a slot machine at the bottom of the screen and should all three columns match upon the device rattling to a standstill, Travis receives a strength and speed power-up which can be activated at any time within that particular level.
The biff on offer here is adequate and nothing more. A shallow roster of enemies and lack of combat surprises leave only the nutty boss fights requiring more than basic tactics to complete. With their locations, iconography and character seemingly drawn at random from hats, these encounters at least require the player to approach each in a unique fashion. Like much of the game, they are also hilarious in their strangeness (a conversation about dinner precedes a fight against an opera-singing cowboy in a baseball stadium) as well as their jabs at action genre conventions. In fact, most of the Heroes’ Paradise charm comes from its delightful refusal to make sense, alongside its zany sense of humour.
“Strawberry on the shortcake!” Travis bellows enthusiastically when powered up. “Coconuts are God! Collect them now!” barks a street vendor. “You are attracting flies!” and “Your hair looks bad!” are among the insults commonly thrown your way. It’s not all golden though: the save mechanic and some other gags are straight from the playbook of Duke Nukem, but the mangled accents, hilarious line readings and at times non-sequitur scripts (“Do you need to brush your teeth? Head for the garden of madness!”) more than compensate.
Sadly, such charm only takes a game so far, particularly when it is built into an acutely inessential open-world experience that is Travis’ home-town of Santa Destroy. Konami’s decision to envelop the game in such an environment is the game’s utter downfall. Santa Destroy exists wholly to house exceedingly dull minigames (such as the aforementioned lawn mowing) which you must complete simply to raise enough capital to progress through the game proper. This conceit transforms the game from a so-so fighter into an abysmal gaming experience, not only because there is little else to do in Santa Destroy, but because the town is also infested with a nasty case of game-breaking bugs to boot. It’s an ugly, dull, mostly-empty city full of invisible walls but bereft of character, populace and intrigue.
Bunny-hopping your flame-spouting super-bike is initially amusing, until you realise there is little to bunny-hop over, and that your bike is prone to sinking irretrievably into the ground or catching itself on the nearest lamp post, unable to be prised free. Further highlighting the frivolous nature of the open world segments is your invulnerability therein (unless you bunny hop your bike into the sea) as well as that of everyone else around. Yep, there is literally nothing at stake here - it’s like a low-rent GTA but with no weapons, a pillow glued to every sharp edge, and your car is a huge indestructible gerbil ball.
Some say this place is a further comment on the action genre, a big joke, or somehow ironic. They should probably be saying: where has the gameplay gone?
What we are faced with, then, is a port of a game that probably worked on the Wii but which - three years later on a much different console with an asking price of eighty-odd bucks – is as aggressively inessential as its own open-world elements.