Games 2/6/08: No More Heroes, Rez HD
No More Heroes
For: Nintendo Wii
From: Grasshopper Manufacture Studio/Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, crude humor, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
Just when it appeared no one but Nintendo would make a fresh, adult-oriented game that takes advantage of the Wii’s special abilities, along comes the ironically-named “No More Heroes” to somewhat save the day.
“Somewhat” is, in this case, the operative word. “Heroes” is the spiritual successor (though in no way sequel) to “Killer 7,” and if you remember how bizarre that game was on the Gamecube, you have a vague understanding of what lies ahead here: a ton of weird ideas thrown at you, with some sticking and some falling completely flat.
Overwhelmingly, that flatness comes in the form of one of the worst examples of open-world game design in recent memory.
“Heroes” stars you as a beam katana-wielding average Joe who decides to take out the world’s top assassins to impress a girl. Between assassinations, though, you’re free to go about your normal life — doing odd jobs and taking your motorcycle out for a ride around town.
Problem is, Santa Destroy is so unbelievably barren that it’s hard to imagine why the developers gave you this freedom at all. The bike is fun to ride for a while, but beyond advancing to the next assassination, there’s little reason to do so. The ambition is admirable, but “Heroes” would have been better off scrapping this interruption, throwing pretense to the wind and just letting us jump from one fight right into the next.
This, after all, is where “Heroes” absolutely cooks, lobbing wave after wave of swordfights and street brawls that are at once incredibly gory and bombastically cartoony. The Wiimote is used perfectly — regular buttons for regular attacks, hard swipes and other gestures for finishing moves and special attacks — and there’s a satisfying sensation that comes with wiping out an army of faceless thugs before meticulously picking apart the top dog. “Heroes” is challenging but not unfairly so, breakneck without ever being overwhelming.
It’s also so narratively over the top as to smack of intentional self-parody. Grasshopper throws up a mess of original storytelling, graphical and interface design ideas, and your mileage will certainly vary as to what hits and misses.
Frankly, it’s just nice to see someone taking those kind of chances at all on the Wii. Even when it utterly fails, “Heroes” almost always leaves you with something to talk about, and that’s an ingredient precious few games in this library can claim to have.
For: Xbox 360 Live Arcade
From: Q Entertainment/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild violence)
Perhaps the best side effect of downloadable games coming to consoles is the second chance it affords niche games that never really had a first chance when $50 was the asking price.
The most textbook example yet may lie with “Rez HD,” which resurrects a seven-year-old game in grand fashion while giving it a price tag — $10 — that’s far more inviting for those who couldn’t justify purchasing the Dreamcast or Playstation 2 versions.
For those unfamiliar, “Rez” is a 3D on-rails arcade shooter. Your character — which resembles a wireframe version of the Michelin Man’s long-lost cousin — moves forward on its own, but you are free to control its up-down-left-right movements (with the left stick) and aim (with the right).
From here, the gameplay is mostly elementary: Strange space creatures fly at you, and you have to take them out before they do it to you first. You accomplish this by holding down the shoot button, moving the aiming reticule over any opposition, and releasing when you’re ready to take a shot. You can take out up to eight enemies with one shot, and you’re awarded bonuses for linking enemies rather than picking them off individually.
What makes “Rez” special is how ingrained a role the game’s unique aesthetics play in the gameplay. A background track plays throughout the action, but your shot choices provide the song’s beats, creating a strange sense of oneness between the player and the soundtrack. Even the controller vibrates in your hand at very deliberate intervals, and you can employ up to three additional controllers to provide complementary vibration. (What you do with this feature is, of course, up to you, because it has no bearing on what’s happening on the screen.)
“Rez’s” musical tapestry perfectly jives with the game’s mix of wireframe, cel-shaded and vector visuals, which have benefitted wonderfully from their high-definition makeover. True widescreen support increases your field of vision, and the game includes some optional new visual filters for those who’d like to mix things up further.
The audiovisual eruption and accessibly simple gameplay mechanics make “Rez” an experience pretty much anybody can enjoy, and the game’s variety of modes certainly makes a case for inclusiveness. Skilled players are covered by the challenging normal and score attack modes, while the rest of us can enjoy the Trance mode, which lets you experience the game’s ear and eye candy in full without fear of dying.