Tuesday, August 24, 2021

No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise

A few years after the release of No More Heroes, it received a home console port for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (PS3), though only the PS3 version made it stateside. This port, subtitled Heroes’ Paradise, served as an upgraded HD version of the base game, complete with extra content and, notably, standard controller support. As I didn’t own a Wii at the time, and wouldn’t for a few years, I intended this version as my entry point into the world of No More Heroes, but certain statements in reviews of the time put me off. However, when Sony originally announced the end of PS3 store support in 2021, until they reversed it, I snagged a sealed copy before its price could climb out of my reach. As part of our buildup to No More Heroes III, I finally broke the seal and found myself enjoying an overlooked port of an already great game.

If you’ve already played the Wii or Switch versions of No More Heroes, you know exactly how the story goes. Loser otaku Travis Touchdown becomes the Rank 11 assassin in the United Assassin Association and begins his ascent to Rank 1 by killing the ten assassins above him. Even after playing a different version of the game, No More Heroes still has a fun story complete with memorable twists and turns. Like in the original, you can also pause and skip cutscenes.

Between the original Wii version and Heroes’ Paradise, the core gameplay loop is exactly the same, warts and all. However, Heroes' Paradise adds its own gameplay tweaks that keep the experience fresh and, in some cases, improve upon some of the flaws of the original.

One of this version’s most well-known differences, at least at the time, included the option of playing with either a standard DualShock 3 or a combination of the PlayStation Move and Navigation Controller. Since I could, I took the option of standard controls for this playthrough and honestly didn’t find it as awkward as some would insist once I got used to it. Completing minigames (especially the Scorpion Extermination Side Job), killing enemies and driving the Schpeltiger around Santa Destroy felt more natural and powersliding more consistent, not to mention I could more easily manipulate the camera. I would even say this playstyle felt more comfortable, since my arms no longer hurt as much from extended play sessions. However, performing Death Blows and throws for some reason required clicking the stick(s) before the correct arrow(s) would appear, as opposed to just letting players flick the stick(s) in the proper direction.

After completing the game, I went back and tried Move controls for a bit, though I found that I had the same problems I did with the original Wii version, as my arm started hurting after a while. Combat and driving featured the same updates brought to the PS3 version, but the button mapping somehow felt more awkward compared with the original combination of the Wiimote and Nunchuk, despite hitting many of the same placements. As such, I can’t really recommend playing this way unless you really want the full experience. On the upside, unlike the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo, the Move/Navigation combo didn’t have a tether and allowed a fuller range of motion.

Naturally, the prompts are replaced with those found on a Move controller.

Though combat remained identical to the original Wii version, Heroes’ Paradise did add one small, but significant tweak in how it handles Dark Side attacks. In the original release, Dark Side attacks automatically triggered upon a successful Death Blow. Here, however, players can store up to three Dark Side attacks for later use in the order obtained, provided they stay in combat mode. This level of freedom makes certain sections more enjoyable, as the previous system could more easily lead to circumstances where Dark Side attacks triggered after killing the last enemy in a room, which meant waiting out the timer before you could move on. With the new system, this annoyance completely went away and let me save a Dark Side attack for when I actually needed it.

Gameplay tweaks also extend outside of just combat. While roaming Santa Destroy or fighting their way toward the next ranked assassin, players can hold the button that toggles the minimap and overlay the full map of the area onscreen rather than pause the game first, which makes finding specific locations and gauging distances much easier. Entering buildings and mounting/dismounting the Schpeltiger are also mapped to different buttons, removing the necessity of parking a few feet away from a door or mission marker. Digging up hidden LB$ in the ground while walking also didn’t require randomly stabbing the ground like a madman for the correct pixel, instead tying it to the controller’s rumble feature and only letting you stab once you’re in the right spot.

Side Jobs and Assassination Gigs also received a significant upgrade. Heroes’ Paradise introduces five new Side Jobs (Signaling, Sign Spinning, Kitty Race, Bust A Coconut, People Bowling) and Assassination Gigs (Guard Break, Power-Down Battle, Big Bang Anarchy, Shortcake Freaks, Crowded Train Carnage). While players will certainly have different impressions of the quality of these new activities, the real upgrade comes from how the game now lets you warp directly from the Job Center or K-Entertainment directly to a Side Job or Assassination Gig you’ve already attempted. This one feature already reduced the amount of time spent grinding for LB$ and made driving less tedious, but the extra feature of instantly replaying failed missions also helped greatly.

While resting in Motel “NO MORE HEROES”, players can access a new Armchair option, which has its own Dream and Nightmare sub-options. Dream lets you rewatch any of the game’s cutscenes while Nightmare lets you replay any of the ranked boss fights with your current stats and gear. While the Dream option is a neat bonus, the Nightmare option helped improve the game’s replay value, as it removed the necessity of playing through the story again or fight waves of henchmen just for another go at the bosses. I always enjoy this sort of feature in games with creative boss encounters and I’m glad Heroes’ Paradise included it.

In an interesting twist, Heroes’ Paradise also gives players a taste of the sequel, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, as five of those bosses show up as optional encounters accessible at different points in the story (depicted as Travis falling asleep on the toilet). These bosses are Skelter Helter (after Rank 9), Nathan Copeland (after Rank 8), Kimmy Howell (after Rank 5), Matt Helms (after Rank 3) and Alice Twilight (after Rank 2). While these bosses provide their own challenge and add extra flavor to the already good boss lineup, they are unfortunately inaccessible through the Nightmare option in the motel.

One of the new bosses from No More Heroes 2, Skelter Helter.

Fortunately, you can fight all fifteen of the game’s bosses, including those from No More Heroes 2, in the new Score Attack mode, where players are scored based on certain parameters and can compare their results with other players from around the world. The only downside is that although you can select which Beam Katana Travis wields in the fight, you can’t use certain upgrades like Energy Saver III. This decision makes sense for fairness, but also necessitates replaying the story if you want to whale on the new bosses with a Beam Katana that has infinite battery.

Also exclusive to Heroes’ Paradise is an unlockable Very Sweet difficulty level. While it sounds enticing and might be worth another playthrough for some, it plays out exactly like Sweet difficulty, but with the sole difference of showing some of the female characters in skimpy outfits.

Of course, I can’t ignore the flaws introduced to an already flawed game. For one thing, this version renders the northern section of Santa Destroy inaccessible for some reason, which also changes the locations of related missions and collectibles, including Lovikov Balls. I also still occasionally got stuck in the level geometry while driving the Schpeltiger and saving the game took longer than usual, around 20 seconds.

Then there are the graphics and audio. Heroes’ Paradise renders the game in HD, including non-subtitled text rendered with HD TVs in mind, though the new lighting scheme removes the Wii version’s cel shaded look, which arguably removes some of the game’s charm. The presence of additional traffic and pedestrians does help Santa Destroy feel livelier, and I didn’t mind the different grass textures or lowered amount of smoke while dashing, but the game still had issues with texture pop-in and maintaining a stable framerate. While this version had a noticeably lower framerate compared to the original, though not unplayable, it chugged more when rendering too many objects or particle effects onscreen at once. In case it matters, the audio from Sylvia’s phone calls also came out of the TV speakers due to a lack of built-in speakers for either the DualShock 3 or Move controllers.

Heroes' Paradise has different lighting compared to the original.

Some content also got removed in this version, which, as far as I could tell, remained a running change for successive versions of the game. Players can no longer hear the song “Heavenly Star” by Genki Rockets when visiting Naomi’s shop or view the music video found in the motel in the Japanese and European Wii versions. Additionally, players can no longer view the Ubisoft Trailer, which appeared exclusively in the North American Wii version. Instead, players can view the intro of the game again.

Though certainly a flawed port, Heroes’ Paradise turned out better than I had expected and is a solid option for existing fans of No More Heroes curious about the extra content and how the experience differs from the original. Hopefully, this won’t remain the only way anyone can access the new content, but it’s unfortunate that, at least for now, it’s locked behind a gradually increasing aftermarket price.

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