With the release of Suda 51’s heavily contested masterpiece Killer 7 came the debate; was its highly unorthodox control scheme a glaring design flaw, or an implicit commentary on the rigidity of gamer’s genre expectations, or some such. The verdict is still out on that one, though sadly there can be no such discussion regarding his Wii follow-up No More Heroes. It is an unambiguously poorly designed game down to its most fundamental essence, and loads up on bullet-point gimmickry with little thought to its implementation.
Combat in NMH is a thoroughly average affair, or rather it would be were it not for its obtrusive waggle inputs. Gamers simply lock-on to opponents by holding the (Z) button and attack by hammering (A), with high and low battle stances governed by holding one’s Piimote in either erect or flaccid positions. In order to finish off every enemy in the game (and there are many) the game will invite players to whip their Piimote in one of four directions, and should one’s “power” begin to droop then they must jack it vigorously. At least the absurdity of Nintendo’s control scheme is not lost on Suda.
Developer protip: it is almost never a good idea to saddle your combat system with unnecessary flailing. I realize that it must be dizzyingly empowering to be able to compel gamers to flail about like retards in a birdman contest, but it serves no purpose other than making combat fundamentally unpleasant, and just makes you look like a gormless twat.
Sadly, the features of the combat system mentioned thus far do not even account for the lion’s share of NMH’s combat interface problems, rather it is the broken implementation of the waggle controls. When performing finishing moves one does not simply jerk the Piimote in the required direction, they must instead wait half a second after the onscreen direction prompt appears and then jerk it, any sooner than that and the game will fail to register one’s exertion, any longer than that and the prompt will disappear leaving one with their proverbial dick in their hand. This might actually seem a challenging time-based input mechanic, were it not so obviously a glaring mistake.
Then just to add insult to wrist injury, 51 took it upon himself to remove all blood from the European versions of the game, seeing as culturally tailoring a game’s content towards specific markets has heretofore worked a treat for Japanese developers … I could hardly be more offended if 51 elected to redub all the characters with obnoxious faux Australian accents (unless they hired Lusi for the dubbing). There was a reason that the Genesis version of Mortal Combat outsold its SNES counterpart, and it was not due to gamer’s innate love for grainy, downsized graphics and depleted colour palettes (which incidentally NMH has in spades).
Now, what is worse than a broken gimmick or laughable cultural stereotyping in one’s game design? How about a vile mixture of the two? To top off this epic trifecta of fail, 51 elected to ride on the coattails of the Western sandbox craze, though being Japanese he of course missed the point entirely. NMH’s Santa Destroy takes the form of an extensive overworld with almost nothing to do in it, well I say nothing but it certainly does allow one to needlessly waste time and patience in transit between the assassination agency and your current job every single time you fail one of its arbitrary parameters. Thus if I were to guess at the utility of NMH’s sandbox, I could only surmise that It was implemented to punish failure, forcing players to return all the way to the assassination agency to reinitiate the job, before travelling all the way back to the location of the job. This point is a particularly glaring oversight by 51, as earning currency from performing jobs (none of which pay well) is key to unlocking the main story missions, so there is no way for players to avoid the frustration of this redundancy. Suda 51 simultaneously fails to justify the inclusion of a Western style sandbox due to a lack of content, while also detracting from NMH’s core strengths through its cumbersome implementation.
If NMH’s design was intended to deliver any sort of meta commentary on the gaming genre, then it could only be that “games are a waste of time, stop jacking it, move out of your parents basement and do something productive with your lives”. I can only think that 51 didn’t take the QA process seriously, there is much to like about NMH’s narrative and aesthetic style, but its glaring shortfalls mean that it is a treasure trove of sunk potential.
While the tale thus far has been decidedly dour, it is not without a happy ending of sorts. Astonishingly for a Japanese developer, 51 seems to have taken players myriad plaints on board in designing NMH2. Players of the sequel now have the option to play using a classic control pad while navigating a stripped down menu-based Santa Destroy (a la P3 & 4), more to the point PAL gamers are now able to shed just as much Claret as their as their NTSC counterparts. While justifiably hesitant, I must also admit to being somewhat curious to see whether the recently released sequel can make good on NMH1’s squandered potential, so it should be no occasion for surprise to see a companion editorial anon.
Just out of interest I would be curious to know whether Lusi-readers have ever come across a game so overwrought in unnecessary content or gimmickry that it has spoiled its core strengths? Additionally, can you name any titles with particularly insulting censorship or cultural differences? Enquiring minds would like to know.