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Critical Essay Series: No More Heroes

Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture has done what so many always thought was impossible, creating a legitimate 'B-Game'.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have a favorite ‘B-Movie’ in which we pop in from time to time. Regardless if it is an exploitation piece from the 1970’s or a good old gory slasher flick, most of us can see the charm in our favorite low-budget ‘B-Movie’. Yet that ‘B-Status’ moniker does not only limit them to films, but to other entertainment mediums as well.

Books have their cheesy romance and obtuse science fiction novels. Even music has their “so bad that it’s good” soundtracks. Every other medium carries the ‘B-Status’ moniker proudly while being enjoyed by many in the process. So the question stands, where are all the quality ‘B-Status’ videogames? Well unlike other mediums, making a good ‘B-Game’ can be a bit tricky.  

All ‘B-Status’ entertainment for the most part have something intrinsically broken about them. In a ‘B-Movie’ it could be the horrendous dialogue or low budget special effects. After all, these idiosyncrasies are part of the reason we love ‘B-Status’ entertainment. However to achieve the same kind of effects in creating a true ‘B-Game’, it would mean the developer would have to break the very backbone of that videogame, its game design.

For that very reason alone, many game designers as well as game journalists (including Gamasutra’s own Christian Nutt) have stated that it would be near impossible to create a true ‘B-Game’. For the most part, they do have a point. Conventional wisdom would tell you that creating a game with intentionally broken game mechanics would only bear a bad game. Luckily Suda 51 (Goichi Suda) and his game studio, Grasshopper Manufacture, were never much for conventional wisdom, because if they were we would have never gotten No More Heroes; one of the only games that deserves the title of being called a ‘B-Game’.

In No More Heroes, Suda 51 creates a legitimate ‘B-Game’ by emphasizing on two aspects; the game’s ‘B-Movie’ style and the tweaking of the game’s core mechanics. Before we go into the more interesting aspect of No More Heroes’ core game mechanics, let’s get the more obvious association to a ‘B-Game’ out of the way first, the game’s style.

Everything about No More Heroes’ style screams to the player tongue-and-cheek. From the early references of classic games to the game’s various visual cues to the dialogue that regularly goes off script with the characters acknowledging that they are all part of a videogame. On the surface No More Heroes wants the player to be very clear of its ‘B-Game’ intentions. Through its Lo-Fi presentation it wants it to be the enthusiast’s guilty pleasure and for the most part it succeeds in doing so.

However this is not the difficult part of cracking the ‘B-Game’ formula. Many other games in the past like Duke Nukem 3-D and Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard have presented a viable ‘B-Game’ style, but had faltered in the execution with its gameplay mechanics. For a ‘B-Game’ to truly earn its ‘B-Status’ moniker, the game mechanics itself must be some how intrinsically broken. So in there lies the catch-22 of the matter. How in the world do you create an enjoyable game by breaking what makes an enjoyable game in the first place, its core game mechanics? Suda 51’s answer to this; it’s all about the pacing.

While I was going through No More Heroes the question I would constantly be asking myself would be, why am I doing this? Why on earth am I suffering through this mini-game in where you collect these coconuts and jam on the A Button to carry them back to the vendor? Yet before the thought of closing the game had even entered my mind, the mini-game had ended. These types of experiences are littered throughout No More Heroes.

Another example of this would be when you are in the heat of battle. Your energy sword, for whatever reason, consistently runs out of battery. So what do you do? You have to feverishly shake your Wii-mote to recharge your energy sword leaving yourself open for your enemy to attack. While it does get a bit annoying in close battles, it never lasts too long to effect you significantly in combat. Now many of you are probably thinking the same thing, if these mechanics are so broken why include them in the game at all?  Well, that goes back into the necessary ingredients of a ‘B-Game’.  

What Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture realized is that in making a ‘B-Game’ some game mechanics have to be broken, but at the same time that does not mean those broken mechanics should take away from the core experience of a game. In many ways, No More Heroes is more similar to PC games from Eastern Europe like STALKER or Men of War then most Japanese games that play test a game to perfection.

These broken nuances in No More Heroes have the same charm as terrible special effects would have in a ‘B-Movie’. Even though there is a certain charm to some of those broken game mechanics, too many of them would have just broken the game completely. The brilliance of Suda 51 is how he paced No More Heroes so that the “crescendos” of the game would be solidly designed to counteract with the game’s broken nuances.      

What the developers constantly do is propel the player to go further by creating these peaks in which the player works towards. In No More Heroes, these peaks are represented by the various assassins (or boss battles) in the game. With each boss battle Suda 51 throws a new brilliant twist, sometimes changing the very nature of the battle from one phrase to the next or as simple as adding booby traps throughout the playing field.

These boss battles are the solid foundation which No More Heroes supports on, which in turn makes those broken instances less of a nascence and more of a charming quirk. This constant counter-balancing makes No More Heroes still have that ‘B-Status’ element throughout without sacrificing its base mechanics of a solid game.

 When it is all said and done, No More Heroes is one of the very few true ‘B-Games’ out there in this day of age, because it incorporates both style and game mechanics to that ‘B-Status’ moniker. Many around the industry look at No More Heroes as a quirky Wii game from the mind of Suda 51, when in fact it is so much more.

No More Heroes represents that the ‘B-Status’ is possible in the videogame medium. But where most ‘B-Status’ entertainment showcases the lack of a solid foundation, a ‘B-Game’ can only be possible with it.

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