I was never a fan of videogame developer Grasshopper Manufacture, the studio led by Goichi Suda aka “Suda51,” at least not at first. I played the PS2 port of killer7 for about two minutes before giving up in frustration. “What do you mean I can only move forward and backwards in one dimension while everyone else can move freely?” “I can’t aim accurately using this stupid console analog stick!” I switched it off before I cleared the first room of the first stage. I didn’t care HOW great the so-called “amazing story” I kept hearing about was, not when the actual game itself was so insufferable.
So when they released a PS2 game based on the hit anime Samurai Champloo, I thought nothing of it. “Oh, another weird cel-shaded game that makes no sense and is all ‘style over substance’ with tedious gameplay,” I thought. I didn’t even bother to try it. But then I started hearing great things about the RPG Contact for the Nintendo DS. I wanted to play it, but since it was published by Atlus I estimate only about 20 copies of this game were ever created. As any fan of Disgaea or Trauma Center will attest to, if you don’t preorder any title they release then good luck.
But my opinion of Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture finally reached a turning point when No More Heroes came out for the Wii. I watched a friend play through the first stage, and simply seeing it in action was enough for me to warrant making the purchase for myself. The introductory cutscene makes you think it’s another “hip” and “stylish” sort of game, but by the end of the first level where you realize that the hero, Travis Touchdown, worships the most evil demonic force of them all, I realized that these lunatics went and made a game specifically for the entertainment of people just like me. Robin Atkin Downes, for your role as Travis Touchdown I hereby forgive you for being Byron in Season 5 of Babylon 5. It’s hard enough to get people to believe me when I say that show is awesome without having to defend your pretty as a pony haircut and British accent!
The anime references were one thing, but the nods to pro wrestling and lucha libre sealed the deal. When I saw the name “Mask de Panther” pop up, I did a double-take; that’s the name they use to refer to Tiger Mask in the Fire Pro Wrestling series of games I’ve been playing for decades. Turns out Suda51 got his start working on one of the Fire Pro Wrestling games, though true to form he made sure to have your main character commit suicide at the end of the story mode.
When I beat No More Heroes, I concluded that it was truly one for the ages. By all means, go purchase it to help send the message that Wii titles can be successful without Nintendo characters in them. Yet in all honesty, the number one criticism levied towards all of the Grasshopper Manufacture / Suda51 titles held true: it was awfully darned repetitive. I must have heard “are you prepared, huh?” about 100 times by the end of Stage 1 alone, and Sylvia’s cell phone messages were the same thing over and over. The background music for each level is slight variations of the same 5-second melody, and nearly every single store in the game sees fit to play that one Genki Rockets song from Lumines 2. But you know what? I didn’t care! I was too preoccupied with slamming and slicing up assassins in pursuit of seeing the next ridiculous killer and often more ridiculous cinematic.
And then it hit me. “Wait, that’s exactly what everyone who played killer7 said, too: that they forgave any possible gameplay deficiencies due to the strength of the presentation!” With my curiosity piqued due to all the killer7 references in No More Heroes (I could tell they were referring TO killer7, just not exactly HOW), I decided I’d give killer7 another shot after dismissing it so emphatically all those years ago. But this time I opted to skip the PS2 port and try out the original Gamecube version instead, which I picked up brand new for $7. And what a difference a controller makes, folks. The precision of the Gamecube analog stick blows the Playstation 1/2/3 one out of the water, and making those targeted shots to the elbow/thigh/head became a whole lot more manageable. I soon realized that the gameplay was no more repetitive than No More Heroes was, and once I got the hang of how things worked, it was pretty fun in its own right. Plus, the characters, cutscenes, and storyline are just as interesting as everyone had always said, and so I found myself looking so forward to seeing what was going to happen next that I put off playing Bioshock in favor of killer7. That’s no small praise coming from a System Shock 2 fanatic such as myself!
In the end, while it might have taken me a few years and the power of No More Heroes to compel me, the craziness of Grasshopper Manufacture and their director Suda51 have finally won me over. If you haven’t played No More Heroes yet, do so! If you have, consider giving killer7 a look if you once passed it over. The Wii can play Gamecube games too, after all. And don’t be too concerned about all the people saying how incredibly weird killer7 is. We’re anime fans. We’re used to things not always making a whole lot of sense and just accepting bizarre premises at face value. Heck, we sat through Serial Experiments Lain and two seasons of Big O, right? Compared to the madness of Chiaki “Can’t Write an Ending” Konaka, the narrative of killer7 is NOTHING!