There is a lot to love about the No More Heroes port on Nintendo Switch. The cult Wii game, directed by Goichi Suda (known by his moniker, "Suda51"), mocked the family image of Nintendo in an M-rated odyssey that gleefully dropped F-bombs and had suggestively jerking the Wii remote as a key game mechanic.
But No More Heroes hasn't made it to 2020 unscathed. While it looks better on Switch than on the cruddy Wii, it has lost a bit of its chaotic identity. Nothing personifies that more than in the one-time inclusion of the electronic pop song "Heavenly Star" by Genki Rockets.
No More Heroes players loved this earworm in '08, and it's inexplicably missing in the 2020 port, likely due to expired licensing. While it's a small omission, it makes the biggest difference.
To hear "Heavenly Star" is to be sent to the heavens. Overproduced and overly cheerful, the song is what falling in love sounds like. It is at once a generic late-2000s radio pop song and an unusual, otherworldly piece that feels like it is composed by aliens.
It's a catchy song. And it's a song No More Heroes heroes on Wii fell in love with years ago. Its sonic joy contrasted sweetly like sugar on the game's burnt beef.
Originally, "Heavenly Star" was heard in Naomi's shop. Naomi, a hard-drinking gal who sells protagonist Travis Touchdown upgrades for his beam katana (the game's version of a lightsaber), had the song playing in her shop on loop. The music video was also in the game as a VHS tape in Travis' motel apartment.
On Switch, what plays instead is the game's theme song. Anyone who remembers No More Heroes on Wii knows that something's off. For newcomers who didn't, it comes off like a lazy effort.
Since the release of No More Heroes on Switch last week, fans have expressed frustration over its absence. As a small but defining part of the game, players feel newcomers are robbed of the complete experience and that the game isn't really in its purest form.
"If you’re playing No More Heroes for the 1st time on Switch then you are being ROBBED of one of the most critical elements. THE MUSIC," tweeted YouTuber Rob of RuleOf2Review. He described the song as "criminally absent" from the port.
"Heavenly Star" was a 2008 single by Genki Rockets, a virtual band (think Gorillaz) created by game developer and Q Entertainment co-founder Tetsuya Mizuguchi. There was a story tied to the band: Its singer was a fictional character named Lumi, a 17-year-old girl born on the International Space Station. In reality, Lumi's voice belonged to singer Rachel Rhodes, who still makes music under the name Rei Yasuda.
Genki Rockets enjoyed prominence in the late 2000s, having "performed" at events like Live Earth Tokyo (where they were followed by Al Gore) and YouTube Live 2010. An unnamed DJ in a spacesuit was Genki Rockets' sole physical presence at concerts. After two albums, Heavenly Star in 2008 and No Border Between Us in 2011, the band went "offline," and creator Mizuguchi left Q Entertainment in 2013.
No More Heroes included Genki Rockets for a simple reason: Suda51 and Mizuguchi were friends.
During E3 weekend in 2006, when No More Heroes was still in development, Suda51 told Mizuguchi he was obsessed with "Heavenly Star" after Mizuguchi showed him an early cut of the music video. Over a ramen dinner in Los Angeles, the two agreed to feature the song in No More Heroes, according to an archive news post from IGN.
Like many diehard No More Heroes fans, I also find it a bummer the song is missing on Switch. No, it doesn't alter the story or change the mechanics in any real way. This is still No More Heroes, and I'm delighted it's on Switch. I want this game to find a bigger audience, because it's one of my favorite games of all time.
But I lament its omission. The song played a small but crucial role in the game's original experience. It's a spark of shock after spending hours slicing up enemies in gruesome fashion. To waltz into a weapons shop and hear an impossibly colorful pop song is a kind of tonal disconnect that's absolutely refreshing.
Video games are notoriously bad at preservation. It's hard to experience the medium's history due to aging or obsolete hardware. Today's HD ports and remakes make up for that problem, but it's always at the mercy of decisions out of players' control. It's the little things that make the biggest differences, and when it comes to No More Heroes, silence is deafening.
No More Heroes is now available on Nintendo Switch.