Running on my 42" HD TV, with the original component cable, No More Heroes 2 on the Wii is a special kind of ugly. It may have a great personality, but if it were a dog I'd shave its arse and make it walk backwards. Or probably just have it put down. The stylish elements of NMH2 fall victim to the limitations of the Wii, all but lost in the fog of 480i, where menu screens are so blurry that the text within is virtually illegible. As much as I was enjoying the gameplay, I have had to shelve Travis Touchdown's second outing, at least until I buy a composite cable, which I am told will slightly improve things.
The Wii is a peculiar console; a piece of kit that features specs more akin to the last generation than the current, and can look better running on an SDTV than the HD sets that are now the living room standard. The result is that Mii's look like they have had a bottle of acid dumped over their gurning faces, crisp detail is irrecoverably lost and it is near impossible to get the visuals to fit the screen correctly. I rarely dwell on visual output, yet NMH2, and more specifically the Wii have got me thinking about the role they play in my enjoyment of video games.
The constant need to feature groundbreaking graphics is part cause of the ever spiraling cost of developing AAA games. We expect a certain level of graphical polish from the biggest retail releases but, for me at least, the wow-factor of cutting-edge visuals soon wears off as I become accustomed to them, yet expect their continued presence. The world of Grand Pulse, the facial animation of Cole Phelp's suspects, and the stunning and memorable battle grounds of Call of Duty all greatly impress, but within 30 minutes I'm taking them for granted and concentrating almost exclusively on the meat of the experience: gameplay.
On the other hand, I will notice straight away if the graphics are not on par with the gameplay. As much as I am still enjoying Resistance 3, I cant help but notice how underwhelming the visuals are. The muted, brown palette doesn't help much, but the graphics are clearly a step below it's AAA competitors. Fortunately, its a secondary concern as other areas of the game really shine, in particular the devastating weaponry, now catalogued with the much missed weapon wheel from the original, and the entertaining secondary fire modes. If the gameplay is up to scratch, then I'd like to think that its easy to forgive a lack of visual polish.
It will be interesting to see how well some of today's celebrated visual achievements age. Looking back at the fifth generation of consoles - PlayStation, Saturn, N64 - there is now a clear distinction between games that have retained their visual charms and those that have not; loosely speaking, they can be divided into 2D and 3D titles. Although it had been explored before with games like Virtua Fighter and Star Fox, the fifth generation saw 3D graphics come of age, and how impressed we all were by them. Unfortunately, these pioneering games now look a mess, which can negatively impact the enjoyment of what are otherwise classics.
With it's jagged edges and nipples so sharp they'd take an eye out, it's much harder now to appreciate just how great Tomb Raider was back in 1996. Removing those rose tinted glasses, Grandia is a blocky mess and the pixels do get in the way of immersing yourself in it's universe and narrative, whereas the 2D backdrops of Final Fantasy VII-IX can still impress. Street Fighter vs. X-Men and Guardian Heroes still look beautiful on the Saturn, running on my HDTV no less, as their 2D visuals have weathered fifteen years of graphical advancements rather well. In a decades time, I wonder how I'll feel about revisiting Heavy Rain, Black Ops and LA Noire - games that rely heavily on their graphical clout.
Returning to the present, HDMi cables bring a clarity to visuals that I cant imagine being without, though I wonder what percentage of PS3 and 360 owners actually use them. Even in these days of affordable HDTVs and cheap performance enhancing cables, I'm still wary that a significant number of new PS3 games will only run in 720p. I even reviewed a game earlier this year, PopCap Hits! Vol 1 on the 360, where certain parts could not be displayed in Pal-60 (i.e. with a HDMi cable). It would seem that its not just the consumer who is yet to fully embrace and understand true, HD resolution.
Although there are some exceptions - Metal Gear Solid 4 and Uncharted spring to mind - the best looking games tend to arrive towards the end of a consoles shelf life. By that time, developers have learnt all the necessary short cuts and nuances of the hardware and, if they are so inclined, are able to push the limits. I have read a number of developer interviews that suggest the 360 is nearing its performance capacity, which coincides with whispers of a new Xbox announcement due next year, whereas the PS3 still has a way to go. It is a knock on the Wii perhaps, and its outdated insides, that I haven't noticed much graphical improvement over its five years, though there is only so much you can do with two GameCubes gaffer taped together. This is probably beside the point, as no one in their right mind would play Wii for visuals sake alone.
We always associate the move to a new generation of consoles with an improvement in graphics, though you have to wonder at what point does financial common sense dictate that enough is enough, and that what we currently have will suffice. We are clearly not there yet, as manufacturers are still content to push new, powerful hardware that make a substantial loss. Perhaps the Wii is yet another example of Nintendo's knack for forward thinking, discarding the costly notion that each new generation must come with a significant jump in graphical fidelity, instead setting a precedent for innovation in other areas.
If there is something worthwhile underneath, I can always get past second rate visuals. Unfortunately, No More Heroes 2 and the Wii have proven the exception to this rule, and until my new composite cable arrives, my Wii will remain a weekend-only, karaoke machine. Sorry Travis.