Travis Touchdown is back, and he's ready to chop up more dudes and scream as many swear words as necessary to get the job done. This one is just as insane as the first, and you'll probably have even more fun.
There comes a time in every man’s life when he must stop worrying about his own ego and start to focus on the things that truly matter: love, happiness, and success. Luckily for us, Travis Touchdown cares not for these things. He bought a beam sword on the internet and is more concerned about being the top assassin in the town of Santa Destroy. He’s incredibly cocky and rarely thinks of others. Nope, sorry to all the do-gooders and feel-gooders out there – this is not a coming of age tale. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is a bizarre romp through one of the most gleefully demented video game universes ever created.
The Opposite of Sensual
Put simply, this game is nuts. Not necessarily because of the gratuitous blood-rain deaths, random obscenities, or the clinically insane characters – but because Desperate Struggle takes the neck-breaking speed and intensity of the first installment and improves upon it in every way possible to deliver a truly engaging and unique experience.
The formula hasn’t changed – you’re still hacking and slashing at well-dressed bodyguards and flamboyant bosses, doing odd jobs to build up cash for new weapons (although this time in 8-bit throwback glory), and using the restroom to save your game. The annoying and useless hub world from the first game is out in favor of an overhead map navigated with a simple menu interface. There’s more of everything: weapons, bosses, mini-games, profanity, and pure, unadulterated absurdity.
It appears that No More Heroes creator Suda51 created like a gripping and tightly wound storyline about an assassin’s quest for revenge, changed every plausible real world idea to its polar opposite, and then handed it off to an oxygen deprived monkey on a high fructose corn syrup binge for punch-up. From the very moment it starts, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is delightfully demented and utterly insane.
Long story short: Travis has lost his number one assassin ranking and needs to get it back. Once again, he probably won’t take any prisoners, will most likely drop at least seventy-two hundred f-bombs, and will continue to decorate his hotel room with super cute anime posters. The game presents itself in pseudo-new age comic book style; there are a few rough spots here and there, but it is generally pleasing to the eye, even given the Wii’s lack of graphic prowess. The sequel also retains all of the great innuendo, blatant profanity, and dark sense of humor, and throws in some pleasant surprises along the way.
The Beautiful Stench of Blood
All of the insanity aside, the most important question is apparent: Does Desperate Struggle separate itself from other 3D action brawlers in terms of sheer gameplay? Despite the fact that Desperate Struggle boasts a savvy style, head-scratching quirkiness, and a special uniqueness, an in-depth analysis of its gameplay depth is certainly warranted.
Ultimately, there’s little conceptual difference between No More Heroes 2 and any other 3D action game of the past two generations: lock on to your target, dodge its attacks, and beat it up. Combat in games nowadays succeeds or fails based on one major factor: combat options – and No More Heroes 2 offers a solid amount of variety. You’ve essentially got two basic movesets for your primary weapon and two basic sets of melee attacks, which you can toggle between by raising or lowering the Wii-mote. Each stance also has a high-powered charge attack.
Speaking of stances, the low stance appears to deal more damage, stagger the enemy, and has a wider range of motion, allowing for hits to multiple enemies, depending on your weapon of choice. The high stance yields faster attacks, but doesn’t deliver quite the punch or staggering effect to your targets. Switching stances mid-combo allows for great mix-up opportunities to get around your opponent’s guard. This also gives you a chance to speed up or slow down your chain, depending on how you want to pace your attacks. This feature isn’t absolutely necessary to succeed in the game, but presents a more customized feel to basic combat situations.
When you’ve slashed your enemy’s health down to bits, you’ll generally finish him off with a slash of the Wii-mote in the direction displayed on the screen. The game transitions into these gory, fatal sequences flawlessly, without interrupting the general flow of the combat. This works well – slashing your Wii-mote keeps you engaged in the action without feeling like a cheap waggle gimmick.
Travis also has an aptly named “ecstasy meter.” When full, a flurry of high-speed attacks can be unleashed on the nearest opponent. Also, after successfully murdering a henchman, a small slot machine appears at the bottom of the screen. If you get the right combination, Travis will scream something incoherent and go a time-sensitive rampage that corresponds to the winning slots. While pleasing to the eye and rewarding in difficult situations, this seemingly dulls the otherwise complex gameplay and temporarily turns Desperate Struggle into a desperate bore. Granted, this is a rare bonus, but perhaps these rampages should require some degree of difficulty, timing, or skill.
Stone Cold Stunner Shades
Chopping people in half isn’t the only way to finish off your foes – you’ve also got the ability to mix in various punches and kicks into your combos. A well-timed melee attack will sometimes knock back your target, giving an opportunity to regroup and press your assault or retreat to safety to recharge your batteries. If enough damage is done, you’ll land a stun from time to time, which allows you to go for a seemingly-out-of-place-but-totally-awesome wrestling move.
After the initial grapple, wrestling moves are executed by simultaneously moving the Wii-mote and nunchuk in specified directions. This time around, you won’t feel like you’re being cheated out of a move due to unresponsiveness; Travis easily flows from a punch combo to a grapple without much of a delay. Usually, executing a successful body slam or suplex spells doom to your opponent, not to mention the sheer aesthetic pleasure of seeing a spiky-haired, beam sword wielding trendy kid perfectly suplex a guy in an Armani suit trying to fight with a wrench. (I told you this game is absurd.) Scoring a stun and a slam kills an enemy a lot faster than the hack and slash – essentially the game rewards you for pulling off more difficult moves.
Fortunately for the challenge’s sake, it’s not always easy to stun an enemy. You need to anticipate enemy movements, mix up your combos, and be as opportunistic as possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to time a good stun, or figure out exactly how to land one against some bosses. Nonetheless, when you do, it’s a huge payoff if you’re able to seize the opportunity.
Defensively, you’re options are slightly more limited. Other than an evasive roll, standard blocking, and a difficult sidestepping counter attack, Travis doesn’t have much up his sleeve defensively, nor does he really need to use much of it. Perhaps if the regular enemies were more aggressive we would be forced to play a more defensive or reactive style from time to time. Sometimes enemies are too reactive themselves and tend to just stand there until attacked, making it much too easy to force your own pace on your enemy. There also appears to be little to no hit detection when some enemies are getting up from a knockdown, basically giving them an underserved two or three second invincibility period.
On the other hand, boss characters (and there will be plenty of them) generally force their own attack patterns on the player, forcing you to become the reactive one. Boss battles are still insanely intense, but the fact that nearly every battle is nothing more than pattern memorization is disappointing. Games have been like this since their inception, but it’s near time that a middle ground is found so that combat becomes more dynamic. This doesn’t mean that No More Heroes 2 is a miserable failure; the combat is still overall fluid and immersive, but the fact that a good 75 percent of boss battles is reacting to a simple pattern shows that this game does not push the envelope in the realm of promoting dynamic gameplay.
Let’s Paint These Walls with Party
Overall, the environments are rather bland: abandoned warehouses, random buildings, and empty streets. No More Heroes 2 does sport some destructible environments, but none that seem to affect gameplay other plan hiding various powerups and items. All in all, the game is simply rooms full of enemies to kill. The bad guys don’t even make interesting entrances, like jumping out of a helicopter or emerging from a sewer. The majority of the time they’re just standing there looking as if they’re waiting for someone to beat up. An ambush or even an interesting configuration of enemies is rare. There’s also a failed attempt at a sneaking mission and some ineffective and unnecessary motorcycle smash up; neither match the intensity of the normal combat system. Fortunately, combat is insanely fun and hides the otherwise blandness of each level. Still, this otherwise sweet dish of action could’ve used an extra spice or two; a more embellished level design would have been perfect.
This time around, there are two other playable characters thrown into the mix. For the spoiler sensitive crowd, I won’t reveal their names. Each adds an interesting dynamic – jumping or dashing – so you’re not feeling as if you’re simply playing with a palette swap. You can’t pick and choose when to use them; they’re simply inserted into the storyline at key moments. The fact that one character can jump and other can dash poses an interesting question, however: why can’t Travis jump or dash? A lack of buttons, maybe? It’s an interesting thought, and surely it would have greatly expanded the aforementioned “combat options” if Travis had the ability to jump over his enemies or pull off an air combo. Still, the exclusive feel of the other characters is a welcome addition.
For the side jobs, the second installment of No More Heroes does away with the tedious wagglefests and annoying minigames of the first and implements old-school 8-bit minigames. These minigames are a true throwback to classic gaming. Set to frantic NES-style background music, the side jobs challenge players to suck up bugs, deliver pizzas, or grab coconuts. In fact, I found myself getting slightly addicted to the coconut grabber minigame.