No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle Review
Despite its problems, the original No More Heroes was a fun, adult-themed third-person hack-and-slash that was a welcome addition to the mostly family friendly lineup on the Nintendo Wii. When news of a sequel came around, fans were reasonably excited. Not only would it bring some much-needed fine-tuning to the gameplay, it also promised up to 50 assassins to carve your way through, minigames that were based on 8-bit NES titles, and the ability to wield two beam sabers.
While the sequel did not exactly deliver on everything promised, the overall experience was another solid entry in the No More Heroes lineup and another wacky, hyper, violent hack-and-slasher for the Wii audience.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle picks up three years after the first title. Travis Touchdown is now an accomplished assassin who's lured back into the world of competitive killing for a very different reason than before. A group of unidentified thugs kill Travis’ best friend, sending him on a quest for answers and vengeance as he carves and slices his way through enemies.
Like the previous game, you’ll enter different areas filled with generic looking henchmen for you to slice your way through until you meet up with each area’s boss. Controls are the same from the previous game -- holding the Wiimote to determine Travis' stance and moving the nunchuck in a certain direction to perform wrestling finishing moves on your opponents. Once you make your way to each boss, you’ll be locked in an enclosed area with only the boss and your sword skills between you and victory.
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It plays very similar to the last game, and this is a very good thing. The combat was easily one of the best features in the prequel. Bringing it back and keeping it largely the same ensures that the combat feels smooth and remains violent. Each strike of the saber brings a satisfying electric sizzle when hitting enemies, and each swing culminates in a graceful dance of death between you and your opponents.
Also like the last game, the variety of bosses you'll encounter is staggering, upping both the uniqueness and challenge of the bosses from the previous title. Each boss plays differently from the last, and most require more strategy than simply running in and slashing away. A fighter who uses a transforming boombox as arms and a high school football star who pilots a giant mech are some of the more “normal” bosses you’ll come across. Considering that the previous title had some of the most memorable bosses in this generation of gaming, the fact that NMH2 tops them in nearly every way is quite a feat.
Another feature returning from the previous game is the use of minigames to earn extra money used to purchase in-game items such as clothing or new beam sabers. While the minigames from the previous installment were a boring and repetitive collection of time wasters, this is ... slightly less repetitive.
The design choice to turn them into 8-bit style games similar to NES titles was a good one. They sound great and, for the most part, play great as well. However, there is no escaping the fact that after you complete all of the minigames -- which won't take you long -- there is very little incentive to keep playing them. Previously, you needed to complete minigames to earn cash in order to participate in boss fights. Now, boss fights are free to enter. The money earned from these minigames can now go solely toward buying new beam sabers (including a dual beam saber!) and new clothing, making them entirely optional and not really worth playing through if you’re only interested in finishing the game. Despite the new retro coat of paint, they are still a chore and serve as more of a distraction rather than an incentive to keep playing.
Navigating an open world is no longer present in NMH2, as you now have a simplified map screen where you select the locations you need to get to. There are still portions in which Travis’ tricked-out bike comes into play, but those are reserved for more combat intensive purposes and come off as much more entertaining than as a means of transportation in a dull and featureless town.
Finally, you’ll be able to take control of other characters as well. Don’t get too excited, though. Despite the promise that the back of the box offers, these characters are only controllable for a short period of time in certain areas of the game. While each moment lasts, it’s a fun and exciting change of gameplay style that is all but forgotten once the section is over. It's a disappointment. This type of game is screaming for multiple playable characters during gameplay, and with it only teasing at what could have been, it's a missed opportunity.
Along with the other playable characters, the game also teases when it comes to the total number of bosses. At the beginning of the game, your rank is 51, indicating there are 50 more bosses waiting to be slaughtered. However, the actual number of boss encounters is much less. While there are significantly more bosses that in the previous title, it is still well below the 50 assassins the game leads you to believe you are fighting. It’s another disappointment for those expecting a bigger game than before. You have to ask yourself why would they even mention something like this only to fall back on promises and offer much less content. A part of me suspects this is another form of gaming industry satire that Suda 51 is known for cleverly inserting into his titles. However, a more cynical part of me suspects that this was just another way to cut corners in game development. While the original premise may have included 50 assassins to kill, the amount of time and effort required to make each of them special and unique would be insane.
NMH2 is a sequel that realizes the worth of its own series and continues to play with what made it great. With its devil-may-care swagger and tongue-in-cheek look at gameplay conventions and expectations, NMH2 is a blood-soaked satire with a hack-and-slash set of clothing. There are areas that falter, but what is here is something unlike any other game in its genre -- or any genre. It’s refreshing to see a game and a developer with the freedom to express himself without worries of a demographic or publisher’s agenda to satisfy.
With the Wii seemingly in its twilight years and the Wii U on the horizon, it's worth it to take the time to go back and try this game out. While not perfect, there is so much that it does right and so many interesting approaches to old gaming tropes that it is more than worth your time and money if only to see a game that exists outside so many rules, conventions, and standards that have sadly become industry staples.