JF03 - No More Heroes 2 Desperate Struggle

03 - No More Heroes 2 Desperate Struggle
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacturer
Platform: Wii

Its predecessor is the reason I call my Wii the "No More Heroes Machine". Reception for the first No More Heroes was pretty mixed. The game stood out in its simple combat, efficient motion control use and overall stylized atmosphere. However, features such as the free roaming over world and dull side mission system took away from an otherwise solid title.

It seems that Grasshopper Manufacturer and Director Goichi "Suda 51" took these criticisms to heart during the production of No More Heroes 2 Desperate Struggle. While the base gameplay remains unchanged, the original's faults have been either tweaked or outright removed. Everything you liked about the first No More Heroes is still here, and everything you hated has been replaced.

While this may be a call for celebration, for those who actually enjoyed those aspects may be a tad disappointed.

No More Heroes 2 (NMH2) is a third person action brawler from developers Grasshopper Manufacture. Players reassume the role of punk geek Travis Touchdown. The former First Rank UAA (United Assassins Association) Assassin is now tasked with avenging the death of his best friend, Bishop. To do so, he must reenter the association and climb back to number one. Armed with a variety of Light Beam Katanas, Travis sets off to battle the 51 assassins that stand in between him and vengeance.

Upon starting up, veteran players will feel right at home. Travis' base of operations still remains his motel room apartment from the first game. Exiting the motel room however produces a far less familiar feeling. The first No More Heroes had players to travel around in-game city Santa Destroy. The main problem was that it was void of any life. The only interaction Travis could have with it was to find hidden collectibles. Due to this, the city was just a big prolonged menu that took time to select what you wanted to do.

NMH2 cut out the middleman, and outside Travis' place brings players to an actual menu. Selecting to go to the gym or the next assassin fight is just a button press away and no longer a few minute drive. This is a great change for players that want to get right into the action. However, those who liked the driving/exploration will have one less thing to do now. It feels a little disappointing that the free-roaming aspect wasn't improved upon, but its absence doesn't take away from the main game.

That main game of course is slashing people in the face with sweet light beam swords. NMH2 controls more or less like the first, remaining a basic brawler with simple yet efficient motion control. You have buttons assigned to attack, kick, and target enemies. Decapitating combo finishers, wrestling moves and sword clashing is handled by flicking or rotating the Wii Remote when prompted. The d-pad fully controls dodging, though its placement makes dodging feel awkward sometimes. For those who prefer the classic controller, that controlling option is supported too.

The combat is straight forward, but lacks any real depth against the game's common enemies. It boils down to running up to someone and mashing the A button until they become a fountain of blood. Add in the occasion dodge to avoid an attack then rinse and repeat. Killing an enemy also gives Travis the chance to enter a stylized killing mode, which adds a bit more flare to the formula. With that said, the combat is still a satisfying experience. Travis just looks awesome and natural doing so. The combat is simple, but it works well enough that cutting thugs in half doesn't get old.

Defeating these common enemies leads you to a higher ranked battle. These fights are definitely the highlight of the game and add a nice variety to the combat. Armed with a signature weapon and a number of different moves, no two assassins are alike. These battles boil down to pattern recognition, with knowing when to go in, attacking a bit then dodging out before you're hit. Nailing this is crucial since bosses tend to take out quite a bit of health. Certain fights have other dynamics to them to look out for, such as environmental hazards or special play conditions. However, the pattern recognition emphasis still stands. The thing with these boss fights is that Travis doesn't feel overly strong. Going in for an attack doesn't seem to do too much damage, which creates a solid pacing to the fights. While some may be put off by how patterned-based they are, the ranked fights are a great contrast to normal enemy encounters.

A part of what makes the ranked fights great is just seeing whom Travis will fight next. Gone from the first game is an entry fee to fight, so players can jump into each ranked match right away. They vary from hip hop record moguls, highschool quarterbacks and even some returning faces ready for their second shot at Travis. Most of them have interesting personas but lack the same introduction/development the assassins received in the first. While it fits with the "kill now, ask questions later" urgency of the game, there isn't a time afterward to ask. This is a shame since some back-story would really add to each of the rank fight's experience.

One of the story highlights is a hidden fight in which Travis can be challenged. Anytime after becoming Rank 25, exiting and returning to the motel will activate it. While it happens once, it adds a nice touch in enforcing the ranking list feel. However, the ranks themselves have some issues - mainly that they're pretty deceiving. While the game starts off with Travis becoming Rank 51, don't expect to battle 50 more assassins. The game takes liberties in skipping you ahead, but it happens one more time than it should. While 50 unique bosses might have been pushing it, given how little information the current assassins have, a few more wouldn't hurt. Rest assured, there's more than the first, but only by a few.

It is during some of these fights that players are able to control other characters. They are familiar faces from the original, and each have a unique gameplay aspect. Their B button action differs from Travis, making their combat feel fresh. However, they do have their own faults ranging from annoying platforming sections to frankly not enough playtime. While they are a nice addition, being able to control them in a new game or mode would have greatly added to the replayability.

While the rank fights are the main bulk of the game, they aren't the only thing to do in Santa Destroy. Travis can buy new treads at Airport 51, get stronger in Ryan's gym, or buy new weapons from Naomi's lab. More importantly there is a new selection of side jobs and revenge mission that can be played to earn cash.

The side jobs are presented in 8-bit minigames. These range from a coconut picking side scroller to a car dodging motorcycler and even a Pipe Dream clone. While the variety is certainly there, the novelty wears off quick. Each game has few variations, if any. Once you've played a game a few times, you pretty much know how they'll pan out. The first game ranked your side mission results with medals, giving a bit of an incentive to play again. These 8-bit renditions are just there to earn cash, so there's no real point to go back if you don't enjoy them.

The 8-bit style is also used to replace the game's training missions. They cost a few dollars in order to increase Travis' strength and health. These upgrades become essential as you progress up the ranks, as the main battles become just as much a test of endurance. Each playthrough doesn't guarantee a stat increase which makes retries inevitable. They lack proper instructions and even any on screen indication that you're succeeding. This is especially the case with the strength mini-game, which seems to have different pass requirements for each level. In the end, these are certainly the ones that take the most practice. While they are a throwback to the harder games of the past, better game feedback would have been appreciated.

The Revenge missions have you killing a wave of enemies in a given time limit, while eventually taking out one of Bishop's shooters. These are NMH2's rendition of the first game's Assassin missions. The problem with the Revenge scenarios is that they're simply kill this guy and you're done. There is no variety to them at all. To make matters worse, Bishop's shooters are not different than the regular gun-touting enemies, so killing them isn't even that satisfying. Don't expect to earn much money from them either, so if you need a few extra dollars you're stuck playing the side jobs.

Other than spending your hard earned dollars on buffing up, Travis has a selection of two additional swords to purchase from Dr. Naomi. The weapons are handled well this time around, with Travis able to alternate between them in levels. Each sword feels different, and is better suited to handle different types of enemies. They can no longer be upgraded, which takes away a bit of longevity and reduces Naomi's role as a whole. Once the two swords are purchases (which can happen early on in the game) there becomes no point in visiting. Unless, you want to check out, uh, Naomi's other features.

What makes NHM2 a complete package is the overall style it is presented on. The game retain its very in your face and lighthearted attitude throughout. From sexual imagery, fourth wall breaking and nonsensical plot, players can easily tell this is a Suda 51 title. While the story does show Travis' more genuine moments, you can tell that there's comic relief right around the corner. Players expecting the same closure as the first may have their hopes slashed, but it still ends with a more serious chance for a sequel.

The game itself looks great, with more detailed models than the first. Santa Destroy is colourful and all its inhabitants show this. Players will visit a number of different locales, with a few stylized sections in between that really highlight the scope of the game. The only thing that doesn't quite get the same treatment is the over world menu, which is probably the plainest thing in the game. Other than that, it still packs as much style as any Suda 51 game you'd expect.

Accompanying the stylized atmosphere is a great soundtrack. The original No More Heroes theme returns, with different genre remixes to set player battles and a few of the stores. Ranked Assassin fights get their own themes that fit each fight perfectly. The 8-bit games themselves have a nostalgic retro sound to them, even including compressed voices. The voice acting itself is spot on, bringing out the unique character in each of the cast. While the sound production is top touch, there are a few instances where there is no background music at all; making these areas feel really dead.

In all, No More Heroes 2 is a solid action game for the Wii. It is a very stylized experience full of action, interesting characters and a simple yet satisfying combat system. What makes the title weird however is the lack of replayability that it could potentially have had. While the annoying aspects from the first game have been removed, things that also extended the experience were as well. Players that have grown to love the original's quirks may need a few hours to adjust, but the same charm remains. Travis' new journey is not one to miss and worthy enough to crown the Wii "The No More Heroes Machine".

Useless Facts:
-Rating: 8/10, 4/5, Really good.
-Initial Playtime: 1#:##:##
-Started January 26
-Finished: January 31