Suda 51 is perhaps one of the most unusual developers in modern gaming. People love to point to Hideo Kojima or Tim Schafer as having wild, strange and unusual ideas, but none of them hold a candle to Suda 51. His games veer between bizarre symbolism, strange meta-jokes and pure insanity so quickly that nobody can completely agree what has happened, or even if it was any good. There is no other game in the world that plays like a Suda 51 title, and even seemingly bad design decisions may or may not be part of his overall narrative and unusual sense of humor. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is his most accessible game to date, offering far tighter gameplay and a slightly more coherent plot, but this is by Suda 51 standards, so newcomers should still be prepared for one of the strangest gaming experiences in existence.
No More Heroes 2 takes place a few years after the first game. If you're wondering what happened between the two games, well … don't expect an answer. The first thing the game tells you is that it doesn't matter, and nobody actually wants to hear about it. Sylvia, the con woman from the first game, has returned and drawn Travis Touchdown back into the world of professional assassin battles. Travis is uninterested at first, but after the top assassin has Travis' best (and only) friend murdered, the otaku assassin returns to his old ways to get revenge. Along the way, he'll have to fight through a cast of colorful and bizarre assassins, each more than eager to kill the former champion. If you're expecting a coherent or sensible plot, you don't know Suda 51's style. The entire plot is a strange meta-commentary that breaks the fourth wall at every opportunity. Actions don't seem to have logical reactions, characters appear and vanish at random, and the entire thing could be a massive in-joke or a deep symbolic commentary on the state of video games, depending on which Internet forum you want to ask. You'll have to play No More Heroes 2 to even begin to understand it.
No More Heroes 2's most unusual problem is that it doesn't feel quite as gripping as the original game. Despite all-around gameplay improvements, the characters and plot feel a bit more mundane. It may be because I just finished Bayonetta, but No More Heroes 2 feels surprisingly average for a Suda 51 game. Part of it is the fact that the bosses are a lot less developed. Most get only brief cut scenes to introduce them and even briefer cut scenes when they die. The most memorable of the lot shows up early on, during fights against a boombox-wielding would-be prophet and a mecha-piloting football player. Later fights introduce characters who are forgotten almost as quickly as they appear. To be fair, this is very likely intentional. The entire premise is that Travis kills people and forgets about them without caring about the consequences of his actions. However, this doesn't change the fact that I wasn't smiling or laughing as often as I did in the first game. It's still a humorous and enjoyable title, and there is still plenty of crazy and funny stuff to see, but for a game that bills itself so heavily on its crazy charm, it could have used a little more of it.
The first thing that anyone is going to notice about No More Heroes 2 is that the game has been streamlined. One of the most aggravating aspects of the original game was that you had to grind for obscene amounts of cash by performing boring jobs and assassination minigames. On top of that, you had to drive around the barren city of Santa Destroy if you wanted to get anywhere. No More Heroes 2 fixes both of those problems in a rather effective way. Gone is the free-roaming world map; you can now arrive at your destination after a few moments of loading. Being able to go anywhere at any time means that things move along and the game feels fresh.
More importantly, the grinding has all but been removed from the game. The original title forced you to pay an entrance fee to participate in any of the game's ranking fights, in addition to extra fees for new katanas and power-ups. If you wanted to keep Travis up to date, you'd spend a huge amount of time doing the same missions over and over again to obtain cash for the fun part of the game. No More Heroes 2 has absolutely no required payments to advance the plot. If you wish, you can go from ranking fight to ranking fight without ever having to do the optional side jobs. You do have to pay money for new katanas and yo power up at the local gym, but those are both relatively cheap, and you could generally afford to do so with only one or two playthroughs of one of the new and improved odd jobs. Otherwise, money is only good for buying new clothes to customize Travis' appearance. Being fashionable is expensive, but it's also completely optional and offers no gameplay benefit.
No More Heroes 2 takes a very interesting approach to the odd jobs. When Travis takes a side job in order to earn a little extra cash, the game switches to an 8-bit art style, and you play an NES-style minigame. The minigames also show up when you're training Travis to upgrade his health or stamina, and they range from action games, such as one where you have to collect falling coconuts while avoiding enemies, to puzzle games, including an extremely addictive game where you have to connect two sewage pipes using a series of tubes. Most are between three and four levels, and finishing the final level earns you a rather obscene amount of cash, especially in some of the later minigames. They're varied, fun, addictive and easy, though there are sure to be a few minigames that some people don't enjoy. However, money is so plentiful and unnecessary that you'll never have to play any of the games more than a few times.
As in the first No More Heroes title, the game is divided into a series of ranking fights, which make up the bulk of the game. Since there are no more entry fees, all you have to do to advance the story is choose the next fight from the menu, and you're off. Ranking fights generally open up with a small level before you get to the actual boss fight. The majority of these levels involve you beating the living daylights out of a bunch of foes before you reach the boss room, but a few levels have unique gimmicks. One level asks you to sneak, Metal Gear Solid-style through a heavily guarded base, while another opens up with you and the boss having a motorcycle duel before you actually fight. The gimmicky levels are usually the weakest in the game because they're awkward and bland when compared to the combat. In any other title, they might be a refreshing break, but here, they just stand out as being less developed and less interesting. Fortunately, most of the levels are pure beat-'em-up action, and they're quite well-designed to boot.
The basic gameplay in No More Heroes 2 is almost identical to the first game. Players use the analog stick to move around, and the Wiimote serves to mimic Travis' katana. Pressing the A button attacks, and depending on how you're holding the "blade," Travis will either attack high or low. There is a slight speed and damage difference between the two attacks, and the most effective combos involve switching between the two. You can also charge your attacks to do extra damage or perform a charging melee attack while running at foes. Pressing the d-pad lets you roll away from attacks. When you badly damage or kill an enemy, you can also perform special finishing moves. One set of finishing moves involves your katana and requires you to swing either your Wiimote, or your Wiimote and Nunchuk, in a certain direction. Doing this unleashes a powerful special move that can be further increased in power by repeating the motion while the attack is occurring. If an enemy is stunned by rapid attacks, Travis can also unleash a wrestling move, which is performed in basically the same way as the katana finishers but involve both the Wiimote and Nunchuk.
One thing that may appeal to old-school gamers is that No More Heroes 2 offers the chance to use the Classic Controller instead. When using the Classic Controller, gameplay is far simpler. High and low attacks are bound to the X and Y buttons, respectively. Dodging is done with the right analog stick, and any special moves that would normally involve swinging the Wiimote and Nunchuk are done by pressing directions on the analog stick. This control scheme makes the game significantly easier to play, but it also feels out of place. A lot of the movements and actions are clearly designed to mimic Wiimote motions, so it feels rather bland with the Classic Controller. One very noticeable change involves Travis recharging his beam katana when it runs low on energy. For the Wiimote, this involves shaking it up and down, exactly as Travis does on-screen, but with the Classic Controller, you just waggle the analog stick back and forth. This control scheme is significantly easier on your arms after long gameplay sessions, and you're less likely to accidentally make an incorrect motion during a finishing move.
No More Heroes 2 is a fairly average beat-'em-up, but it has a few interesting gimmicks. Returning from the first game are the slots, which begin to spin every time you kill a foe, and if they hit a jackpot, you enter Darkside mode, where you gain special abilities for a brief period of time. Travis can shoot fireballs, create a room-clearing explosion, or even turn into a tiger. In the original, these slots would activate seemingly at random, and they usually showed up just as you killed the last enemy. In this title, the spinning of the slots is actually connected to the Ecstasy Gauge. As you do damage to enemies, the gauge fills up and Travis grows more powerful. If the gauge is full, Travis gains extra hits on his beam katana combos, and he can even activate a Darkside mode without hitting the slots, although it's less powerful than some of the modes he can get through random chance.
The downside is that the gauge drains if you take damage. Every time Travis is hit, he loses a significant amount of the Ecstasy Gauge, does less damage and is less likely to get a chance at the Darkside mode. This encourages a heavily defensive playing style, but it also gives the player more control over his abilities. A really good player can even activate Darkside mode during boss fights, which helps them go by much faster. Travis also has his Darkslide from the first game, although it's been modified. In the first game, you could slide around a foe whose attack you were about to block by tapping the analog stick at the moment of impact. This has returned in No More Heroes 2, but the timing is much less forgiving, and a mistake is far more likely to end badly for Travis. It's a great technique for skilled players, but no longer does it allow you to cheese through most boss fights.
Perhaps the biggest change is that Travis now has the ability to equip multiple beam katanas at once. The first No More Heroes had multiple katanas, but they had to be changed prior to entering a stage, and each was generally an upgrade to the last. In No More Heroes 2, Travis has multiple beam katana options and can switch between them in the middle of battle, which can encourage players to try different tools. The default beam saber is basically useless, as you'll get an upgrade almost instantly, but the other weapons have their own strengths and weaknesses. The Peony, for example, is huge and heavy, but it also grows in length as his Ecstasy meter fills, turning from a small cudgel into a club that's larger than Travis. The Peony is great for taking our crowds, but it's too slow for bosses. The twin katanas, Rose Nasty, are extremely fast but not as powerful, encouraging players to overwhelm their foes with quick attacks to activate finishing moves. Actually, the Rose Nasty is so ideal that once you obtain it, there's no reason to use another sword. Perhaps the only odd part is that switching weapons can be abused to cheat some of the bosses. When Travis changes swords, there is a shockingly long animation involved, and he's invincible for the duration. If an enemy has a tough-to-avoid attack, you can actually cheese through it by doing this, which is a bit strange.
Once you've gotten through the levels, you'll face the ranking bosses, which are pretty much the traditional video game boss fights. Most involve simple pattern recognition and figuring out the best time and spot to attack the boss. One fight involves battling a crazed astronaut who fires meteors and space lasers, so you're forced to dodge a long series of attacks in order to get close enough to strike. Another is a woman wielding multiple beam katanas on Dr. Octopus-style limbs. In order to defeat her, you have to wait until she finishes a combo and then counterattack quickly before she recovers. Actually, a good number of the boss fights boil down to waiting until the enemy attacks and then hitting them afterward. This is offset by the fact that particularly skilled players will be able to take advantage of some of Travis' lesser-used abilities in these fights to make them significantly easier. Darksliding around foes will allow you to stun them and unleash devastating combos that can take out more than a quarter of a boss' health in a single attack.
The real disappointment is the bosses who really offer very little challenge, even on the unlockable Bitter mode. An early ranking battle is against a football player who summons a robot by combining with his cheerleaders, and the skirmish turns into 2.5-D boss fight between his robot and Travis' own inexplicable giant mecha. Unfortunately, the entire battle boils down to jumping and kicking anytime the boss attacks, so although it's an incredibly memorable boss in concept, the actual fight is very blasé. A battle against a poison-spewing vampiress is only interesting the first time you accidentally walk into her poison cloud. After that, she's a punching bag who goes down faster than some of the regular foes. For the most part, the bosses are fun to fight, but there are a few clunkers. Considering how important the boss fights are to the game, these stand out more than they usually would.
One of the more lackluster aspects of No More Heroes 2 involves the new playable characters. At certain points, you'll take control of two returning characters from the original title. The first is Shinobu Jacobs, a former assassin who Travis spared in the first game and has become his student out of gratitude. The second is Travis' inexplicably Irish twin brother, Henry, who was last seen having a fight to the death with Travis at the end of No More Heroes. During certain boss fights, you'll take control of either Shinobu or Henry, but unfortunately, these fights segments aren't very fun.
Shinobu gives up Travis' special abilities and different katanas in exchange for the ability to jump, but this just means that her levels are filled with slightly awkward platforming segments in between the combat. They're tedious, especially because the game was clearly not designed for platforming. When you add in the fact that the lack of special abilities means Shinobu's combat is more straightforward and repetitive than Travis', it makes the stages feel overly long, despite being about as long as most of Travis' levels. Likewise, her boss fights are some of the more annoying in the game. One is forgettable, and the other is easy and far too long. Henry, on the other hand, is disappointing because you barely get to use him. He is controllable for one extremely bizarre boss fight that is over in a few moments. He also lacks Travis' special abilities, but he has a beam katana with infinite energy and the ability to dash forward. Considering how similar he is to Travis, it just feels like you're fighting as a slightly less powerful version of Travis and not as a separate character.
No More Heroes 2 is slightly better-looking than the first game, but it isn't really something that most people will notice. The visuals are quite good for a Wii game, and art design is top-notch. There are some really nasty clipping errors in a few cut scenes, and some of Travis' costume parts vanish and reappeared, as if the cut scene wasn't designed with them in mind. It's an extremely good-looking game, and a lot of the visual flourishes make it a very charming, if violent, title. The voicing acting is cheesy and ridiculous, but to the point where it almost has to be. A good number of popular voice actors can be heard, and most of them are clearly hamming it up. The soundtrack is quite good and features a lot of fantastic tunes. It isn't quite up to par with the excellent soundtrack from the original No More Heroes, but it has enough high-quality songs to stand on its own.
In every way, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is a better game than No More Heroes. Almost every design flaw and every fan complaint has been addressed. While the original No More Heroes was fun to play if you could get past all of Suda 51's weird meta-joke gameplay designs and awkward segments, No More Heroes 2 is fun to play without any reservation. Perhaps the only real complaint one can make is that a few of the levels and bosses are lackluster, and the game doesn't quite have the same charm as the first, but in almost every way, this is a far superior game to the original, and Wii owners should definitely give it a shot.
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