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October 2021

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Wii
Genre: Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: Oct. 28, 2020

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Switch Review - 'No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 30, 2020 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle continues the tale of punk anti-hero Travis Touchdown, who once again must work his way up to the #1 spot of the UAA (United Assassins Association) rankings.

Buy No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

The Nintendo Wii was a triumph for casual gaming and family-friendly entertainment, from easy-to-grasp motion controls to mountains of party games. It's an environment in which the titles that genuinely tried to innovate or go against the grain stood out. One of these titles was No More Heroes, which was an unapologetic assault on the senses. Brutal, morally questionable, and with a slightly insane story, it became a cult classic. With a third entry in the series slated for next year, developer Grasshopper Manufacture recently released ports of the first two titles on the Switch. We previously reviewed the Switch port of the first title and found it to be the best way to play the game today, even though the gameplay and pacing often get in the way. Thankfully, the sequel No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle righted many of its predecessor's wrongs, making it an outrageously enjoyable title and, yes, it's also the best way to play the game today.

Let's get one thing straight before a disgruntled fan wishes me serious harm: No More Heroes works best as a satirical commentary of video games and entertainment. The first game did so to a great degree, including the deliberate chores and minigames that it frequently put in your way. They were functional, but they also made for a tedious experience — especially when playing it at the tail end of 2020. I had played both titles on the Wii years ago, and I remember the second entry being my favorite. No More Heroes 2 on the Switch is not a perfect game, and it is lacking in a few areas, but it's a joy to play and tour de force of visual stimuli.

Three years have passed since the events of No More Heroes. Protagonist Travis Touchdown has left the UAA (United Assassins Association) and its ranked assassin fights but has been challenged by an assassin once more. The game opens with a tutorial boss fight that ends in decapitation, a lot of blood spatter, and Travis' re-entry into the assassin rankings. One of Travis' closer associates is killed by the top-ranking assassin, leading Travis to re-enter the fray, fight his way to the top, and exact revenge. While he placed 10th in the first game, the second title starts us at rank 50 with quite a few more targets to stylishly dismember before we can claim the crown.

Even though it'd be cool, the game does not feature 50 boss fights. Without spoiling anything, you'll likely reach position 25 within the first 90 minutes of gameplay. NMH2 packs a few fights into one standoff, making them one boss battle rather than multiple skirmishes. The fights keep the experience remarkably fresh over the game's compact 10- to 15-hour runtime, including a boss battle against a DJ on moving floor tiles and a skirmish against a building-sized robot. At the same time, not too much has changed, so most of the gameplay formula from the first entry remains intact.

Travis still operates from a motel in Santa Destroy, which is his base of operation. The open world of the first entry has been scrapped, but it isn't missed. The world of Santa Destroy was mostly empty space except for annoying minigames and long, unexciting drives through muddy landscapes, none of which enriched the gameplay. In NMH2, the world is navigated via a map-like menu that enables us to directly warp to missions and shops. As Travis, we tackle our ascent one ranked battle at a time, which usually means cutting nameless soldiers into bloody pieces and then facing a boss fight. It's not monotonous, since bosses and enemies slowly increase in difficulty, and bosses can utilize a few interesting mechanics that you must adapt to. Even without the gameplay twists, the frantic button-mashing slasher action is plenty of fun on its own.

The fighting mechanics introduced in No More Heroes remain largely intact in NMH2. Our lightsaber beam katana is still the weapon of choice, enhanced with some basic hand-to-hand combat and Travis' wrestling moves. We can target our attacks on the upper or lower body regions, which has an impact based on where enemies block and attack. Melee attacks can stun enemies; with some simple lock, block, and evasion maneuvers, you have a capable arsenal of moves that can reduce almost everyone to a bloody puddle. It feels great to slice through hordes of enemies. Once enemies are done, a finisher prompt ensures they leave the earth in a disassembled state, so be aware that this game is not for the lighthearted (in case that wasn't abundantly clear by now). There is room for more combat depth in a sequel, but NM2 is a surprisingly solid and fun game, considering it was originally released on the Wii a decade ago in 2010.

Next to abandoning the open-world approach, what's equally great in NMH2 is the removal of entry fees for the main missions. There are still side-quests to complete and shops to buy cosmetic upgrades, but there is no need to grind for money outside of these scenarios. If you completed a boss battle, the next one usually opens up.

NMH2 streamlined the structure of the first game and made it fun from start to finish rather than in short bursts, and the whole experience benefits greatly from it. The biggest surprise is how fun the side-quests are in NMH2. The button-mashing in No More Heroes has been replaced with 8-bit-style games that earn money. The games aren't all excellent, but many are fun for short bursts, such as the "laying pipe" minigame, where we create a path between two points to connect the plumbing, or the exterminator minigame, where we have to suck in bugs in increasingly tricky environments. The money earned in the side-quests is irrelevant to the story, but it directly benefits your aesthetics and upgrades. Train in the gym to improve your damage and health, buy new katanas at the weapons shop, or buy new clothes. The upgrades feel meaningful enough to entice you to participate in side-quests more often.

Visually, NMH2 on the Switch runs almost flawlessly at high resolutions and 60fps. It uses video cut scenes in some instances, which are upsampled from a much lower resolution. It's a small gripe given the quality of the rest of the experience.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is satirical, nonsensical, and just plain weird. It's also fast, bloody, impactful, and a few other things that I am not sure I can or should put into words. It sometimes makes the original title feel more subdued, which is strange to say since that the first game wasn't exactly tame. Given its much-improved gameplay loop, interesting side-quests, insane boss fights, and hilarious gameplay, NMH2 is indeed a wild rollercoaster ride that must be seen to be believed. If this does not get you hyped for the series' third entry, nothing will.

Score: 9.0/10

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