It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes No More Heroes so damned appealing. The combat’s fairly simple and repetitive, the protagonist’s a filthy, selfish idiot who’s always on the toilet, and the plot concerns an association for assassins who apparently have nothing better to do than constantly duel each other to see who’s best. By all rights it should be terrible, but its unique combination of slick cartoon visuals, clever controls, deadpan goofiness, teasing sexuality and over-the-top, cult-film-inspired ultraviolence instead make it one of the best games on the Wii.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle not only continues that bold tradition, but improves on it, streamlining it into something bigger, faster, smarter and sillier. The action’s more or less the same, with geeky punk assassin Travis Touchdown carving up squads of inconsequential thugs with a Beam Katana, but it’s been refined, with more varied enemies and a more natural feel.
Meanwhile, the first game’s free-roaming segments – during which you could tool around the city of Santa Destroy, Calif., on Travis’s futuristic motorbike – are gone entirely, replaced with direct access to missions, side jobs and other points of interest. Fans of the original shouldn’t worry, though; while it might seem like a big part of the game has been stripped out, the things that replace it are actually more interesting.
Above: It looks like a boring way to get around, but it’ll let you concentrate on more important stuff
Nobody cares about story
First, though, the setup: when we last saw Travis, he’d clumsily murdered his way through Santa Destroy’s criminal underworld, been crowned the world’s greatest hitman and was locked in an inconclusive life-or-death duel with his long-lost twin, Henry. Opening three years later, No More Heroes 2 almost immediately tells us that what’s happened to Travis since then doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that he survived to walk away from his assassin job, only to re-enter the profession after his best friend – Bishop, the guy at the video store – is murdered.
Unfortunately for Travis, his infamous exploits have turned assassination into a huge fad, and so he’ll have to start at the bottom again by killing some douche who’s a dead ringer for Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud Strife.
In this case, “the bottom” means that he’s ranked 51st by the mysterious United Assassins Association, which theoretically means he’ll have to kill his way through 50 unique boss fights if he wants to reclaim his top spot. We say “theoretically” because the “51” is actually just a reference to series creator Suda51; in reality, various plot twists ensure you’ll only have to fight 15 of the bastards, which is still a big step up from the previous game’s 10.
No mercy for killers
The assassins themselves vary wildly, and fighting them is easily the highlight of the game. They all require unique strategies, nearly all of them are rivetingly chatty and they include weirdoes like a money-obsessed sharpshooter, a singing gothic-Lolita sniper, a floating Cosmonaut backed up by a laser satellite, and a cloyingly psychotic little anime girl. Oh, and these… people:
Above: What could possibly happen next? You’ll just have to play to find out…
Of course, to get to them, you’ll almost always have to hack your way through a few dozen waves of their goons first, ranging from skinny thugs with clubs to huge, incredibly tough guys with chainsaws, with plenty of other gun-and-blade-wielding nobodies in between. Like in the first game, combat is deceptively simple – mashing on the A button swings Travis’s Beam Katana, holding the Wii remote high or low determines his stance, and pulling B launches hand-to-hand attacks that can stun blocking enemies and initiate wrestling throws.
There are a few cool additions this time around, though, not the least of which are more powerful, remote-swinging attacks and the ability to switch between up to four different Beam Katanas at any time. Also new are some of the invincibility modes you’ll slip into when you’ve shed enough blood, which now include super-speed, the ability to shoot balls of energy and the ability to run around for a few seconds mauling people as a god damn tiger.
Above: Oh hell yes
Another interesting change: you won’t always play as Travis this time.
Despite being a prick to pretty much everyone he meets, Travis manages to inspire a couple of former rivals to fight on his behalf: Shinobu Jacobs, a teen ninja whose life Travis spared in the first game (after cutting off her arm), and Travis’s twin brother Henry. Each one takes over at certain points in the story, and each controls a little differently from Travis. Henry can dash and shoot projectiles with his sword, for example, while Shinobu is the only character with the ability to jump.
Unfortunately, the developers thought the best way to make use of this ability – which is fairly imprecise and clumsy, thanks to the Wii controls – was to throw in a couple of frustrating jumping puzzles that serve no real purpose other than to slow down the game and make chunks of Shinobu’s stages excruciating. These were some of the few dark spots in an otherwise brilliant game, and they made us dread ever playing as Shinobu again, even if her shower save sequences are sexier than Travis’s habit of taking on-camera dumps.
Above: Something Shinobu never does
Above: Something Travis never does
It’s also worth noting that not all the missions feature hack-and-slash levels; some also have Travis cruising around at high speeds on his futuristic Schpieltiger motorcycle, which controls exactly as it did in the first game’s free-roaming segments.
Finally, if you’re one of those Wii owners who’s decided that all this motion-wiggle crap is not for you, NMH2 also includes the option to play with a Classic controller. This actually works pretty well with the game’s unusual style, even though you’ll lose the rare thrill of madly twirling the remote to get the upper hand in a weapon lock, or of shaking the thing whenever Travis needs to recharge one of his blades.
Whichever control style you pick, though, the end result is always the same: lots and lots of gruesome dismemberments and arterial spray.
Next page: Everything that isn’t combat-related
But wait, there’s more!
Like the first No More Heroes, Desperate Struggle shows us that an assassin’s life isn’t just about stomping into dangerous places and leaving behind a trail of nasty body parts. It’s also about taking on shit jobs to earn the money to support your cool “profession.” However, along with its new, non-open-world structure, the game’s given its job system an overhaul. No longer do you have to pursue odd-job minigames to earn money before you can advance the plot; this time, the minigames are strictly optional, and pay for things like new clothes, sessions at the gym (which can boost your life bar and attack strength) and food for Travis’s morbidly obese cat, Jeane.
Above: Your personal trainer is wicked tough. Believe it
Optional or no, you’ll actually want to pursue the side jobs, because with one exception (catching scorpions), they’ve all been redesigned as simple 8-bit games, most of which are a lot of fun to play. Most last for about four stages, during which a pixilated little Travis vacuums up pests, arranges Tetris-like wall tiles and delivers pizzas at insane speeds. Some of these minigames are less enjoyable than others – picking up trash in space can get pretty frustrating, as can some of the gym’s strength-training excercises – but for the most part they’re a great diversion from the business of killing. We just wish there’d been more of them.
Above: The glamorous life of an off-duty hitman
Also surprisingly fun is the stuff you can do around Travis’s apartment, which becomes more and more cluttered with anime-themed junk as you find semi-hidden items during missions. First, there’s Jeane, who needs to be exercised down to her fighting weight. Doing this effectively means taking time between every mission to feed and play with her through simple (non 8-bit) minigames that are more fun than you’d expect. There’s a reward for slimming her down to less than 11 pounds, but be warned: if you hated the idea of fake exercise in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you’ll hate fake-exercising a cat even more.
Above: Yes, this counts as exercise
You’ll also be able to play a level of a top-down shooter based on Bizarre Jelly 5, the fake anime that Travis obsesses over and uses to decorate his apartment.
Finish it, and you’ll unlock the nicely animated intro to the absurdly exploitive (and fictitious) Bizarre Jelly 5 anime, which goes out of its way to cram at least one gratuitously sexualized thing into almost every shot.
Above: CAN YOU SPOT THEM ALL?
Wad all that up with plenty of surreal, fourth-wall-breaking gags, a roaring J-punk soundtrack and weird monologues by a sexy nurse who may or may not be directly connected to the story, and you’ve got a compellingly weird package that’s a blast to play. Well, mostly a blast; toward the end of the game, money gets scarcer, some of the levels turn into long, dull slogs against tough enemies and a couple of the bosses have fantastically cheap ways to kill you. Up until then, though, it’s one of the most relentlessly entertaining games to surface so far this year, and it easily earns its place as one of the best on the Wii.
Is it better than…?
No More Heroes ? Yes. The combat has been fine-tuned and feels less chaotic, and as much as we miss roaming freely and finding t-shirts hidden in dumpsters, the (now optional) job minigames more than make up for them. They’re also a lot more entertaining than the first game’s chores and assassination side-missions.
MadWorld ? Yes. MadWorld might be more unflinchingly gruesome and creative with its kills than NMH2, but NMH2’s story, personality, self-aware humor and punk-rock aesthetic easily win out over MadWorld’s tongue-in-cheek gore and jabbering announcers.
Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers? Oh God yes. Don’t let Onechanbara’s hot bikini-girl-on-zombie action fool you; NMH2 is sexier, funnier and a whole lot less repetitive than this cheesecake slash ‘em-up. Plus, not having to waggle the remote constantly just to slash certainly helps.
Just for you, Metacritic!
A bizarre, wonderfully trashy sequel, No More Heroes 2 adds a ton of cool new activities and boss fights without messing too much with what worked the first time. It wears thin toward the end, but until then it’s one of the most brilliant experiences the Wii has to offer.
Jan 26, 2010