The original No More Heroes on Nintendo Wii set a precedent during its 2008 release. Here was a game that pulled no punches, broke the fourth wall, and catered to the sliver of hardcore players that looked for bloodshed, sex, and violence on Nintendo’s otherwise squeaky clean console. Franchise creator and longtime game designer Suda 51 invented a world that felt halfway pulled from his previous works – most obvious Killer 7 on GameCube – and mashed-up with Japanese cinema, punk style, and classic spaghetti westerns. It lacked polish, and the game had its not-so-impressive moments, but it found a fanbase and became a classic.
Well it should come as no surprise that No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle follows in the blood-soaked footsteps of its predecessor. Travis Touchdown makes his triumphant return to the world of ranked assassin battles. After winning the #1 spot two years ago, he walked away from it all. During his absence, the world of Santa Destroy – and those that call it home – have gone through one hell of a metamorphosis. Oh, you’ll tear through the ranks in Desperate Struggle, but as he title name indicates there’s more at stake here than a #1 spot. Santa Destroy has changed, and Travis is out for blood.
Rule #312: Giant Robots Always Rock.
For the most part, Desperate Struggle doesn’t stray away from the No More Heores formula. Combat can still be a bit too frantic, lacking a way to roll or guard-break out of any situation, so you’re going to trade hits with enemies. It’s just a fact. You don’t have camera control, the core mechanics are virtually unchanged, and those looking forward to the playable characters of Shinobu and Henry will have to come in with an open mind, as they’re more of a parlor trick than a fully-realized extension of the game. This isn’t meant to push you away – you’re going to want to play it – but it’s important to note that far as the core gameplay goes, No More Heroes is as it always was.
As for every other aspect of the game though, Desperate Struggle turns the No More Heroes design on its head. Gone is the clumsy overworld of Santa Destroy, and while the optimist in me remembers the moments of fun I had blasting through the city on my supercharged bike and burning donuts in intersections, the move away from that design does wonders. Everything is streamlined, allowing you to head out from your apartment in the No More Heroes Hotel and instantly find what you’re looking for. You still have load times from area to area, but with one easy-to-use vertical menu, you spend less time in transit and far more time ripping people to pieces or expanding your character.
Check out new bosses, mini-games, and plenty of fan service in our full video review.
Another small detail that’s worth mentioning is that the entire city is still as it was originally imagined. The coconut mini-game is still on the beach, for example. Instead of having to drive everywhere or stress out every time you screw up a battle-based revenge side mission, you can just use the menu to travel. Those that hated the cash system from the first game are going to love the changes made with Desperate Struggle. Ranked missions are free to enter, you can skip every cut scene if you want (though you’d be crazy to miss the game’s antics), and there’s never anything holding you back from progressing through the story if that’s all you want to do.
But trust me, that’s not all you’ll want to do.
BJ5 Girl Says: You are now on every FBI watch list ever!
No More Heroes 2 oozes with personality. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a game with more style and downright originality than Desperate Struggle. It took me two hours to simply get to the second ranked battle in my final playthrough, as so much of my time was spent checking out everything else the game has to offer. In your apartment alone there’s plenty to do, including workout mini-games with your overweight cat Jeane, a free-to-play arcade game on your TV showcasing a fictitious anime called BJ5 (I’ll leave any inferences to you.), complete with a fully-animated faux intro to the series as a reward for beating levels, and more. You can read up on wrestling moves, a dozen of which I was able to find on my first playthrough, and at any time you can run on over to your dresser, switch out your gear, and then hit the road. As you play, you also unlock new decorations for your apartment.
And then there are the job mini-games. Just… wow. Save for one overworld mini-game I discovered, all the jobs around Santa Destroy are now played out via retro challenges, similar to classic games you’d find on the NES or TG-16. Not all of them are engaging, and the amount of cash you can earn is swayed in favor of a few specific games, but luckily those are the games I also had the most fun playing. Bug Out, a combination of Luigi’s Mansion and Pac-Man is a blast. Coconut Grabber is also amazing, as is the space-themed Getting Trashed level. While some of the others are really basic, even emulating previous No More Heroes mini-games – Man the Meat is the same “hold A” mini-game as the original gas attendant game in the first NMH; now with a better style and digitized voice to help it along – I still found myself going back again and again. Once you earn cash, it can be used for whatever you want. Because you no longer pay to unlock story missions, that means you can afford dozens of clothing options, new weapons, and sink cash into powering up Travisat Ryan’s Gym. As you’d expect, the two training games at the gym are also old-school retro designs. They, too, are both fun and challenging.
When it comes to the rest of the production, No More Heroes 2 is all about pushing style over anything else. While that’s very commendable and far from the status quo, there are some downsides to the decision. On the plus side, the game is constantly flooding you with new areas, new bosses, hilarious story elements, new playable characters, and simply off-the-wall situations that’ll have your brain screaming for equilibrium. Travis transforms into a tiger during battle, super robot fights occur over Santa Destroy, and the team has no problem switching on a grain filter or going into classic PSX jittery-frame animated sequences if they think it’ll add to the game’s outrageous style and humor. It’s obvious that the game was fun to develop, and when the devs are having fun, you’re having fun. I can honestly say I’ve never played a game with so much style. You know right away to expect the unexpected, and yet it still smashes you in the face like a Mac truck. My first playthrough ended in a cool 12 hours, and it’s maybe the fastest 12 hours I’ve ever had reviewing a game.
You may not get to walk around in it, but this is such a better Santa Destroy to be a part of.
Desperate Struggle is not without shortcomings, though. A lack of camera control really confines the battles, and while you can center and lock-on whenever needed, there are times when you won’t know what you’re looking at for up to five seconds during battle.
The fact that the No More Heroes series is essentially a straightforward beat-em-up at its core also means you’ll be fighting many of the same enemies for hours on end, and that can lead to some stages that drag on with spawn after spawn. While I was never bored playing No More Heroes, I did occasionally wish a generic battle stage would end a few rooms earlier than they did. In addition, the inclusion of Travis’s bike again pulled the experience down, even if only for a few brief moments.
And while the visual style is a complete feast for the eyes, the audio is mixed. Repetitive lines like “Mama!” and “Help me boss!” annoy. One of the gun-toting baddies has three specific lines, all of which contain vulgarity. There’s nothing wrong with a baddie that swears in an M-rated game, but when it repeats the same VO string every three seconds or so – and when you’ve got multiples of each guy on screen at once – it gets pretty annoying. However, for every moment of questionable audi, there are dozens upon dozens of amazingly delivered lines, awesome rock and punk music, and hilarious retro bleeps and bloops that set the mood when in job mini-games. As with most other aspects of No More Heroes, you’ll need to ignore some bad to really get to the awesome moments, which thankfully come en mass.
The original No More Heroes was a fun game with obvious flaws that set the experience back. Suda took a step back, figured out what worked, and delivered on the game’s original strengths. Desperate Struggle blows it out of the water with a more streamlined experience, far more charm and style throughout, and some downright amazing boss battles. You still run across the occasional weak boss fight, horrible camera situation or framerate crawl, but with as much pure fun as there is packed into the game, you forgive the downsides almost instantly. Suda and company have an amazing ability to deliver original, inspired stuff to players, and the shotgun blast of concepts and designs ensure that there’s something fresh at every turn, be it a top-down shooter, a strict workout regimen with your overweight cat, a few rounds in the sparring ring, some hilariously fun retro mini-games, or the purebred ranked battles. This isn’t a game that begs you play it. It’s a game that knocks on your front door, waits for you to answer in a towel and your favorite pair of slippers, rips your head off, and shoves itself down your throat.
But in a good way.