America - Front
America - Back
15th Apr 2010 | 1,629 views
Publisher: Ubisoft/Rising Star/Marvelous Entertainment
Developer: Grasshopper Studios
A lot can change in your town in the span of three years. Major corporations move in, skyscrapers spring up just outside your home, and the assassin underworld becomes a widely popular and profitable source of entertainment. Okay, maybe that last point doesn't happen so much in the real world, but this is what has happened to the fictional town of Santa Destroy, California, a gathering place for low-lifes, punks, and just plain odd people. This is the setting of crazed game-designer Suda51's latest trip into the surreal, a game known as No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle.
The first No More Heroes, released in early 2008, put players in the shoes of Travis Touchdown, a dopey anime geek who obtained a beam katana (the spiritual equivalent of a lightsaber) and then proceeded to battle his way to the top of the United Assassins Association just so he could say he was the best. No More Heroes became a love-or-hate affair with the half-million gamers who purchased it; players either fell in love with the game's satirical approach to the video gaming subculture and disregard for conventional storytelling or loathed its more frustrating elements like an overworld devoid of anything interesting and side-jobs that were an exercise in tedium. Despite the mixed opinions, Suda51 was overjoyed at how well the game sold. His prime reason for making a sequel was to correct the flaws of its predecessor, and while it still has its problems, Desperate Struggle is very much an improvement over the original in many ways.
The outrageous and bizarre No More Heroes makes its return, even more self-aware than before.
Desperate Struggle's story opens with a brief rundown of what has happened to Santa Destroy since Travis' climb to the top of the UAA. After the opening vid, the game finds Travis on a rooftop for unexplained reasons, battling the brother of the very first assassin he killed. Once Travis defeats this assassin (laid out as a tutorial to the game's combat), Sylvia Christle, the buxom UAA representative from the original, arrives to tell Travis that the man he just killed was ranked 51st in the UAA, which now makes Travis the 51st-ranked fighter. Travis initially refuses to begin a second climb to the top, but after some...convincing...from Sylvia, he once again vows to become the number one fighter. But it's not long before Travis discovers a new motive to fight in the UAA: Revenge.
Right from the beginning, Desperate Struggle shows that its strongest aspect is its writing. The storytelling is a crazy mix of serious elements, satire, pop-culture references, fourth-wall breaks, and just plain crazy humor. Just about everything that can be considered nerdy is lampooned and celebrated here: Video games, professional wrestling, samurai films, anime, comic books, etc., and it's all done in an extravagant and often funny manner. For instance, the very first boss is a light spoof of Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, while an unlockable video hilariously demonstrates just about every cliche found in your average anime. There's also the downright bizarre and irreverent sense of humor displayed just about everywhere. Travis recharges his beam katana by furiously shaking it and shouting suggestive phrases; the temp supervisor Travis speaks to describes every mundane job as a major life-changing event; bad guys sliced in half and decapitated still manage to belt out one-liners. If there's one phrase that can sum up this brand of humor, it's "crazy awesome" - It's just a kick to see how Desperate Struggle cleverly mocks and embraces the very medium and culture it is a part of. Granted, this sort of humor has a limited appeal. If you're not savvy with the geek subculture, you may not get a lot of both the big and small gags, but if you do understand this world, you will likely find the writing to be a virtual form of catnip.
Also lending to the writing is the genuinely twisted characters that comprise the cast of Desperate Struggle. Travis Touchdown is mostly the same as he was in the first No More Heroes, whiny, self-absorbed, and lacking almost any redeemable qualities, yet somehow still being a compelling and memorable character. Meanwhile, every other character, both new and old, are still weird and twisted in their own way. Sylvia Christle continues her love-hate relationship with Travis, tempting him with her sensuality while reminding him that he is a loser at the same time. Newcomer boss Nathan Copeland, a religious cult leader with a passion for hip-hop, begins his fight by throwing his scantily-clad women at Travis. Unfortunately, some of the characters are not presented as well. There are a couple boss fights where you learn almost nothing about the person you're fighting other than the quips they yell in the middle of the fight. The characters who are presented well, however, really shine, and are very difficult to forget.
Travis Touchdown can switch from whiny loser to total badass at a moment's notice.
Speaking of presentation, Desperate Struggle boasts a moderately improved presentation than its predecessor. New graphical features like a physics engine (which gives bounce and jiggle to Travis' hair and certain portions of the female characters), destructible objects in the levels, and a steadier frame-rate are all welcome improvements. The music remains as catchy and entertaining as before. The infamous main theme from the first game makes it return, but it there's a lot more variety to the different versions, and it's not played nearly as much. The acting is solid and helps make the cutscenes that much more enjoyable. Despite this, the technical aspect of NMH2 is still on the lower end of the current-gen spectrum, although considering the "punk" aesthetic of the game, it's a bit more forgivable here.
Arguably the biggest problem that plagued the first No More Heroes was the overworld that comprised most of the game. In order to qualify for the next ranked fight, Travis had to work up a large sum of money by suffering through low-paying and demeaning side-jobs, repetitive assassination missions, and endlessly driving back and forth from those missions on an unwieldy and glitchy motorcycle. Desperate Struggle immediately corrects the problem of the town overworld by removing it altogether. You now have a simple vertical menu to pick destinations from when you leave the hotel, which greatly reduces the downtime between ranking battles. Travis can now shop for new weapons and clothes, work out at the gym, take on missions to enact his revenge, and more, all with a simple selection. The side-jobs still remain in the sequel, and they still very much feature Travis doing mundane and demoralizing part-time activities like delivering pizzas or collecting coconuts. This time, however, the jobs have been cleverly remade into 8-bit NES minigames. Each minigame is a unique play off a classic game from the NES era: Lay the Pipe, where Travis installs plumbing in Santa Destroy's sewers, is a interesting twist on the Pipe Dream games, and the pizza-delivering game I mentioned becomes Pizza with a Vengeance, an Outrun-style racer. These minigames are a lot more fun to play than their original counterparts, and even if you don't like them, they are essentially optional, as the ranking battles are now free to play through.
Coconut collecting is surprisingly more fun as an NES game than a 3D side-mission.
Where the bulk of No More Heroes 2's gameplay rests is the combat. Fighting in No More Heroes primarily consists of running into a room and then mashing the A button for beam katana strikes and B button for melee attacks until everyone in the room is dead. Once you've gotten an enemy's life down to zero, you'll shake the Wii Remote in a particular direction to deliver a blow that will either decapitate your foe or slice him in two vertical halves, most of the time in a very satisfying manner. You can also perform instant-kill wrestling moves on stunned opponents and go into a super-charged whacked-out killing frenzy either by a random slot-machine generated from each kill or by pressing the Minus Button when the Ecstasy Gauge (represented by an 8-bit tiger) is fully-charged. The combat is mostly competent and works quite well with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk setup. However, it's certainly not the deepest and most rewarding combat-system to be found on Wii or any other current-gen system. Most enemies can be dispatched with little trouble, and boss fights generally boil down to dodging one of their 3 or 4 attacks and then landing a couple hits on them. The fighting begins to wear thin towards the end of the relatively short game, but by that point, the story will keep most players engaged long enough to see it through to the end.
Combat is not without its technical errors, however. The biggest issue with most of the game is the camera. At times, the camera angles can be extremely inopportune, either giving a close-up of Travis from the wrong angle or getting stuck behind a pillar or other object. The camera control is limited to centering the angle behind Travis' back, since emergency dodges occupy the D-pad. There's also particular sequences within the main gameplay that handle awkwardly. For instance, the game eventually switches perspective for a couple levels to a different character who can jump. This leads to a couple platforming sections that are just clunky and not particularly fun. These sections are short and infrequent, but they still manage to slow down the momentum of the storytelling and general gameplay more than it should.
Combat is functional and visceral, but leaves something to be desired.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle will admittedly only appeal to a select group of gamers. The humor and observations are amazingly witty, but not very many people will be able to understand it. Those who do get all the jokes and clever plays on the industry will be able to overlook the game's flaws and have a great time. If you didn't like the style and flair of the first No More Heroes, you certainly won't like the sequel. If you did enjoy the satirical roast and toast of the gaming industry and Otaku culture that was No More Heroes, you will love Desperate Struggle.