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No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle Review

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On 02/19/2010 at 11:38 PM by Nick DiMola

A solid, but still flawed follow-up to Travis Touchdown's first outing.

For fans of No More Heroes and action games.

As you all know, around two weeks ago I played through No More Heroes for the first time. With the second game already out, it only made sense to keep on going and jump right into No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle.

No More Heroes 2 picks up a few years after Travis's first outing. Travis has been out of the assassination game, and in the mean time, the UAA has grown enormously with all of Santa Destroy becoming obsessed with the brutal sport. As a result, Travis finds himself at the bottom of the assassin list once again, but this time at a much lower spot: number 51. This is not learned, of course, until after Travis kills Skelter Helter, brother of Helter-Skelter from the first game's opening cinematic. Skelter sought revenge on Travis, and before dying informed him that he would pay his dues. Shortly after, Travis's friend Bishop is murdered, giving Travis the motivation to climb to the top of the assassin list once again for revenge.

Given the plot, it's no surprise that No More Heroes 2 takes itself a bit more serious than the first game. The dialog is less light-hearted, with most of the game's humor no longer coming from Travis's dialog, but rather situations within the game. Overall, it feels as if the game might take itself a bit too serious, though it's not horribly detrimental to the experience.

The game's structure has been changed significantly for this second adventure. Players will now need to complete a number of 2D, NES-style games in order to earn money. These games replace the original jobs that Travis performed in the first game, some of which are represented here in 2D. For instance, the coconut collecting mini-game is now a 2D scrolling platformer that requires players to hit the trees and catch a coconut as it falls all while progressing to the exit within a particular time limit. This is representative of one of the more complex mini-games, as well as one of the better ones.

I didn't find these new 2D mini-games to be much of an improvement from the 3D mini-games in the first title. Most of them are pretty rudimentary, and few of them are enjoyable in the context of the game. On their own they are fairly enjoyable, but are a large departure from the typical gameplay, and definitely pull players out of the No More Heroes world and experience.

Furthermore, players can no longer traverse the streets of Santa Destroy with Travis's motorcycle. Most frustrating is that players do have the opportunity to ride the motorcycle in an unrelated portion of the game, and the horrendous controls featured in the first have been vastly improved here. It was a very subtle aspect of the first game, but not driving around Santa Destroy really makes the No More Heroes 2 feel a bit hollow. Though it could get frustrating in the first at times, it seems as if a better course of action would've been to improve that portion of the game rather than just removing it.

In turn, the build-up to most ranked battles is practically null. Players can now go from ranked battle to ranked battle, without paying an entrance fee; meaning that there is no need to pace yourself when climbing the assassin ladder.

The levels that house the assassin's are now very generic, not giving players even the slightest indication of what they're in for. These levels also tend to be very short, with the exception of the last several assassinations. On average, they are only a few rooms, and then players are squaring off with the next assassin.

As a whole, the assassins in Desperate Struggle are just not as interesting as the assassins from the first game. Almost every fight in the first was completely unique. A new strategy needed to be formed in order to win, and each battle was never the same. This time around, players can use a very aggresive technique and easily succeed in most fights without dying once.

The massive improvements to the battle mechanics help greatly in completing the assassination battles. Players can now more easily pull off moves, and there is less left up to chance. Every move offers players precision control, and all of the controls are extremely responsive. All of my complaints from the first game have been addressed in this regard.

Playing through the game, it feels as if it's much easier than the first. I'm not sure if that's a result of the new controls, my own skills from having played so much of the series, or because the game is actually easier. Regardless, it has hindered some of my enjoyment with the game to a point. At times the first game was overwhelmingly difficult, but success brought a great sense of satisfaction. I rarely felt that while progressing through Desperate Struggle.

One nice feature of the sequel is the ability to play as new characters during certain points in the game. Both Shinobu and Henry are playable, and both have their own unique feel. Unfortunately, platforming with Shinobu is absolutely horrid given the imprecise controls, but otherwise is a fun diversion from always playing as Travis. Henry feels much smoother and is a blast to play with, thanks to his dashing ability, speed, and projectile attack.

Both characters play an interesting role in the story as well, and give an interesting twist to the overall arc. If a No More Heroes 3 is to exist, I hope that Grasshopper features even more characters, all with unique abilities.

In many ways, Desperate Struggle is a better game than the first, but oddly it doesn't feel better as whole. This is not to say that it's worse, but it definitely feels different, especially since I went into No More Heroes 2 expecting a lot. After completing the first, it was obvious what needed to be fixed, and it seems as though Suda and company addressed all of these problems. The issue is that they didn't approach all of them in the right way.

The result is a game that doesn't feel as unique, humorous, or vibrant as the first. I found myself missing all of the build-up to the ranked battles and the challenge they offered. Overall, it just doesn't have the same grab that the first one did, and that may be largely a result of it being sequel and me playing it so closely to the first.

Regardless of this, I still enjoyed Desperate Struggle very much. The mechanics in this game are so vastly improved, it breaths new life into the experience. The story was also enjoyable, even though it does seem to take itself a bit too seriously. All fans of the first should grab this game; it's definitely a worthy sequel. Those who couldn't get past the challenge level and tedium of the first should also pick this up, as it improves on all of those sore points tremendously.

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02/21/2010 at 03:18 AM

Having reviewed the game for NWR I agree AND disagree with some of your points. I agree that the game's storyline is a tad more serious than the first one, but I feel it's still ridiculous enough that it never gets pretentious. In my review, I compared it to a Quentin Tarantino revenge film in which the character goes on a very personal and deep journey of revenge, but does it in such a ridiculous manner than any hints of serious storytelling gets blocked by insanity and eye candy. Think of it as being the male, videogame version of Kill Bill.

The game does feel a tad easier, but it should be noted that it has multiple difficulty settings, and if the last boss battle is any indication playing the game at a higher difficulty setting should be an enjoyable challenge. Also the extra polish given to the gameplay also makes it that much easier to learn and get into.

I disagree in that the assassins are not as engaging. They are far more ridiculous this time around (I mean...Kevin McDonald has mecha cheerleaders!). I think what you mean is that the game doesn't give them enough presence to make them memorable. In the first game, whenever you entered a ranking match you read the assassin's name along with a creepy shadow of them, perfectly setting the mood and making the battle feel like an event.

I think that with Desperate Struggle Suda51 really wanted to address some of the complains about the first one. You should note that A LOT of people had issues traveling around Santa Destroy, navigating Travis's bike, working to enter the matches and many other things. So the sequel feels more straight forward, apologetic in many ways.

Suda51 and Grasshopper are eccentric game makers, often making games that don't make sense or aren't accessible from the get go. Killer 7 is proof of that. Desperate Struggle may be the first game that actually tries to be easier, more inviting and more forgiving, whereas the first one YOU had to learn its rules and learn to enjoy it. In many ways, we have gotten used to the crazy game design that seeing a more straight forward product out of them feels even weirder.

But I am rambling now. I think it's one of the best games of the year yet.

Nick DiMola Director

02/21/2010 at 08:24 AM

I can see where you're coming from with the Tarantino thing. That actually makes more sense than anything else I've heard about the game's story. I guess when it comes down to it, I just liked the more light-hearted mood of the first. Having gone straight from the first to the second, the contrast was very stark.

My issue with the assassins is that they didn't leave a lasting impact on me because most of them didn't require me to create some crazy new strategy to beat them. For the majority of them, dodging and subsequently attacking worked like a charm. The only boss fight in the game I died on was the final boss.

Part of what made the bosses so memorable in the first were their themed stages. I didn't really get that in this one, and that took away some of the allure.

I can't really qualify it well, I just didn't seem to like this one as much as the first. That's not to say it's a bad game, it was a blast, but it definitely felt like it was missing something.

Jason Ross Senior Editor

02/21/2010 at 01:24 PM

I haven't played the whole game yet, in fact, I'm not even halfway through, I believe, but I have to agree with Nick, for the most part.

I do disagree about the 2D games. Some of them are great, and nearly all of them are vast improvements over the original job system. I very much enjoy playing these jobs as opposed to the ones before.

But beyond that, the game feels like it's missing a part of the spirit the original had. The Assassins aren't memorable, I have to agree. Oddly enough, as throwaway as they were, in the first game, they all seemed to have motivation aside from how cool being an assassin is. They seemed to have reasons and purpose of their own, and I haven't felt or observed that for anyone but the first boss this time around.

Also, the I miss the "annoying" Sylvia phone calls right before the boss. There's no build-up, essentially, before the assassins this time, and the constant climactic action available to the player actually reduces the excitement with each additional fight.


02/21/2010 at 03:54 PM

Regarding the story, Nick, think about this for a second. You are given the green light to create the sequel to No More Heroes. In terms of story you are given two options, write more of the same or try to develop it.

Had Grasshopper and Suda just created more of the same fans would have likely appreciated but critics AND fans would have said that they lacked the creativity to go beyond what was established in the first game.

Desperate Struggle, in my honest opinion, succeeds in making Travis more than just a stereotype character making fun of cliches. Yes, the first game did have moments where Travis is very human (playing with Jeanne, never killed Shinobu), but in Desperate Struggle he grows up and begins to realize that there's more to life than just killing people. The relationship between him and Sylvia may be confusing, but easy to figure out once you analyze it a bit further.

Sylvia is a very conflicting person. Often a bitch, very rarely a caring human being. But Travis's existence in her life creates a conflict of interest, not knowing if she should follow the orders of the UAA, satisfying her own selfish needs to give in into the hands of the man she secretly loves.

Hmmm... I may be onto something here.

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