When No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle begins, two modern-day swordsmen face each other across the moonlit rooftop. Travis ignites his energy blade. The Cloud cosplayer on the opposing side draws his buster sword. They charge each other; blades clash and sparks fly. A blue arrow appears onscreen, and you — the M-rated gamer controlling Travis — swing the Wii remote as part of a mercifully forgiving Quick-Time Event. The ensuing scene is anything but merciful.
Bloodthirsty gamers with no prior expectations would love No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. This manly brawler makes excellent use of the Wii remote to deliver fast, over-the-top, bloody swordfighting action that actually feels different from other hack-and-slashes. Insanity courses through its veins — you save by taking a dump in the toilet, and recharge the energy blade by jerking off, for Christ’s sake! Desperate Struggle is a crazy game that feels like nothing else.
. . . unless you’ve already played the original.
The first No More Heroes was a game built around surprising the player, a game that delighted in making people repeatedly shout “HOLY CRAP, I can’t believe that just happened!” By following the same format, delivering the same jokes, and showcasing the same crazy violence as the original, Desperate Struggle is no longer surprising and therefore lacks the unpredictable spirit that fans expect from madman artiste Suda51. That’s a pity, because the developers made some nice technical enhancements.
The huge, boring overworld has been reduced to an easily-managed map screen. The excruciating part-time jobs have been replaced with amusing (albeit underdeveloped) 8-bit mini-games. Players are no longer expected to collect HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS to fight against bosses. Desperate Struggle is a streamlined, action-packed continuation of Travis Touchdown’s story.
Based on how the first No More Heroes ended, the concept of continuing Travis’s story is inherently ludicrous. As characters explicitly state during an early cutscene, how we got to this point is irrelevant and boring. The important thing is that Travis — the lonely otaku assassin with an energy blade — once again climbs the ranks of the hitman elite, this time all the way from 51 (!!!) to number one. Desperate Struggle may sound long, but it’s really not. At one point, the game advertises an upcoming Assassin Battle Royale. The battle I imagined in my head was CRAZY AWESOME, with elaborate cutscene introductions for all twelve assassins, followed by an epic ensemble of chaotic carnage.
Reality: By the time Travis showed up to the arena, one single enemy had already slaughtered all of the other assassins. The battle royale that I anticipated turned out to be a one-on-one encounter, just like all the other one-on-one boss battles. That’s not the only bait-and-switch that Desperate Struggle pulls to shorten its own length, but that’s the most annoying.
I could easily forgive such transgressions if the fifteen boss battles were spectacular. To a new player, they might seem spectacular. The pimpin’ hip-hopper who throws his hos at you sounds wacky, and the singing lady with the sniper rifle looks pretty. They’re even fun to fight against. The problem is that these battles aren’t powerful. The first game’s over-the-top assassins came across as real characters with real backstories; most of Desperate Struggle‘s villains are simply “bosses” to be fought at the end of a “level”. You don’t even learn their names until they’re dead. Killing has become a mindless chore.
It’s possible that this disconnected sensation is intentional. After all, as already mentioned, game designer Suda51 is a madman artiste. One assassin preaches about seeking a greater purpose; another begs you to remember her name after she’s gone. Some people think Desperate Struggle is one big joke; they think this represents Suda51′s scorn for the obsessively bloodthirsty gamers who demanded a sequel. I believe the opposite. I think Suda51 is making a point about people who indulge in a hobby that others disrespect. “Even though you may not personally identify with these individuals, they deserve the same respect as anyone else. Don’t judge someone unless you understand their heart.” When I dream of Suda51, that’s what I dream he’s saying.
Lofty social statements unfortunately don’t make up for lackluster battles. They also don’t make up for the HORRIBLE motorcycle joust, poor platforming stages, or underdeveloped mini-games.
In one mini-game, crassly titled “MAN THE MEAT”, big black men walk into a restaurant one-by-one to order steaks. They demand rare, medium, or well-done. You hold the button down to grill the steak, then let go to serve it up on a platter. Catchy 8-bit music accompanies the fast-paced restaurant action. When done eating, the big black men utter their opinions in distorted retro-style voices:
“TASTES LIKE SHIT!”
NICE and DELICIOUS are accompanied by a hearty thumbs up. TASTES LIKE SHIT is accompanied by a fork hurled into your forehead. It’s incredibly fun . . . but just as you get into the groove, it’s over. Three short stages in five short minutes; that’s the trend in Desperate Struggle. For a game that appears to celebrate the retro lifestyle, Suda51 could have put a lot more effort into the retro mini-games. He instead wasted a lot of cool concepts.
Some have said No More Heroes is like nothing you’ve seen before. Unfortunately, fans can’t say the same for its sequel. It often feels like a budget-priced, sugar-free facsimile of the original: less of a time investment, and ultimately less satisfying. That being said, I enjoyed Desperate Struggle enough to know that newcomers could very well be floored by its action and insanity. Even Suda51′s lesser efforts brim with an uncommon energy.