Take a look at your game collection.
Now imagine all of your games mixed into one and based around a fairly standard beat-em-up.
The result? A mess? Confusion? Chaos? Pure genius?
Well, the answer is all of the above and much more. May I introduce No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Its tagline could easily be “The hardest game in the world to review”. It took about 14 hours to play through the game, and after finishing it I sat there for about five minutes and found myself thinking “What the hell just happened”.
If I had to break it down, then I would say think Killer 7 meets Afro Samurai meets GTA meets softcore hentai meets SNES meets 8bit arcade meets… aah it’s hopeless, there’s just no way to accurately pigeon-hole No More Heroes 2 without doing every other game in that genre an injustice.
It’s hard to say whether the game is an ode to all things video game or a piss-take. Either way, it’s easy to see that the developers had an absolute ball making it shows through in the fact that despite several flaws that would prove fatal for many other games, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is virtually impossible to put down from start to finish.
Grasshopper Manufacture have produced an ambitious sequel that could so easily have turned to custard but instead strangely gels into a game that is so varied in style that you just can’t wait to see what will happen next.
Our protagonist from the first game, Travis Touchdown is back in the sequel as is the city setting of Santa Destroy (the names clearly go along with the whole bizarre feel of the game). Travis returns to find himself at the bottom of the UAA (United Assassins Association) rankings and must wage war to become the No. 1 assassin once again. There are also a couple of sections where you play as either Shinobu and Henry, who have differing skill-sets. But in general, gameplay follows much along the lines of the original No More Heroes and involves a mixture of hand-to-hand combat, wrestling moves (including the return of ‘deathblows’) and hack-n-slash swordplay by dual-wielding any of the four beam katanas at your disposal.
Despite being ranked at number 51 in the rankings, you do rise up the ladder surprisingly quickly. There are only 15 boss battles and with each one you wipe out several assassins at a time which propels you up the rankings. Some of the stages do drag on a bit too long though and there were times when I would have liked to have encountered the boss a couple of rooms full of enemies earlier.
For a game rated M15+, I was astounded to find extreme violence and language and a generous helping of sexual innuendo. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude, but I’ve seen much less from some R18 games before. Maybe the cell-shaded comic styling makes it all less “real”.
It’s no secret that Travis’s katanas symbolise his sexuality and genitalia. As the beam blades get weak you even need to move the Wii remote in a masturbatory fashion to charge them up. On top of that, you now have an arousal meter that is charged by dishing out the carnage without taking too many hits. It can also be charged by picking up an erotic magazine. Once full, you can activate “Darkside Mode” which sees Travis transform into a tiger and continue to pay out on his enemies.
I told you this game was weird, didn’t I?
The only way to rise up through the rankings is to slaughter adversaries, but there are a number of mini-games in which you can earn money or improve your stats and ultimately make the main mission easier. These take the form of classic 8-bit arcade games, none of them licensed, but most will remind you of some game from your childhood (providing your old enough). The mini-games are an absolute pleasure to play and well worth playing through story-mode a second time purely to spend some time on.
After each boss battle it is wise to have Travis do some exercise back at his apartment. There are eight levels of strength and stamina exercises, although the eighth level is virtually impossible to complete. Some of the exercises involve lifting your morbidly obese cat named Jeane.
Speaking of Jeane the fat cat, you can also train and exercise her so that she loses weight. Dragging a fishing lure across the ground for a cat to pounce on doesn’t exactly sound like a classic videogaming moment, but when there’s cheesy kung-fu sound effects thrown in whenever Jeane swipes at the lure, all of a sudden it becomes more than just a chore.
My biggest gripe is with the complete lack of camera control during combat. You can crudely centre the camera behind Travis but it doesn’t always work. There are times when you can go for more that 30 seconds without actually seeing the enemy you're fighting at close quarters. Any other game and this would be the killing blow, but in the great scheme of things here, it somehow seems forgiveable – and I never thought I’d hear myself say that – but then again I never thought I’d play a game like No More Heroes 2.
No More Heroes 2 is single player only and can be played with the Wiimote and nunchuk or, my personal preference, the classic controller. In the course of any 15 minute time-frame it can have you button mashing on the edge of your seat, chilling out playing old-school arcade games, watching borderline soft-porn anime on Travis’s TV, laughing out loud with Bruce Campbellesque one liners, but always scratching your head trying to figure the game out.
It contains healthy doses of pop culture references, current-gen gaming tributes in the form of anything from level design to character likenesses. It can be a game in itself trying to pick out all the nods and hat-tips to various titles and genres.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is a game you’re going to either love or loathe. If the original tweaked your interest then this is a must-buy. But if reading this review has left your head spinning as much as it did for me in writing it then I’d highly recommend a two or three day hire first.