No More Heroes 2 – Desperate Struggle Review

Looking for a game where bloody assassin massacres and cutesy kitten playtime are equal priorities?

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is one of the biggest, and strangest, releases for the Nintendo Wii in the first quarter of 2010. Its predecessor No More Heroes won critical acclaim back in 2008 for its adult themes and stylish visuals, but the sequel hopes to match and exceed the former in both overall design and unit sales.

Let’s get one thing straight: Desperate Struggle is about as adult a game as you can find on the Wii System – a system generally designed with Family Game Night in mind.  Before you can even save for the first time the game features blood fountains, self-mutilation, sexually suggestive weaponry, and about half-a-dozen or so ‘questionable’ pieces of language not fit for print in this magazine. Not a bad list. Only potty humour could make the opening any more visceral, and for that, well, just wait for the first save point. It won’t disappoint.

Playing as Travis Touchdown, the mission is to climb the ranks of the resident assassin population of Santa Destroy. Travis is basically a Japanese version of Johnny Knoxville, that is, if Knoxville was a remorseless killer in addition to being an infamous jack-ass. As blunt in his demeanour as his beam katana blade is razor-sharp, Travis ends up back on the assassin circuit, seeking vengeance for the murder of his best friend, Bishop.

Of course, a mere revenge plot isn’t nearly enough to sustain most gamers. So rest assured that Desperate Struggle also comes equipped with a sexy pledge, that should Travis succeed then French coquette, and United Assassins Association agent Sylvia Christel, will show him her latest yoga move – the conveniently vague ‘downward dog.’ Simply put, Travis’ job is to get on top (literally and figuratively) as quickly and as recklessly as he can.

Director Suda51 has honed his signature style since the original No More Heroes, and as a result, the sequel has refined his art through his favourite developer Grasshopper Manufacture. The graphics are tighter, the lines are cleaner, and the pixellated 3D environment is smoother than ever. Alongside these enhancements, Travis, is finally free to slice and dice his way through some truly awesome enemy-rich landscapes in what can only be described as a series of satisfying bloodsplosions.

Make no bones about it, Desperate Struggle is crude, but purposefully so. Its intent is to provide immediate fulfillment to a specific target audience. So, if humorous sex and gratuitous violence is not your cup of tea, then let this game pass you by. However, if you are not the sort of person prone to bouts of prudish nausea, then Desperate Struggle just might offer you a welcome respite of immersive vulgarity.

For instance, the original No More Heroes required cash to advance the action, forcing players to toil through a frustrating collection of odd jobs in order to pay for the next ranked assassin battle. Desperate Struggle keeps the odd job structure, but two key things have changed: Travis no longer requires cash to move on and the odd jobs are now retro-style bit-graphic games reminiscent of the original Nintendo.  By making it easier to advance and recognizing the appeal of a retro fitting, Desperate Struggle endears itself to more experienced gamers who just want to keep it simple and kick some ass.

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Also new are a few katanas, most notably on the ‘Peony’ and the ‘Rose Nasty,’ as well as two playable characters, Henry and Shinobu.

‘Peony’ is purchasable from Naomi (the returning doctor from No More Heroes) and is an expensive two-handed piece of work that grows and shrinks depending on how much damage Travis has taken or delivered. Though it is brutally powerful, it is somewhat slow and unwieldy. The ‘Rose Nasty’ is actually two red-beamed katanas that appear sharper and more serrated than Travis’ standard issue. You do not receive the blades until late in the game, but with them Travis can deliver some high-velocity hack and slash.

The two new playable characters come out of nowhere mid-story to give Travis a bit of a rest and I found it threw the game’s pacing off.  First, Henry. Your American-born Irish-raised twin brother is certainly cool, but in-game he is far less interesting to control than Travis. What’s more, you only have him for one mission – and it’s an immediate boss fight versus a little kid in a dream world (she’s chipper, can hover around, has gigantic robot arms. This is standard No More Heroes fare). Far from my favourite level, it seemed like, and most likely was, a late-production throw-in. Shinobu is much cooler.  Shinobu helps Travis kill two assassins on his list, and in addition to having more unique lunges than Henry, she can jump and perform aerial attacks.

Wait, she can jump? B-B-But th-that means – Yep, you guessed it. The gamer’s ultimate bane: terribly annoying jumping puzzles. I thought games had finally learned that not being able to progress through a level because you keep missing a jump is tantamount to fifty slaps to the face. Okay, so it’s a small part of the game, I’ll admit. But even rearing its ugly head once was enough to make me curse the TV.

There are other downsides to the game: all in all it is rather short (I clocked in at about eight hours), the levels themselves are simple repetition and the humour seems to dry up halfway through the story. That said there is nothing else out there like No More Heroes, and Desperate Struggle makes critical improvements over its predecessor.  Its strong cult of fandom will also likely extend the lifespan of the franchise. Suda51 has suggested Nintendo’s follow up to the Wii as a platform for a prospective No More Heroes 3.