Travis returns for a second helping of bloody mayhem, and it proves to be just as tasty as the first time.
When No More Heroes was first released on the Wii in early 2008, no one expected it to be a brilliant title, especially since creator Suda51's earlier project was Killer 7, a claustrophobic yet captivating game that left a lot of gamers cold. Once the dust settled, No More Heroes proved to be not only one of the best action games on the Wii, but also one of the best games of the year due to its insane mix of action, self-aware humor, sex, and lots of bloody violence. So it's no surprise that nearly two years later we return to Santa Destroy, stepping into the dirty sneakers of protagonist Travis Touchdown once more, and it has certainly been worth the wait.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle takes place three years after the end of the first game. While it never fully explains what happened to Travis after the first title's cliffhanger ending (something you have to see to learn why), assassination matches grew immensely popular in Santa Destroy, with many corporations using the town and the matches for their own gain.
The story in the original No More Heroes was one that was bloody but done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, often making fun of its lead character for being a no good, perverted nerd. Desperate Struggle, however, takes a much darker turn, giving Travis Touchdown a more personal reason to once again fight through hordes of assassins in order to claim his spot as the top-ranking killer in Santa Destroy. This makes the game feel like a Quentin Tarantino revenge film in which the main character sets things straight, often doing it with style and flare while never forgetting that this is a mockery of said storytelling device. Desperate Struggle dares to be darker, but never once does it take itself seriously, more often diving deep into the regions of surreal absurdity.
The gameplay in the first No More Heroes game was flawed and lacked some polish, but the final product was very enjoyable due to some well-executed ideas. Desperate Struggle fixes many of these mistakes while retaining the winning gameplay that made the first game a classic. Each level is a hack-and-slash composed of two stages. In the first you fight hordes of enemies while you make your way through the level, and at the end of the stage you face the top ranking assassin. These battles are easily some of the best moments in the entire game due to their irreverance, violence, extravagance, and even depravity of the contestants. Once you kill him or her you ascend in the ranks. You do this until you reach the final boss, becoming the top assassin once more with a victory.
The battle engine is where the game truly shines. While the Wii's motion controls are used sparingly, they are perfectly executed and employed at just the right moments. Pressing the A button makes Travis swing his beam katana. Travis adopts a low or high stance depending on how you are holding the Wii Remote, with each stance delivering a different set of attacks. Final blows are executed with quick movements of the Wii Remote or Nunchuk (depending on what beam katana Travis has equipped), creating a very satisfying bloodbath. However, the beam katana eats up lots of battery juice like it did in the original game. When it runs out the attacks won't work, so the player must stop and shake the Wii Remote in order to power up the katana, creating a hilarious scene while it happens.
Curiously enough, Desperate Struggle also features Classic Controller support. While it works just as well as the main control setup and its addition is welcomed, it is an odd additions considering that the original controls work so well in the first place.
As for the rest of the control setup, the C button on the Nunchuk locks onto a nearby enemy while the D-pad allows Travis to dodge in any direction. New to Desperate Struggle is the ability to switch beam katanas on the spot. There's also the ecstasy gauge, a meter represented by a tiger. With each successive kill it grows in power. Once the meter is full Travis can do one of many super attacks, including turning into a tiger that's able to kill enemies in one hit. These attacks were present in the first game, but getting them depended on luck. This time around all you need to do is kill enemies to earn them.
The biggest issue when it comes to combat is the camera. Locking onto an enemy can often send the camera flying around, blocking your view of the action and often causing unintentional deaths. While you can learn to minimize these episodes, it's a shame that players don't have more control over the game's camera. Combat can also become very repetitive, despite how well it is presented and the satisfying nature of gameplay.
Another change to the No More Heroes formula is the ability to play as a girl named Shinobu. Shinobu was ranking assassin number eight in the first No More Heroes, and because her life was spared she has returned as Travis's ally. Unfortunately, playing as this new character makes the game's faults even more apparent.. While her battle engine remains the same, her levels require a lot of jumping, and this is where the camera issues go from bad to worse. Jumping is extremely infuriating due to unwanted jumps,as well as the camera getting stuck and then moving around just as you are making a jump. It shows that the engine Grasshopper created for this game works best as a hack and slash, and little else.
Like in No More Heroes, Desperate Struggle presents other activities Travis can partake in. In the first game, the side jobs were games that needed to be played in order to gain the ranking battle entry fees. Many players felt that this was a tedious and unnecessary element in the gameplay, only serving to disrupt the fast-paced action. Desperate Struggle corrects this. While the side jobs are still present you are no longer required to earn money in order to fight. Instead, the money will be spent buying Travis new sets of clothes at Airport 51, updating his stats at Ryan's Gym, or upgrading his beam katana at Naomi's lab. Best of all, the side jobs are presented as classic, old-school NES games. You'll be connecting pipes in Santa Destroy's sewers in a puzzle game, collecting coconuts in a platforming game, and there's even a tiling game featuring Tetris pieces. The side jobs are still somewhat unnecessary, but now you can enjoy them in an inspired manner.
At his room at Motel No More Heroes, Travis can collect anime action figures (scattered throughout the levels hidden in treasure chests), play a shoot 'em up arcade game inspired by an in-game anime called Bizarre Jelly 5, and even watch the truly bizarre and perverted anime intro. Jeanne the cat even returns, but this time she is a fat cat. You must help Travis get her in shape by playing mini-games, such as lifting her and massaging her. It once again adds a level of heart, humor, and humanity to an otherwise surreal game where violence brings ecstasy to its inhabitants.
One big improvement Desperate Struggles adds to the franchise is how you travel around Santa Destroy. In the first game, you traveled around Santa Destroy in a manner similar to that of the Grand Theft Auto series. Many felt that this was one of the worst parts of the game due to boring locales, and it was made even worse when trying to ride Travis's motorcycle around due to players never truly grasping the controls. Desperate Struggle eliminates the need to travel through the entire city, as players can now select which places they want to go to. This makes visiting each place quicker, easier, and more convenient.
The graphics have also seen a slight improvement. Desperate Struggle is now in full widescreen mode, and the brilliantly designed characters are more detailed and animate more fluidly during cutscenes. The assassin fights once again prove to be the most elaborate of the presentation thanks to how they often simultaneously mock and celebrating the action sequences of many anime series, and the death scenes are just as brilliant in their execution. It's unfortunate, however, that slowdown hinders the style a bit. The music also remains very captivating and fits the theme of the game very well. Voice acting is solid and very over the top, perfect for the story and its characters.
Those that loved No More Heroes will really enjoy Desperate Struggle. The winning gameplay has been retained and polished for an even more enjoyable experience, and the changes made to the overall gameplay makes things a lot more accessible, quicker, and more fun overall. The camera issues are still a bother, but don't let that stop you from enjoying one of the best action games yet released on Wii.