This is old mindless violence, but it's fun old mindless violence with some style.
Violent action slashers are plentiful in the modern age, even hiding behind Nintendo's family friendly facade. So it surprises me that developers are still digging in the crates like so much ‘90s hip hop and bringing back a game with a small cult following. The developer Grasshopper Manufacture had enough faith in its fan base to resurrect the No More Heroes series on Switch with the forthcoming No More Heroes 3 (ETA 2021). The second entry, subtitled Desperate Struggle, was released back in 2010 to positive reviews yet tepid profits. Now, it is back on the Nintendo Switch to try to recoup its investments and take names.
No More Heroes 2 puts you back in the saddle of the anti-hero Travis Touchdown, who is one half Nero from Devil May Cry and one half Duke Nukem. The story takes place some three years after the events of the first game and past events have caught up to our “No More Hero.” Once again, Travis is on the path to become the top assassin in a ranked tournament, but this time it's personal. Oh and there are more assassins. The story is driven by some very noir-inspired cut scenes with exposition from a scantily clad woman in a room behind glass like a peepshow. As you progress, more is revealed, as if the woman is extolling the exploits of the protagonist as you play the game itself. While the story is not exactly intriguing, it is a tale of Tarantino-style revenge with lots of crude humor mixed with adult language and visuals. This is not a family-friendly experience.
The meat of the gameplay is very formulaic hack and slash as you go from one scenario to the next. With the lightsaber-style weapon, you have a hard attack and a fast attack combined with the ability to punch and kick, with combos leading up to a finishing move. You have a health meter (in the form of a large heart) and an ecstasy meter that, when filled, allows you to transform into a tiger and rip through enemies like paper. Each scenario is played in the form of a contained mini-map full of enemies that you must cull your way through on the way to the boss assassin. The bosses are clever and unique characters in a Metal Gear-esaue manner. This opens up the battles to be somewhat different than the regular enemies constantly thrown at you. The first game had a very sparse open world that felt useless and empty. The second game improves on this by replacing it with a map-type hub in which you can select your missions and do side jobs for cash in the form of 8-bit NES-looking mini games. Oddly, I found the mini-games a little more enjoyable than the main game itself. You can deliver pizzas on a scooter, which is reminiscent of the game Hang-On. The bug extermination and sewer pipe games are also more engaging than they had any right to be. Most surprisingly however, the Berry Jerry 5 bullet-hell shooter video game in Travis’s hotel room is borderline addictive. The self improvement mini-games at the gym proved to be a little frustrating and easy to fail. For events that you have to waste in-game money for, they are best avoided as much as possible. Still, with many side jobs to choose from, there is a good amount to do in this game outside of the bloody business that is being the top assassin.
Despite the hardware upgrade from the Wii to the Switch, No More Heroes 2 is not that more visually impressive than its previous release, with only a few minor texture improvements. The controls have been revamped for mobile handheld playing and works well for the fast-paced action and button mashing. The camera issue from the previous release is still a bit of a problem as I often had to re-adjust the camera manually, but being able to lock on to an opponent helps keep things fluid. The sound design is good; the music does a great job of driving the action on screen and kept me tapping my toes while slicing and dicing through foes. The mini-games pull off the chip-tune 8-bit soundtrack to match the vibe. The voice acting is good, though the lines are certainly Last Action Hero-type cheesy. The overall experience comes together as a slightly above-average action slasher that certainly feels last generation but charms with throwback gimmicks and immature crass adult theme.
With a sequel in the pipeline, it makes a sort of sense to port the older entries to the Switch with minimal tweaking (and investment) to ramp up the hype of the next numbered release. If you are a fan of over-the-top violent sword swinging, inappropriate humor, and cleavage shots, this is the game for you. For a casual gamer who isn't necessarily all in on the carnage, this would probably be a pass. However, it’s a solid mindless distraction for the over 20 crowd. No More Heroes 2 certainly fills a niche that is typically left void in the realm of Nintendo.