No More Heroes 2 Review
It's no secret that mature Wii games have struggled to find an audience. Despite claims that there's not enough “core gamer” titles available for the family-friendly platform, excellent M-rated efforts such as MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill and Dead Space: Extraction have failed to significantly light up the sales charts. Grasshopper Manufacture's bloody, brain-bending, and downright bizarre 2008 hit No More Heroes was an exception to this rule; while it didn't exactly post Mario or Zelda-like numbers at the cash register, it sold pretty well and, just as important—at least to gamers, if not the bean counters—attained valuable cult status. Its addictive lightsaber-like combat, crazy-cool style, and appealing parody of gaming and anime culture earned it enough street cred to convince creator Suda 51 to crank out a sequel...thank god!
Fans of the first title were fairly passionate about the over-the-top exploits of otaku-turned-top-ranking-assassin Travis Touchdown, so a second serving of similar thrill-killing and insider geek jokes probably would have been enough to get them to return to Santa Destroy. But No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle offers far more than a quick cash-in rehash. On the contrary, it improves on its predecessor in almost every way, building a bigger, better and, believe it or not, more bizarre experience for hungry fans to sink their teeth into.
The set-up and core gameplay will be familiar to anyone who hacked and slashed their way through the first game's line-up of crazy assassins. Once again, Travis is tasked with climbing the professional killer ranks to number one, but this time 50—rather than 10—hired guns stand in his way. This doesn't actually translate to five times as many dedicated boss battles though, as the story uses some creative tricks to combine the killers into single battles or present them in other unexpected ways. However, you'll still be facing many more big bads than you did the first time around. And, as expected, these battles are the title's highlight, blending mind-melting humor, lightning-quick action, and strategic sword play in ways you absolutely will not find in any other game. No joke; the perfect storm of crazy action and insane personalities can occasionally even make Kojima's famously strange boss encounters seem rote.
While slicing and dicing through NMH 2's parade of main maniacs is a perverse blast, it's also a great deal of fun butchering all manner of low level Santa Destroy scum. As in the first game, wielding the blade katana with the Wii-mote will continually stretch a smile across your face. By handling normal attacks with button presses, and saving the waggling for finishing moves, the controls never become gimmicky or burdensome, allowing you to relish every kill—LucasArts should actually take note of NMH 2's refined mechanics before arming players with another wonky virtual lightsaber. Keeping with the title's “bigger and better” approach, Travis is also armed with some new death dealers—like dual katanas—that leave a near non-stop bloodbath in his wake.
Of course, when you're not spilling blood by the bucket load, you'll be engaged in a variety of money-earning mini-games. Where the original NMH's balls-out action was occasionally broken up by repetitive activities such as collecting coconuts and mowing lawns, the sequel's side diversions are far more interesting. Well, the actual tasks are still mostly menial, but they're now presented as addictive little 8-bit styled challenges that'll please any fan who was brought up on a steady diet of NES games. Similar to the mini-games in last year's DS gem Retro Game Challenge, these simple, yet challenging tasks please with equal parts nostalgic charm and addictive thumb twitching. You even get to play as an adorable pixelated Travis.
Making these old school throwbacks even better is the fact that you're not required to play them to earn entry into boss battles. You'll still rake in the coin by playing them, but your loot can now be spent more leisurely on costume upgrades and other fun indulgences. This will come as a relief to anyone who spent hours picking up trash just so they could earn enough qualifying cash to enter critical missions in the first game. Similarly satisfying is the new level structure that forgoes the original game's desolate open-world in favor of a map that allows you to jump around Santa Destroy with ease. The fictional metropolis still has plenty of personality, and you'll still get to tool around on Travis' space-age-looking hog, but, as with the mini-games, this aspect of the game has been markedly improved upon.
On top of all the aforementioned tweaks, NMH 2 also adds a couple of new playable character cameos, the ability to transform Travis into a mauling tiger, and many more surprises that'll turn your mind to mush. In fact, it throws so much at you, the beyond-bizarre sensory overload may be too much for some. To be sure, its stubborn determination to be the weirdest kid on the block will turn off many, while its adolescent sexual obsessions will certainly alienate others. This is not a game for Wii Fit-playing soccer moms. However, if you dug Travis' first blood-soaked spree, consider yourself a “gamer's” gamer, or just want to experience a Wii-enabled fever dream, then, by all means, take the Suda 51 express to crazy-town.