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REVIEW: No More Heroes 2: Deadly Struggle (Spoiler Free)
I'm going to begin by stating that there are two additional playable characters in this game, other than Travis. I WILL be talking about them and stating their names. I don't consider it a spoiler (especially since it's been pretty widely talked about on the gaming sites), but if you don't want to know who they are, I'm warning you now.
When the first No More Heroes came out, I absolutely fell in love with it despite the obvious problems. It was weird, because it was like your character was in two worlds: the GTA-style overview one and the action based levels type. It failed so completely at the former that I could see it easily turning gamers off, but the latter was so well done that it was worth overlooking the glaring problems. It seems Suda 51 has listened as this sequel has some serious improvements.
While the first game saw Travis Touchdown climbing the assassin ranks to become number one, this one has him starting over with a different motivation: revenge. This time around he has to claw his way up from Rank 50, facing a slew of new opponents. Although the game definitely has a much darker tone than the first, it still has the outrageously over-the-top bosses, geeky references, and innuendos that made the first one so beloved. Further, Suda 51 has packed the game with even more extras that can be earned, which are well worth it.
The first real noticeable change is the overview world has been replaced with a map. Instead of driving to each location, which was incredibly tedious and boring in the first game, this time the player can simply choose the location from a list and instantly be taken there. As much as I would have liked to see an improved free roaming world for Travis to interact with, I would much rather have this than a repeat of what the first game delivered.
Another big improvement is the lack of paying to enter ranked fights. The first game required the player to earn money through mini-games, most of which were not fun at all but had to be played many times to earn enough money. This time mini-games are optional, with the money only needed for weapons upgrades, clothing, training, and Jeanne's food. For those who don't have the patience for mini-games or wish to get straight into the action, this is a nice option.
This isn't to say the mini-games aren't worth the time, though. In fact, the mini-games are almost as much fun as the main game, and boy are there a lot of them. Games like helping Jeanne lose weight and playing the Bizarre Jelly 5 (commonly referred to as "BJ-5") shooter will unlock surprises, while the other games are strictly for cash. Those mini-games, however, are about as awesome as they can be for anyone who loves old school gaming. The games are designed to look, sound, and play like the old original Nintendo games, and honestly as much fun as some are, I think they could have legitimately been released on WiiWare. The absolute best part is the digitized NES-style voices. I still laugh when I hear the barely audible foul language spoken during these games. I could easily see myself popping in No More Heroes 2 just to play a round of the bug catching or coconut collecting games. The only mini-game that isn't made in a retro NES-style, the scorpion catching game from the first one, also happens to be the least fun. I honestly don't know why it's even in here, as it doesn't fit the theme at all.
As for the main game, there's a lot that's different but a lot that's the same, too. Travis controls pretty much the same as the first game, although I think Dark Stepping is harder to pull off this time around. In fact, I thought it had been removed from the game until I accidentally pulled off the move halfway through the game. Travis does get a few new moves, such as slashing attacks that are performed by slashing in the air with the nunchuk and Wiimote. The Nunchuk attack isn't available at first, but when it is it definitely is a useful move when Travis is ganged up on and needs to clear some space. There's also a great addition I learned of completely by accident: the ability to recover from a fatal blow. If Travis loses all his health, he will wobble for a few seconds before falling to the ground and dying. During this time the player can shake the Wiimote madly in hopes of keeping him on his feet. I can promise you that you WILL look like an idiot furiously shaking the Wiimote, but in tough battles it gives you a much needed second chance. It only gives Travis about four or five more health points, but it can be used about three times before he finally dies for good. During those frustrating fights that the enemy only has one or two health points left, this can make a huge difference and save the player a lot of frustration and wasted hours.
The game also sees the return of Shinobu Jacobs and Sir Henry Motherfucker (yes, that's his name), who are both playable. For the most part they play like Travis, but with some additions. Henry's charged attack sends energy bubbles towards the enemy, plus he has a nifty dash move that covers large distances. Shinobu is quick and agile, plus has the ability to actually jump. Her charge attack creates streaks of energy slashes, which is actually important at one point in the game in order to progress. I'll be honest, I didn't care for Henry that much. Maybe I needed more time to get used to him, but I found his moves and attacks a little annoying. Shinobu, on the other hand, was a ball to play as. I've always favored quick and agile characters over slow and powerful ones in games, so being able to jump in and out of thickets of enemies while attacking made me happy. Sometimes I wondered if her moves were almost too unfair, because enemies hardly ever had the chance to make contact with her. Then I played the boss battles and changed my mind quickly.
Suda 51 said Travis won't be the star of the third game, which would be unfortunate. If he decided to replace him with Shinobu, however, I would get over it quickly. I had a ball playing as her. The only drawback is that sometimes her jumping isn't accurate; if you jump to a ledge but hit the C or Z buttons to readjust the camera, she will change directions. Even when this doesn't happen, Shinobu has a tenancy to easily fall off edges you didn't intend her to fall off of. This is a minor issue until you find yourself in battles that require you to jump to different platforms while being attacked. One of Shinobu's biggest flaws happens to be when she completes the full motion of her sword attack, which causes her to sit still for a full second or two, completely exposed. This is incredibly frustrating with enemies that specifically attack when your character stops moving. It wasn't a problem so long as I stopped hitting the A button just short of the final motion of the attack, but it cost me a few fights when I accidentally went one too far.
There are some other issues in the game, but to be fair these are mostly my preference. Pre-stage intros for the bosses are gone, as well as phone calls through the Wiimote. I giggled like a fool when I first hard Sylvia talking through my control in the first game, and I definitely missed it in this one. Considering the pre-stage intros, which are the assassin silhouettes introducing the boss' name in the first game, a big loss sounds silly but it still bothers me. They may have only been a few seconds but it was something that added to the games style. I understand why it was done since some bosses needed to be a surprise. It isn't a big deal at all, but I still wish they found a way to keep them while still keeping those specific assassins a secret.
There are more assassins to take out this time around, but some are so ridiculously easy they almost shouldn't count at all. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of fights that equal the creativeness and difficulty of the first game. Every once in a while, though, there will be a fight that is either a sure thing or requires virtually no strategy at all. One of the selling points about this series is the need to come up with a specific strategy, whether by using certain attacks or the environment to help you, to win against some tough opponents. Even the weak fights in the first game lived up to expectations in some way. In this one, some fights seem to be throwaways for the purpose of having a visual joke, or in some cases simply lacked any effort whatsoever. The strategy for a couple of bosses were as simple as, "run in, attack, run away." I expect more out of the game.
Also something I miss greatly is the multiple-kill-attacks. What I mean by this is when you finished off an enemy in the first game and a blue 'motion control death attack' icon appeared, Travis would cut an enemy to pieces while nearby enemies suffered the same fate. To be honest this is kind of a cheap move because it can be used to clear out enemies quickly rather than fight them all. At the same time, it felt satisfying and fit the over-the-top Kill Bill-style the game had going for it. Deadly Struggle seems to still have this if an enemy is really close, but has definitely toned it down a lot. Again, I know it's a cheap move but I miss it. I don't care if the game throws in more enemies to compensate; having that side affect from killing one guy was an awesome visual.
There were two other complaints I had, but I'm still not sure if they're real or something I was imagining. They were ever so slight that I thought it was me at first, but they seemed to persist. The enemy lock feels just a little off, while the camera seems worse than the first game. I don't know why this is but they just do. I did get used to it about halfway through the game, but it definitely felt like something was tweaked slightly.
There really isn't a lot to say about the graphics. They look the same as the first game, which to be honest is a little disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I like the style. It works for this time of game. But with the sequel I was hoping that at least cut scenes might be spruced up a bit in certain areas. They weren't. It still looks nice but using the same methods from the first game without making improvements screams of laziness. To be fair I've heard they were rushed making this game so that could be the reason why, but it doesn't excuse the fact they didn't address any graphical issues the first game had.
The sound is pretty good but nothing to get excited over. The soundtrack works for the game but I didn't hear anything amazing, and in fact it reuses some songs from the first game. The voice actors do a good job, even when some sound over the top. Nothing can top the previously mentioned digitized voices from the 8-bit mini-games, though. That was one of the best things in the game.
Finally, the story is definitely darker with a less humor than the first. That doesn't mean it doesn't bring the silly, though. There are plenty of moments that live up to the absurdity of the first game, and Suda 51 continues to pull out inappropriate ideas from his dirty little mind. I think what makes this different from the first game is that it gives hints of a bigger story happening here. The first game does as well, but you wouldn't know it by playing it alone. The second game seems to give some clear hints that these games aren't meant to be viewed as individual stories, but rather parts of a larger one. Scenes from the first game that were once viewed one way now appear to mean something completely different when looking at the given pieces of the puzzle. It isn't always direct about telling the player this. A few lines definitely hint that there's more coming, but for the most part it lays the groundwork and lets the player figure it out. Some games flat out make it clear, "This will be continued in the next game, and you can expect these huge plot points we went out of our way to make you see to be addressed". Desperate Struggle doesn't do that. It might have a throwaway line that opens up a lot of questions, but one that the player would never realize about if they missed it. It doesn't dwell on these hints or shove them down the player's throat. Instead of constantly referring back to the hint but still not answering it, it simply moves on.
This is refreshing. It makes the player pay attention. It makes them look for subtle clues and think about the story being told, or to find the real meaning because those typical Suda 51 lines that at first glance appear to be nonsense. I don't pretend to understand everything behind these games, and there are certainly things I missed that I've learned only because of more observant gamers. This isn't something to be afraid of, however, as you don't have to understand all the little quirks to Suda 51's story to enjoy the game. If you miss something, it isn't a big deal. If you figure something out that didn't seem apparent, congratulations! Or if you're in it just for the hack-and-slash assassin kills, that's fine too. You don't have to understand the deeper elements of the story to have a good time with this game.
I honestly wasn't sure about Desperate Struggle when I first played it. I was afraid it couldn't live up to the first one, and the first few hours had me thinking it wouldn't. The more I played it, though, the more I liked and the more it felt like a "complete" game compared the original. And that's the best way to describe it: it feels complete. It fixed the most serious issues of the first game, then piled all a ton of content for good measure. Even though it went a more serious route, it still kept the quirky ideas that made the first game so great, and even added a few more. The play time varies based on how much you do (subtracting the time from the mini-games and revenge missions, I would say I put in about 15-16 hours into the main story, although some people say they beat it in about 12 hours), but even if it ends up being a short game for you it's well worth the time. It's packed with replay value, and is without a doubt one of the top games for the system.
Suda 51 did right by this game, and if sales justify a third one I'll be first in line for it.
SCORE: 9 / 10
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