No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
Rated M for language, sexual themes and violence
Version reviewed: Wii
Everyone's favorite pro wrestling-obsessed smart-ass otaku assassin, Travis Touchdown, returns in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, the sequel to one of the Wii's under-rated gems. Though this edition hits all of its' intended marks technically well and offers some fun (and outrageously violent) swordplay action, NMH2 is also unfortunately missing that special something that made fans of the original sit up and take notice.
At the end of the first game, Travis left the city of Santa Destroy after becoming the world's top-ranked assassin. At the beginning of the sequel, he's returned. Why? It's never really specified. But soon he is entering another tournament to regain his number one spot. Though the story as a whole doesn't really make any logical sense, it's still worth it to check out the game's quirky cut-scenes just because the characters are so damn strange. From giant mechs helmed by cheerleaders to abandoned cosmonauts to disgraced dual superheroes, the motley crew you'll face are some of the more unique creations you'll see outside of a Takashi Miike film -- who, by the way, does make a cameo.
Perhaps realizing the limitations of the Wii hardware, the first NMH wisely eschewed attempts at realism in favor of a cel-shaded style, which gave the game a visual flavor many Wii releases are sorely lacking. NMH2 retains the cartoony style, but one can definitely notice an improvement in the character models and their animation. It's a tired meme, but overall, NMH2's graphics are very good for the Wii, and like its' predecessor, shows that Wii games can look nice if developers put some effort into their work.
There was also obviously some work put into the soundtrack as well. The voice acting, while not stellar in view of recent efforts like Uncharted 2, is still well-done, with each character getting a nice sense of personality. As for the score, it's quite good, able to bring in multiple genres without seeming over-stuffed. And thankfully, unlike the first game, there's more than a handful of tracks, so you won't be hearing the same songs over and over.
The biggest change in NMH2 is the loss of the open-world aspects from the first game. Instead of traversing around Santa Destroy on your motorcycle, the player here simply selects their destination from a map screen. While this design isn't as charming as NMH1, it is much more user-friendly in the long run, since now players don't have to deal with some of the problems like bad collision detection that were present in the original installment.
NMH2 still retains the same basic formula as the first game: do side jobs to earn cash so that you can buy new equipment or train to increase your stats, and then head off to complete story missions, which culminate with a duel with one of the assassins ranked above you. Now here's where we run into a fairly big knock on NMH2 -- the side jobs aren't that fun. Most of them are done in an 8-bit style (complete with sounds of Travis blowing on a cartridge before the game starts) and are entertaining enough in short bursts, but quickly become repetitive and dull, and in the case of the training mini-games, almost impossible at higher levels. Players end up spending a good deal of time to earn money, and when it goes away in a matter of seconds because of the training mode's bad controls, it ends up leaving a feeling of frustration.
Ultimately, though, unless you're a total completist, you don't necessarily need to do all of the side jobs and training to fully get into the main story missions. Most of these are really fun, using the Wii's motion controls to excellent effect, though you can use the Classic Controller if you don't want to waggle your way through the game. There are a couple of mis-steps though, most notably on the missions in which you control a returning opponent from the first game. On these levels, an emphasis is placed on jumping, which wouldn't be bad if for the fact that the jump controls are horrid. Thankfully, these levels are short and don't take away too much from the overall flow of the game.
The Bottom Line
It should probably be noted that this reviewer considers No More Heroes to be the best game on the Wii, and so I had high expectations for Desperate Struggle. It seems like a bad internet whining stereotype to espouse that a sequel isn't as good as the original, but I have to say that is the case here. Don't get me wrong -- I don't feel like I was cheated out of my fifty bucks in any way, shape, or form. But after the game ended (which came too quickly at only ten hours) I had the question "is that it?" And, unfortunately, yes, that was it. Like that elusive woman at the bar who never gives you the time of day no matter what game you throw at her, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle ends like coming off as a bit of a tease and leaving the player a little disappointed.