Before I’d played No More Heroes, I would never have believed that a games developer would seriously consider turning a concept like that into an actual game. I would love to have been present at the concept pitch to the publisher: “OK, so you play an ex-pro-wrestler otaku with a light sabre katana out to become the number one assassin in a town called Santa Destroy…” Riiiight. Well, this didn’t deter Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture, and you know what? I think the world is a better place for it.
After the bizarre end of the game, fans have been eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. The story takes place in the troubled town of Santa Destroy, which has grown tenfold since the last game after the player character, Travis Touchdown, turned assassination into a popular sport. Players once again take on the role of Travis, some years after he conquered the assassin league, now out of the assassin game and looking for purpose in his life when all of a sudden, he’s forced to kill a revenge-seeking attacker. Unfortunately, this attacker turns out to be number 51 in the assassin ranks, and by killing him, Travis unwittingly re-enters the competition. After this, Travis is visited by his super-sexy agent, Sylvia Christel, who promises him even more kinky fun if he’ll take up his beam katana once more and fight his way to the top of the ranks.
Sounds pretty weird, huh? [Yup -Ed] You have no idea, trust me. The story is delivered much more cinematically than in the last game, with enough bad narrative, shallow characters, tacky design and overblown melodrama to match any current anime. The graphics are noticeably improved, although it seems to come at the expense of a slight performance shudder here and there, but nothing major. The cheesy metal scores, punk/underground graphic style and old-videogame references are still present in spades, keeping that cherished tang of underground culture alive. I believe the term “guilty pleasure” was coined to describe experiences like this.
All of this is basically an excuse for players to take Travis through a string of epic battles against a long lineup of whacky, cheesy villains all trying their best to defend their spots in the assassin ranking. These guys are some of the weirdest and most creatively-designed characters I’ve ever seen, including a black hip-hop priest with a missile launching boom-box, robotic arms and a thick Scottish accent; and a playboy footballer whose harem of scantily-clad cheerleaders are so loyal they’ll join together to form a giant mech for him to pilot in combat – I kid you not. And it only gets weirder from there. Each one of these assassins has their own weapons, fighting styles and tactics that Travis must overcome if he wants to finish them off. Usually, however, he’ll have to fight through hundreds of their henchmen before he can reach them. These unfortunate foot-soldiers can often be dispatched four or five at a time once players are skilled enough at controlling Travis, but there are the occasional big guys who need a thorough bludgeoning before they’ll go down.
The combat system is much the same as last time, with very few changes. Thankfully, the designers of No More Heroes realised how best to use the Wii’s motion sensing. Rather than being made to swing the Wiimote wildly, players slash enemies by pressing the A button, and once they’ve drained an enemy’s health, only the death slash is delivered by swinging the Wiimote. It’s pretty easy to get this right every time. Travis can also perform wrestling moves on stunned opponents, which players emulate by swinging the Wiimote and the Nunchuck in different directions. This usually works pretty well, but sometimes it takes two or three swings for the move to register. There are a bunch of advanced abilities in there too, like special dodges and parries, which aren’t explicitly explained anywhere in the game, but any action game veteran would probably figure out on their own anyway. The slot machine is still there, and every time Travis kills an enemy, the slots roll. Lining up three of the same icon can grant various benefits, like recharging the batteries of his beam katana, granting him a speed boost, transforming him into a Goku-like anime character, or killing everything on the screen. New to the game is the Ecstasy gauge, which Travis fills by killing successive enemies without taking damage. Once this gauge is full, Travis moves faster and can activate a special mode which grants him different abilities depending on which beam katana he’s wielding.
Of course, in order to take on these legions of enemies, Travis is going to need to bump up his abilities and arsenal a little bit. He must visit the gym and buy new equipment if he wishes to stay on par with the later enemies. To do this, he must earn money by doing side-jobs. These side jobs can be found dotted all over the city, and thankfully we’re spared the effort of having to drive there ourselves now that travel through the city is handled by a convenient quick-travel system. All of these side-jobs resemble quirky little 8-bit videogames, complete with the funky tunes. Most of them are surprisingly good fun too. The more skill Travis demonstrates in these mini-games, the more money he can earn, but it’s up to the player to know when to quit, because if they die, they lose it all. A bit like gambling, really.
I think it’s fair to say that No More Heroes 2 gives us more of everything that made the first game great: more violence, more adult humour, more anime cheese, and a lot more eccentric enemies to battle. It’s a great example of what can be achieved in a videogame with a little creativity, a lot of ingenuity, and a serious lack of shame. Action fans would be well-advised to check it out.