NO MORE HEROES 2: DESPERATE STRUGGLE – Review
NO MORE HEROES 2: DESPERATE STRUGGLE is a videogame developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, published by Ubisoft (North America), Rising Star Games (Europe) and Marvelous Entertainment/Spike (Japan) for the Nintendo Wii. It was directed by NOBUTAKA ICHIKI.
George Carlin noted that anybody who drives slower than you is an idiot, and anybody going faster than you is a maniac. Well, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle must have been going at a pretty high speed, because I’m still here shaking my fist in anger. Make no mistake: Desperate Struggle is schlock. Not only because the game couldn’t live up to its predecessor, but also because of its nature. Sure, it is manic, bipolar, occasionally funny and always perverted; but it’s also superfluous, trivial and artificial. If the first No More Heroes was the new Mega Man, No More Heroes 2 is the new Mega Man 8.
Desperate Struggle gives the impression it was born from an Excel file. Nobutaka Ichiti, instead of trying to come up with any kind of vision for the sequel, must have simply created two lists after analyzing the original No More Heroes: one list with the points that received praise and another with the game’s shortcomings. After that, like a true scientist, the man simply removed all the opportunities for failures and proceeded to fit the good bits into a new and more streamlined game. The jigsaw pieces were all jammed in there and they seem to fit alright â€“ but they don’t form the right picture. If the machines that wrote books in George Orwell’s 1984 ever started making games, No More Heroes 2 would be one of those games.
The facts are these: after a short narration filled with empty comments by Metal Gear Solid‘s Colonel Campbell (who says, for example, that the assassins’ underworld has become a commodity (as if it were much better off before it went corporate)), Travis Touchdown, who left the ranks of the United Assassins Association (UAA), is back to fight a Cloud Strife’s lookalike. Why did he leave? Why did he return? Wasn’t the UAA a con designed by its sultry agent, Sylvia Christel, and her creator, Suda 51, to lure you into playing the game? The game gleefully doesn’t care about that. Moving on. After the defeat of faux-Cloud, he reveals Travis would soon be chained to the shackles of revenge. And so he does, after his only friend Bishop is murdered by the current #1 assassin, Jasper Batt Jr, owner of Pizza Batt (you know, the only kind of food Travis is always eating). Now, Travis, ranked 51th, must climb the ranks up again in order to get his revenge.
Two last facts: Travis’ cat Jeane has become quite fat between both games and that no enemy worries about their spleen anymore when being cut into two. Tragic stuff.
So, you ask me, it’s another game about revenge, right? Well, I’m not sure the game itself knows what it is supposed to be about. Unlike the delicious self-awareness of the original No More Heroes, this sequel is too focused on driving fast between wacky bosses to develop a well-rounded message. Bishop himself, who made only a few cameos in the original game, has so few reasons to exist other than to provide the protagonist with some motivation, that his last word is a whisper of his friend’s name Travisâ€¦ (ho-mo-se-xu-al? asks the stupid controversy whore in me, punctuating each syllable). And yet, although No More Heroes 2 never jokes about this pretense, we never take this driving force seriously, as the relationship between Travis and Bishop was never developed to begin with. In this sense, when compared to the original’s bluntness, this game seems almost dishonest. If a true revenge motif was needed, it would be much more effective to kidnap Jeane, the cat. In fact, considering that caring for his cat may be Travis’ main redeeming quality, this would make much more sense.
One of the things that intrigued me in this game was how the narrative was presented. It was said that Travis Touchdown was originally named after the protagonist of the movie Paris, Texas, by Wim Wenders. No More Heroes 2 pretty much confirms the movie’s influence by making Sylvia narrate the events of the game in the same setting the homonymous protagonist from Paris, Texas had his monologue (which culminated into the movie’s tragically sensitive climax you can see here): inside a peepshow cabin. What intrigues me is the reason why it was done this way as the original No More Heroes was way more in tune with the movie than this game ever was. Paris, Texas was a road movie, a genre in which the central protagonists search for an object of value which has disappeared in the past. In the movie, this object was Jane and the understanding of what drove the protagonist into his quest in the first place; in the original game, this object was JEane and the understanding of what drove Travis Touchdown into fighting the ranks of the UAA. In both works, the protagonists achieve a degree of mutual recognition, finding catharsis through confession, even though No More Heroes 1 partially subverts this with satire. Meanwhile, No More Heroes 2 has none of that: no object being searched nor cathartic moment. In fact, Travis apparently forgot what he learned in the first game: that vengeance begets vengeance. So, why is the peepshow in Desperate Struggle at all? The setting is never justified and we never understand what happened between Travis’s new battles and Sylvia’s narration. Well, perhaps it’s only for gamers to better appreciate Sylvia’s new bouncing physics. Yeah, that must be it.
In any case, it is during that peepshow where we are introduced to this game’s bosses, which are nowhere near as memorable as the ones in the original games. The reasons for this are several. Some of them are pretty explicit, like the developer’s choice of making their introduction shorter and limiting their presentation to Sylvia’s peepshow monologue to the point of only revealing their names after we defeat them. Others derive from the elimination of the original game’s so-called shortcomings, like the necessity to gather some money before being allowed to fight a ranked match and the blandness of Santa Destroy, which enlarged the boss experience through contrast. Ichiki must have forgotten that anything that takes time and effort to be achieved has already inherent value, while something received for free (like the ranked battles in this game) is more likely to be taken for granted. Finally, the fact we don’t actually have to fight 50 assassins, but only 15 (you skip ranks like crazy). This makes us not take the whole idea of climbing the ranks, and consequently the assassins themselves, very seriously.
I believe I was one of the few defenders of sandbox nature of Santa Destroy in the original game. So, naturally, I believe the game lost more than it received by transforming the city into a simple menu. In fact, I’m still taken aback by the choice of simply removing the entire exploration aspect of the game in a finger snap. Were the Grasshopper programmers truly incapable of coming up with any other solution or were they just lazy? Without being able to travel through the city, we lost a big deal of Travis’ routine and what makes him what he is. The new Travis is fragmented into NES games and assassin fights, making the character much less developed than he was in the first game. No More Heroes 2 has so little sense of place, the developers felt comfortable enough to add something they called Akashi portals to arbitrarily justify setting some of the ranked battles in areas that are almost random and have nothing to do with the city. Ah! For those of you who hated driving the Travis’ kickass Schpeltiger motorbike in the first No More Heroes: don’t start cheering just yet. The bike still appears in a single part of the game; a part whose gameplay is unforgivably broken and horribly wrong.
Now I admit: turning all the side jobs into NES 8-bit style was rather ingenious and turned out quite well (personal favorites were Pizza With a Vengeance and Man The Meat). Only one side job doesn’t have that style and was the brought over from the previous game â€“ unfortunately the minigame chosen was also lamest side job from No More Heroes 1. On one hand, these side jobs are interesting in the way they show us this could be how Travis sees himself during the daily grind. On the other hand, due to the fact playing these minigames is not required in order to enter the ranked battles anymore and because we don’t have the empty spaces of Santa Destroy to make us understand why normal living is not what makes Travis wake up every morning, I felt that collecting coconuts was no more or less important than fighting Assassin #24: both activities felt like work (as opposed to collecting coconuts was the work and fighting Assassin #24 was the reward for doing such work in the first game). In this sense, No More Heroes 2 is more akin to a minigame collection than ever before.
Now, one thing that particularly irked me in No More Heroes 2 was calling Travis the ‘no more hero’ because he managed to turn away from the ranked fights after the first game, thus corrupting what I understood to be the reason the first game was called No More Heroes in the first place: it was a world populated only by assassins (frivolously called heroes now in the sequel) with no other interests other than their own (something that is closer to an anti-hero, rather than a hero). Other than this new title, Travis is still that superdouche we all grew to love, although he apparently solved much of the issues that caused his inability to kill women in the first game (something this game barely mentions (as usual)). Other fan favorites like his brother Henry and Shinobu make their return in Desperate Struggle for no reason other than the fact they are fan favorites. It’s all so gratuitous; there is never a particular reason for why you should play as them. Hey, here is Shinobu. Cool! I get to control her! Ok, she fought against some bosses. Jesus, Shinobu, why are your platforming segments so bad? In fact, why do they even exist? Oh, you’re going already? Bye, Shinobu! Now it’s time for you to leave the game never to be mentioned again! Nowâ€¦ back to Tra- Oh wait! There is Henry! Aw… leaving so soon, Henry? Ok, Henry, bye! See you in your next irrelevant cameo!. The last major character I haven’t commented on yet is Sylvia. Travis’ relationship with Sylvia Christel is more crazy and unpredictable than ever due to her constantly changing personality, which feels more prominent in this game. She insults him, and then she cares for him. She teases, doesn’t deliver, and then deliver. Long I have stopped to try to understand what was going on and simply started to take her as she is. My new theory, based on the fact nobody has any reflection at any mirror, is that they are either all ghosts or vampires. And who cares about vampires anyways?
I really don’t see why this game was so well received by so many other reviewers, most of which complained the first game was more style than substance when, in reality, it was the completely opposite. The first No More Heroes was filled with subtext that simply isn’t here anymore. If there is a game that is all dependant on its style to compensate its lack of substance, this game is No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle! From its scatological save to its NES minigames, No More Heroes 2 is all – and only – about style. Hell, even if you don’t care about any of that and just want to fight some cool bosses, know that the original game trumps this one at this criterion as well.
In the end, what have you accomplished? What have you learned? Let me do you a favor of spoiling the ending. You beat right Jasper Batt Jr, takes a ride with Sylvia on the Schpeltiger Mk.II and, after the credits are over, she ditches Travis at his motel.