No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle Review

By Sterling McGarvey - Posted Jan 26, 2010

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle marks a return to the twisted burg of Santa Destroy, the place where geeky assassin Travis Touchdown gets dragged back to prove he's the best hired gun in the world. It's a gleefully violent romp that Wii owners shouldn't miss.

The Pros
  • Better world navigation
  • 8-bit minigames are fantastic
  • One of the (sadistically) funniest games in a long time
The Cons
  • Not all minigames are great
  • Loses some consistency toward the end

With 2008’s No More Heroes, a critically acclaimed game that was a modest worldwide hit, Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture finally hit paydirt. Now, its Executive Director, Suda 51, gets to realize his dream of a sequel with Desperate Struggle, one of the most cheerful and funny blood-spattering games I’ve played in some time.
Desperate Struggle, like its predecessor, is a linear brawler in which you fight through waves of thugs to reach a boss who possesses some unique ability. It's all presented as a cocktail of over-the-top violence, with grim and self-aware humor, as an homage to classic gaming. The sequel puts you back in the shoes of Travis Touchdown, a sewer-mouthed geek who's as comfortable with girly magazines, anime and pro wrestling as he is with handily decapitating waves of anonymous goons that spew money from their wounds like a Vegas slot machine.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

Number 51? I Wonder Why...

In No More Heroes, Travis scraped and clawed his way up the rankings to become America's best assassin, as declared by the UAA, the organizing body that judges hired killers. Desperate Struggle thrusts you into the action immediately with a rooftop boss fight that functions both as a tutorial and a narrative jumpstart. After dispatching his first enemy, we learn that Travis has become a cult figure in the city of Santa Destroy in the three years since the last game. Everyone wants to be an assassin and Travis's departure from the scene has spawned waves of wannabes scrambling to become the best. Since Travis abdicated his crown, he's got to start all the way from the beginning at number 51.

Desperate Struggle's greatest asset is its self-aware humor, which complements the "check your brain at the door" plot. It's a game loaded with clever jabs at sacred cows-- everything from Metal Gear Solid 4 and Final Fantasy VII to survival horror games. If you're a hardcore gamer, there are plenty of funny spoofs and some jaw dropping dialogue that'll keep you in your seat during Grasshopper's rollercoaster ride of sanguine brawling and absurd set pieces. Although the game immediately breaks the fourth wall to reassure newcomers that they don't need to agonize over missing the first game, inside jokes definitely resonate more if you're familiar with No More Heroes.

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Better Than a Warp Pipe

Grasshopper has streamlined many of the niggling annoyances of the first game, most notably world navigation. Travis drove a clunky motorcycle around Santa Destroy in No More Heroes. Although it was a partial spoof of Grand Theft Auto's long travel times, I got the joke the first time. The sequel uses a 3D top-down map that lets Travis pick a task (ranking missions, upgrades, jobs) and fast travel straight to it. Though Desperate Struggle feels shorter than the first game, it's also stripped down and free of bloated travel time. Not only has the world interface gotten a boost, the visuals look sharper as Grasshopper's art style is more refined than in the last effort. Desperate Struggle augments No More Heroes's unique style and presentation, delivering a very handsome Wii title.

The job system has been vastly upgraded as well, mostly for the better. In the prior game, Travis had to raise funds for the entry fee for each assassination, often through low-paying menial jobs. Those gigs were crudely implemented minigames that felt like a spoof of side missions in other games. There are no fees this time, so the jobs are designed to allow you to upgrade weapons or Travis's personal fitness. For the most part, the 8-bit inspired minigames are a breath of fresh air, presenting a brilliant homage to NES-era games such as the Rad Racer-inspired pizza delivery game. The majority tout plenty of satisfying replay value, but not all of them. The gym minigames can be rather clunky to use. The worst offender is "Stings So Good," a throwback to the first game's trash pick-up where you walk up to an object, tap a button, then waggle to collect it in Travis’s dispenser. This time, it’s deadly scorpions instead of garbage and it’s more annoying than fun.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

Analog vs. Waggle. Who Wins? You.

Desperate Struggle supports Wii Classic Controller support alongside the default remote/nunchuk combination and it’s a great addition. Although some gesture-based advantages are lost when you trade them for analog controls -- waggling will always charge your Beam Katana faster that rotating a stick -- the game holds up surprisingly well using traditional controls. Either way you play, it's a fun romp through several outrageous boss battles. It helps that new weapons like Rose Nasty, a dual-beam katana, open up vicious attacks. The gameplay never hits the complex highs of a Bayonetta, but it certainly suffices…at least through most of the game.

Love Will Tear Us Apart

It's unfortunate that with all of the sadistically gleeful fun that Desperate Struggle throws around, the game shifts for the worse in the final quarter of the game. The change (which affects both gameplay and plot) hits shortly after you briefly play as Travis's brother Henry in a hallucinatory fight sequence. After that, the subsequent boss battles become cheap and annoying and there are moments when Desperate Struggle seems to run out of ideas and unleashes respawning waves as busywork. Once you thrash these legions of anonymous goons, far too many of the later bosses use the "knock you down, then attack with three unblockable projectiles" approach to combat. None are impossible to beat, but the imbalance grows tiresome quickly. Especially since it's in such sharp contrast to the prior game, which had plenty of tough but fair boss battles in the later stages. Desperate Struggle's fights just aren't as well-balanced as the likes of the final bosses in the first No More Heroes. Again, none are deal-breakers, but they're quite annoying.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

Although it's easy to forgive much of Desperate Struggle's braindeadness, as the humor does a lot to diffuse how genuinely ridiculous the plot is, later in the story the tone gets a bit more serious to middling effect. Coinciding with the aforementioned cheap boss battles, Grasshopper suddenly puts its man-child antihero into a coming-of-age plot twist that quickly fizzles out. Fortunately, there are still more chuckles to be had toward the end, even if the guffaws are fewer and farther. The game wraps up with a garish bang that exemplifies the best moments (outrageous characters and zany humor) and the worst (the final boss is somewhat irritating), but it's still satisfying in its over-the-top approach.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle makes some big improvements on its predecessor. It’s more funny, it looks better and the 8-bit minigames are a fantastic addition. It's not an exceptionally long game, but it's a tight, lean experience that trims away a great deal of the first game's bloat. It has a few big stumbles on the way to its bombastic finale, but it's still a very satisfying experience at its conclusion. Undoubtedly, it's one of the finer games to be released on Wii in some time. Don't feel ashamed about recharging that laser sword. It's for a good cause.