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No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

Three years. That’s how long it’s been since Travis Touchdown became the world’s greatest assassin…and vanished without a trace. It’s ironic. You’d think someone as socially inept as Travis would revel in his hard-earned glory. But he left it all behind, and no one knows why. Maybe he got bored; it’s not fun being a killer if there’s no one left to fight to the death. He got off on taking down worthy opponents, not murdering innocent bystanders. Or perhaps he got a real job, something that could help him afford his rent and unhealthy obsession with animé. Either way, the champ is long gone. In the realm of competitive assassination – a sport he helped establish – he’s become an urban legend, like some kind of twisted, murderous folk hero.

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Times have changed, though. Travis’s gory exploits made the city of Santa Destroy famous, and its televised assassination tournaments have made it haven for people looking for bloodshed. Everything is run by corporations now; between the Pizza Bat franchise and the United Assassins Association, most of the old establishments are getting muscled out. Regardless of how mainstream killing has become, no one has forgotten what Travis did… especially the people he hurt. A lot of folks were killed as he carved his way up the ranks, and most of them had friends. Families. Travis never bothered to consider that after he abandoned his title. That lack of common sense cost him. Payback was inevitable, and the results were grisly. They didn’t go after him directly. Instead, they butchered Bishop, his best friend.

That was a big mistake.

You don’t piss off a legendary assassin. Especially when he’s Travis Touchdown. He was already borderline psychotic, but murdering his buddy gave him a new motivation to start killing again. It’s not just about clawing through the lineup of professional hitmen and deranged criminals anymore; it’s about revenge. The guy responsible for it all happens to be the new #1 Assassin, so it makes things even more convenient. Travis starts off his crusade at the lowly Rank #51 and spends the rest of the game hacking and slashing his way through anyone that gets in his way. However, he won’t have to fight fifty competitors to get there. Due to the design of some of the battles and other story-related circumstances, you’ll only have to slaughter 15 bosses. Some of the fights have you face several assassins at once, but the majority of these additional fighters are throwaway characters that get killed off via cut scenes.

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That’s quite a letdown, but the fights make up for it. The original No More Heroes gave gamers some of the most bizarre bosses ever conceived, and Desperate Struggle does it again. It’s got everything: giant robots, poison-spewing femme fatales, morbidly obsessive fangirls, gunslingers, gothic lolita snipers, cosmonauts, motorcycle duelists, and a few other crazy opponents. One of the most interesting ideas is the concept of a lower-ranking assassin challenging you. There’s only one, and it’s entirely optional. It’s a shame that it wasn’t better utilized; having extra ranking fights would have provided a decent way of padding out the game between the story-related battles. Fans of the first game will rejoice in the return of two of its most infamous bosses, both of which deliver some awesome follow-up battles. Some of the good guys return, too. You’ll get to control both Shinobu, a badass samurai schoolgirl, and Henry, Travis’s handsome foil and occasional rival. Don’t expect too much, though. Neither of these characters are playable for very long; rather than giving them fully-fleshed out storylines, they’re limited to what amounts to glorified cameos.

It’s disappointing, but understandable. The game is about Travis’s quest for vengeance, not adventures of his would-be friends. It keeps things focused. If anything, you’ll probably just play through the game for the sake of seeing the next crazy plot twist or over-the-top cutscene. The main characters are aware of their existence in a video game, and gleefully break the fourth wall whenever possible. They shove plenty of eye candy in for good measure, too. Everything in the game, from Travis’s fluid movements and Shinobu’s facial expressions to Sylvia’s tantalizing costumes, are rendered with crisp cel-shaded animations. Some of the fights are all about atmosphere; there’s nothing more badass than going mano-a-mano with a samurai as the sun sets in the background. It’s definitely a step up from the imagery of the last game. It’s so pretty, in fact, that you might be distracted from the game’s underwhelming ending. Many of the battles leading up to the finale are among the best in the series, but the last showdown and its aftermath are surprisingly boring. It works well enough, but No More Heroes veterans shouldn’t expect anything too mind-blowing.

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That’s assuming that you actually live long enough to see any of it. Before you lay a hand on any of the main villains, you’ll have to slash through small armies of generic henchmen. You’ll face guys with crowbars, axes, guns, chainsaws, and the occasional sword. None of them look particularly fearsome. But get enough of the mooks into a single room, and you could find yourself getting an ass-kicking. The AI is surprisingly competent; the thugs will gang up on you and change tactics depending on how the battle is going. You could be beating down a group of bat-wielding hoodlums, only to be stopped by a hail of bullets from someone out of the camera’s range. That can be a serious problem, especially in some of the ridiculously long fights in the latter half of the game. It’s not a bad thing – these skirmishes are a huge improvement over those of No More Heroes – but you might reach the point where you start wondering how much longer it’ll take to get to the next area.

The only thing keeping you alive is Travis’s insane combat skills. He wields a beam katana (complete with the Star Wars lightsaber sound effects) and can dish out stuff that would make a Jedi blush. Rather than forcing you to swing the WiiMote, the game lets you mash a button to attack. The moves change depending on the angle of the controller; tilting up or downward alters Travis’s stance. If you’re using the Classic Controller, you won’t have to worry about any of that; the various attacks are mapped to the buttons instead of the motion sensing. Either way, the controls are wonderfully responsive and accurate. The game encourages you to play offensively. Guarding against attacks drains the sword’s battery. If you do it too much, you’ll have to run for cover and shake the controller until the thing recharges. You’ll also be able to purchase a few more katanas, all of which have different ranges, combos, and limitations. It’s too bad that there weren’t more weapons or ways to customize your arsenal, but the small selection works well enough. Besides, you won‘t really need them. By the time you get the dual-sword set, there’s not much incentive to switch to anything else. Nor should you; changing blades mid-battle screws with the pacing of the fight and leaves you wide open for attack.

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Instead, you should spend more time mastering the other moves. They’ve been improved immensely since the last game. Rather than just hacking and slashing through his victims, Travis can mix things up with punches and kicks. They’re not just useful for breaking an enemy’s guard; they’re essential to linking combos together and keeping baddies off-balance. If you knock someone into being dizzy, you can punish them with lucha libre moves. Pile-drivers, suplexes, and nearly a dozen other badass techniques. All you’ve got to do is move the Wiimote in the direction shown on the screen. The same goes for the finishing moves for your sword combos, which usually ends up with someone getting cleaved in half and spurting a fountain of blood. The more enemies you kill, the more Travis’s bloodlust – the strength of which is indicated onscreen by a fire-breathing tiger – builds up. You have the option of releasing the energy with the push of a button, or it can be randomly activated whenever you finish someone off. These temporary powerups (with cute names like Strawberry on the Shortcake and Cranberry Chocolate Sunday) give Travis super-speed, fireball projectiles, and even a room-clearing explosion. The best is the Gooseberry Sugar Donut, which transforms him into a man-eating tiger.

No, seriously. Travis turns into a tiger, and it is badass.

Though the combat is an upgraded version of the previous game’s mechanics, it’s basically the same. The overall structure of the game, however, had been redone from the ground up. The first No More Heroes had you riding a motorcycle around an utterly unremarkable and lifeless town, doing part time jobs with the Wiimote controls, and earning enough money to afford the entry fee for the next ranking match. Desperate Struggle reworks this entire system and streamlines into something far more efficient. Rather than cruising through Santa Destroy, you just have to select your destination from a menu and watch the screen load. It makes getting around far less of a tedious task, and it’s far more effective than having a generic Grand Theft Auto knockoff. You no longer have to pay anything to move on to the next boss fight, which allows you the freedom to tackle the story at your own pace. You’ll even be able to complete timed challenges in which you murder Bishop’s killers. Those aren’t required, but they make a decent complement to the main storyline.

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Instead, you’ll probably spend more time working on the side-jobs. You’ll do menial tasks, like exterminating bugs, harvesting coconuts, cooking food, and picking up trash. Unlike the previous game, all but one of these missions are done completely in retro 2D style. For example, you’ll have to deal with a sewage backup by laying out a plumbing system a la Pipe Dream. Instead of delivering pizzas the normal way, you’ll have to weave through heavily pixilated freeways straight out of an old Atari or NES racer. Even Travis’s gym coach (a guy who practically oozes stereotypical homosexuality) enforces a strict 2D training regimen of treadmill running and sparring. The old school gameplay works well; it makes the mini-games feel more entertaining and less like the obligatory motion-based challenges of the first game. Those are saved for Jeane, our hero’s overweight cat; you’ll spend time mashing the controls as you make her exercise the pounds away. These little side-quests pay off, too. Not only will you unlock additional features, but you’ll have more than enough money to buy all of the dozens of t-shirts, pants, jackets, and sunglasses that make up Travis’s customizable wardrobe as well.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of stuff here. The game takes about eight hours to beat, and that’s if you don’t get addicted to everything else being offered. Regardless of how you approach it, Desperate Struggle is an amazing game. It takes everything that worked from the previous title and expanded upon it, and fixes nearly everything else. The story is still as insane as always, even if the ending is kind of lackluster. It’s got style and humor in spades. The sheer variety of boss fights and crazy assassins keeps things interesting. The additional playable characters, though horribly underutilized, give longtime fans something to enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played the original or not; the improved combat mechanics and challenging enemies make this game far superior to its predecessor. Besides, the 2D mini-games and the rest of the sidequests are enough to keep you from getting bored too quickly. You won’t, though. No More Heroes is back. And this time, it’s personal.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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