Game Night, No More Heroes, Review, Video Games

No More Heroes 2 Desperate Struggle: Three Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

Ah, No More Heroes. Who would have expected that, of all the games on the Wii, the most family friendly console in Nintendo’s history, that one would get a sequel. But against all odds, it got one! Despite all the odds, No More Heroes came back for a second go!

If nothing else, it has a badass logo

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is an incredibly divisive sequel. In fact, if Last of Us Part 2 hadn’t come out earlier this year, I’d say that it was! Some fans would argue that it’s worse than the first game in every way. Some would posit that the gameplay is more refined but the writing is lacking. Others find it to be the superior game in every way. Question is: who’s right?

Let’s find out, shall we?

Story: From the Bottom to the Top Again… Heh heh, sex jokes (Also revenge, I guess)

The writing in the first No More Heroes was one of its strongest features. It explored some truly unique and interesting themes through both its story and its gameplay. Plus, it offered us some of the most interesting and memorable characters in any video game! It was the perfect blend of clever, insane, and just flat-out goofy!

This is the first and biggest area in which No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle disappoints.

A few years after the events of the first game, Santa Destroy has become a breeding ground for violence and mayhem. The UAA, which was but a mere con before, is now real, and now they’re sponsoring over fifty pro assassins. It is now that our No More Hero, Travis Touchdown, returns to the game, once again intent on getting into Sylvia’s pants. But when his only friend, Bishop, is murdered, Travis shifts gears and sets his sights on the number one assassin: Jasper Batt Jr., CEO of Pizza Batt. Can Travis climb his way back to the top and avenge his friend?

Now, in concept, this plot isn’t so bad. Sure, we don’t know jack shit about Bishop, so it’s hard to get invested in avenging him. But it’s a fairly good continuation of what we saw in the first game. The problem is that it doesn’t have the same depth and intelligence that made the first game so memorable! It leans all the way into the goofy and the violent. It’s style without much substance.

The biggest problem is in the boss fights. In the first game, these dudes had a ton of personality and depth. Each one had long interactions with Travis both before and after the fight, so we really got to see who they were as people. This helped us get attached to them, on top of spurring on Travis’ character development. They were integral to the story of the game!

Kimmy Howell; One of the only bosses with actual depth, who talks with Travis for more than three seconds, and she’s completely optional

Here, though? These guys are just obstacles for Travis to overcome. Their interactions with him are so short and offer so little insight into who they are that it’s hard to really get attached to them in any way. I can name pretty much every boss from NMH1. But if you asked me to do so for NMH2:DS, I’d have to look it up! I can remember the fights, but not the characters themselves! The writers went all-in on their designs and abilities and did very little to build the actual characters!

The same problem applies to Travis. His arc in this game just isn’t all that compelling. In the first game, he slowly realized that being an assassin isn’t all fun and games, and he doesn’t get anything that he had wanted by the end of the game. In NMH2:DS, his whole arc is that he learns that killing and revenge is bad. Then he gets everything he wants and the game ends. It’s a perfectly fine arc, but it isn’t anything to write home about.

Desperate Struggle isn’t a poorly written game. But it is definitely a step down from the first game. It lacks the intelligence that made No More Heroes so memorable to begin with.

Thankfully, it’s all uphill from here. Well, mostly.

Presentation: The Comic Style, Refined

This game is definitely an improvement over the first in this regard. It’s much cleaner, smoother, and stylistic. Granted, I think that’s more a testament to time than anything else. This game did come out a few years after the first.

Still, the improvements are clear. The character models are much smoother and more detailed, with thick lines and shadows that create a fantastic comic book art style. All of the environments are much cleaner too, with cleaner (or dirtier, I guess; Santa Destroy is pretty nasty) and more detailed textures.

Margaret Moonlight. One of the best bosses in the game

Then there are the character designs. God damn, dude, the first game already had some of the best in the business, but somehow, someway, Desperate Struggle actually managed to improve on it! Seriously, the character designs we get in this game are incredible! Each one is so unique, creative, and interesting! While the bosses may lack in depth, they certainly don’t lack in visual appeal!

Except for Destroyman 2.0. That one’s kinda lame.

Even the music is somehow a step up! NMH had a killer soundtrack, but Desperate Struggle’s is absolutely absurd! It’s so damn good! Each and every track is an absolute jam! They even bring back the main theme from the first with a new remix!

Better yet: the Switch port did something absolutely wonderful! IT FIXED THE FRAMERATE!! Desperate Struggle had some of the worst frame dips I’d ever seen on a Wii game. Now, on the Switch, it runs at a constant, consistent 60fps! It’s so damn smooth, like butter sliding over a hot pan!

But it ain’t perfect. Some of the pre rendered cutscenes didn’t take the upscaling treatment super well. They feel ripped straight off of the Wii, kinda blurry visuals and choppy framerates and all. Granted, these are few and far between; in fact, only one comes to mind. But it is worth noting that they’re still an issue.

Visually speaking, the Switch version is the best one by far. It takes a decent looking Wii game and almost perfectly upscales it into the modern era. This is the definitive version of Desperate Struggle, without a doubt.

Seriously, whoever handled these two ports are *chef’s kiss* fantastic!

Gameplay: Second Verse, Same as the First… But Increase the Tempo

If you played No More Heroes and went straight into Desperate Struggle, you’d already be a master. The core gameplay, all the hacking and slashing and murder, is just the same as it was in the first game. Aside from a few little adjustments, of course.

The first is in the powerups. In the first game, these were super powerful, but they reduced your movement speed to a crawl. In NMH2, they do the exact opposite! When you get one of these, you move hella fast! Each one you get turns you into a whirlwind of death!

That, or a literal tiger. Which is kinda the best thing ever.

You can also now change beam katanas on the fly! Why would you do this, you ask? Well, each of the four weapons you get over the course of the game have different properties. Some are fast, others are slow, and the last one you get lets you dual wield! Which one you use is entirely up to personal preference. At least, I think it is; it might just be me, but I found the dual katanas to be better than the other three in pretty much every way.

Dual Wielding; if Kingdom Hearts 2 taught us anything, it’s that the hero should always have two swords in the sequel

You also have the extremely overpowered Ecstacy Mode. Once the lion in the corner of your screen turns red and starts breathing fire, you can pull your devil trigger and slaughter everyone in your path with ease. Honestly, I’m not a fan of this. It recharges way too quickly and does way too much damage.

Thankfully, I forgot it existed until I watched a video of someone else playing NMH2. Which I didn’t do until after I beat the game. Good job, me.

Not that you’ll need it. This game is noticeably easier than the first game. The only boss fight that really posed any challenge was the last boss and none of the basic enemies are all that tough. In my whole playthrough, I only died twice. Once to the janky-as-fuck giant robot fight, and once to Jaspar.

Speaking of bosses: they’re a mixed bag. Some of these are among the best bosses in either of the No More Heroes games. Others are among the worst bosses in any video game I’ve ever played. Thankfully, the fun ones far outnumber the weak ones. But none of them pose much of a problem. In fact, a good number of them never even touched me!

Their designs are great, though. If there’s one thing that somehow improved over the first game, it was the character designs.

There are also some brief sections where you get to play as other characters! There are two levels where you play as Shinobu (remember the samurai girl from NMH? yeah, her), and there’s even a boss where you get to play as Henry, the secret final boss of the first game! These sections are short, and Shinobu is stuck with two of the worst bosses in the game, but it’s still nice to take a break from Travis for a little while.

Alright, that just about covers all the combat. Now, let’s talk about the downtime activities. This is one of the most divisive changes the sequel made. Some wanted the open world to remain, just be improved. Others didn’t want it at all.

Personally, I’m sort of in both camps. I won’t complain that the open world is gone. But I also wish to see what it could’ve been, given how important it was to the themes of the game’s story. Still, I do think the change was a positive one. Although navigating menus isn’t nearly as charming as Santa Destroy.

One that I absolutely love is the removal of grinding. You no longer need to do side jobs over and over to play the main story! If you want, you can ignore them altogether and just go straight to killing dudes!

Speaking of side jobs, I find the ones in this game far more charming. Each one is an 8-Bit minigame, basically being a little NES game bundled in with your jedi-assassination-simulator. Some of them are definitely worse than others; the two puzzle games are about as much fun as bashing your head against a wall. But the other ones are decently solid. That is, until you do them over and over again to buy all the upgrades. But again: it’s entirely optional.

But fuck all that! Forget about it! None of it matters! You know why?! Because this game has one feature that overshadows all of them!

You can play with a cat to help it lose weight! 1,000,000,000,000/10, best game of all time!!

Conclusion

My feelings on No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle are complicated. In terms of writing, it definitely feels like a downgrade from the first game. But in terms of gameplay, I do find this one to be the more refined experience. Still, it lacks that charm, that spark, that made the first game a classic.

If you loved No More Heroes, there’s no guarantee that you’ll feel the same about Desperate Struggle. Still, I do think it’s well worth giving a chance. For all its faults, it is still an improvement over the first game in many ways. It isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun hack and slash game.

This is where the story once ended. There were two No More Heroes games, both were pretty good, and the franchise ended. NMH was over.

But now, hope has returned. Because next year, it’s finally happening. We’re finally getting No More Heroes 3!

The hype is so real, dude!

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