Title: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: October 28, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: XSEED Games
As we get closer to the release of No More Heroes 3, it’s important to play through the previous entries in the series. Thankfully, XSEED has ported the first time adventures to Nintendo Switch for a whole new generation. Today, we are looking at No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. While the first entry creates a foundation for a game that shouldn’t work but ultimately does, this sequel attempts to build off that without reusing too many elements.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle once again stars the incredible loser, Travis Touchdown, who, three years after the first game’s events, finds himself the target of an assassin named Skelter Helter. This Cloud Strife knockoff seeks revenge for the death of his brother, Helter Skelter, who Travis killed technically during the events of the first game. Upon Travis’ successful kill, he finds himself involved in the United Assassin’s Association rankings once again, but this time as the 51st ranked assassin. And it seems Skelter Helter has friends who retaliate by sending Travis the severed head of his friend, Bishop, the video store owner from the first game. The one behind the murder of Bishop is Jaspar Batt Jr., Who is also, coincidentally enough, the number 1 ranked assassin. Thus beginning Travis’ rampage of revenge, roaring up the ranks.
It’s a classic revenge story that ends up having a far stronger plotline than the first entry and about a whole 50% more cutscenes. However, if you’ve played No More Heroes, there’s a good chance you’re going to be rather annoyed that this premise outright contradicts the ending. You see, the United Assassins Association was a scam. Not a real entity. That whole story beat offered some of the best parts of the original game, so to go back on, it makes it feel a little bit like the story is jumping the shark right out the gate. When you get past that, No More Heroes 2 continues to do so with a collection of absolutely absurd bosses. While this series is no stranger to weird enemies, No More Heroes 2 jumps straight into outwardly absurd foes like ghosts and supervillains. It’s quite obvious that even with some fantastic wit every now and then, there’s a different writing team on this project, and they can’t stick the landing with what isn’t much more than a heavy-handed revenge story.
On the other hand, the gameplay is largely the same as the original with a few refinements, which is great because the battle system was awesome. Travis can still slice foes with high and low strikes. High strikes making for quick rapid combos, while low strike combos make for stronger combos that are a bit slower and leave you open to counters. Kill attacks now have substantially more weight to them and are a blast to pull off. Also, Travis now has an ecstasy gauge which triggers his special attacks when it’s full, or you can trigger it early for the ability to pull off some super-rapid fire combos. Like the switch port of the previous entry, you can use the joy-con to emulate motion controls if you so desire, and the performance on the switch is a consistent 30fps. There is one fight in which it will be hampered slightly, but it’s an easy fight early on and won’t impact the experience.
No More Heroes 2 understands the significance of the boss encounters and offers even more than the original. This is both a positive and negative. The positive is that boss fights are fun, but the negative is that they’ve also been made substantially easier. This wouldn’t be inherently bad, but the actual gameplay loop has been changed as well, which severely impacts the fights.
No More Heroes 2 has no overworld or ranking fee for boss fights as you can jump into a fight by selecting “Ranking fight” on the map menu and slash your way through a bunch of mobs before you fight the boss. The part-time jobs are still present, and you can make money using them, but they’ve been overhauled and replaced with 8-bit minigames that aren’t very fun. They feel more like a bad parody of the original as opposed to having their own personality. This is especially prevalent in the bike sections, one of which can last three seconds if pulled off correctly, and the other is just four minutes of driving down a straight line. It doesn’t help that the gym mini-games have been replaced by more 8-bit games, and the strength boosting mini-game is incredibly difficult to pull off.
Frustrated by my lack of progress here during my first playthrough, I decided to push through until I actually needed the boost. However, I proceeded through the entire game without encountering any underpowered hindrances, and then the credits rolled. This hurts the experience because there’s no reason to do anything but progress the campaign, limiting any substantial impact from the bosses as you’ll just be traveling from one to the next. The only real shakeups occur when you play as Shinobu or Henry, who both are fun to play as, but Henry is unfortunately accessible for only one boss.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle has some great gameplay moments, even though it misses the mark on what the original did so well. The adventure hosts some great boss fights, a responsive combat system, and an unlockable difficulty mode that makes the entire experience even more enjoyable with the addition of a kick-ass soundtrack. Still, it remains in the shadow of its predecessor. It’s less goofy and more absurd and ends up being a heavy-handed retelling to correct the original’s plot. If this weren’t a sequel, I would have been praising it far more, but it spends most of its time desperately struggling to figure out what its own identity is.
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