No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle Review
Well, after putting off playing the game for a while in order to focus on school, I have finally finished No More Heroes 2.
One thing that's hard to avoid when reviewing sequels is comparing them to their predecessors. It bugs me when a review will knock down a solid game just for not being quite as good as what came before it; and the opposite situation where the review will award too much for simple updates. That said, I'll try to avoid these but there are comparisons I need to note.
First off, you might recall my previous 'First Impressions' post of the game. All those notes still hold true upon playing through it. It looks better graphically (and not because of the new breast physics...or not just because of them), the combat is more involved, the side-jobs are more fun and the removed 'open-world' is an improvement. One should note that I don't necessarily consider the original a great game per se, but I still loved the experience. As for the sequel, well, let's take a thorough look.
Upon starting the game, you learn that Travis has fallen from his spot (...without being killed...somehow) and has become a semi-believed urban legend. Skelter Helter (brother of Helter Skelter, the rank 11 assassin Travis kills in the first game's intro) confronts Travis for revenge. In this case, you get to play the intro fight and it gives you a simple but somewhat intrusive tutorial on how to play. Here's where you get a feel of the new combat mechanics. Mashing A is still your primary way of attacking but you have a couple added options. When locked-on to and running at an opponent, swinging the remote will perform a spin attack (not like the one from Zelda, mind you). Holding A will charge up your slash; a maneuver you don't find yourself using often throughout the game. The biggest change I noticed was the fact that the boss battles are no longer a clear pattern of waiting for the enemy to attack, judging the opening after that attack, slashing away during that opening and then running away and waiting for the next opportunity. In No More Heroes 2, you get the added bonus of having several chances to attack and combo the bosses; and this doesn't hinder the difficulty of most of them.
After the intro fight is over, you are reunited with Sylvia. The game takes on an overwhelming tone here when it's revealed that you are now ranked the 51st assassin. It becomes less overwhelming when you come to a boss fight that includes several of the assassins ranked above you. The game quickly clarifies that there are not 50 boss fights. However, there are more than 10 this time around.
The difficulty curve of the game is a little strange. If you do a bare minimum of training at the gym (which I did), the first few bosses range from medium to pretty hard, whereas the next few are insanely easy. There is also a mission near the end of the first half of the game in which you have to contend with several large enemies, most of which have chainsaws. This level took a painstakingly long time having not trained enough (apparently) since it consisted of me performing a hit & run maneuver many, many times. What the game does get right, among other things, is that the final boss is certainly the hardest which is a very welcome rarity.
The entire cast of bosses doesn't seem quite as original as the first game, but the ones that are memorable are very much so. You will also see two halves of a familiar face in the rogue gallery.
Speaking of familiar faces, another couple of bosses reappear. However, these show up as playable characters rather than enemies. Their identities really aren't much of a secret but I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible.
A couple of the odd gameplay mechanics make a comeback, most notably the slot machine. The power-ups are similar this time around, however a new one is worth mentioning. A BAR-BAR-BAR roll results in transforming into a one-hit-killing tiger that has the enemies running scared. A new addition in the form of a similar mechanic is the Ecstasy Meter. In this case, powering up is not random but dependent on how many attacks you can get in a row without taking damage yourself. A tiger in the lower-right of the screen will go through stages from sleeping to glowing red. When glowing, you can press the - button to activate the power-up in which you take no damage and can attack with super-speed. The power-up lasts until the tiger stops breathing fire.
The obvious joke of charging the sword has now been made even more obvious now that the battery meter, minimized and placed in the upper-right corner, includes a smiley-faced phallus that changes size depending on the charge of your beam katana.Last but not least, the soundtrack. The awesome main battle music from the first game makes a comeback along with some new tracks. Among the new tracks is a J-pop remix of the aforementioned battle theme. Personally, I'm not a fan of this remix but I'm sure some fans will enjoy it. Most of the new material is great but not nearly as memorable as the original battle theme.
Closing Comments: If you want to compare this game to the first No More Heroes, it is a significant update that definitely warrants a purchase if you are a fan. Ignoring that, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle stands firmly on its own merits. It is simply a great game, barely short of perfecting the formula it uses.