The original No More Heroes set itself a well-earned spot in the cult classic pantheon for its grindhouse aesthetic and harsh, often self-deprecating criticism of hardcore violence. A lot of this likely flew over the general audience’s heads as they saw the crass Travis Touchdown swearing and cutting down droves of faceless goons in a ridiculously over the top fashion. So a second go was in order, despite the previous game’s generally conclusive ending, which also now ironically teased that a sequel won’t ever happen. The United Assassin’s Association has now fully become the organisation that was only suggested in the first game, a ruthless entertainment industry leader in recreational killing for the masses. Travis now finds himself bound to a story he doesn’t want to be a part of in order to seek vengeance for the death of his best friend, let the bloodshed begin anew.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture/Engine Software
Published by Marvelous Europe/Xseed Games
Released: 28th October 2020
Being a sequel to an already turbulent title rife with flaws certainly puts No More Heroes 2 in a position of major improvement. Criticisms of the first game were taken to heart, both in terms of the design and narrative. All of the changes to this game from the original all fit with the new focus, for better or worse. Many gameplay changes are much welcomed, while others seem to sully the original’s intent, yet even that was by design. Death is now manufactured and meaningless, so a good portion of No More Heroes 2 follows suit.
For the gameplay changes, they fall under two categories; the combat and the busywork. Overall gameplay feels much smoother, with Travis controlling much more freely compared to what now feels like the more rigid original game. We now have access to high and low melee moves, which are now high punches and low kicks, alongside multiple beam katanas that you can switch between on the fly. Granted, you’re likely only going to be using two of them, as one pretty much replaces the default Blood Berry katana and the other now dual-wielding a pair of them at once. The last new katana is extremely slow, favouring high power over speed, but is so worthless compared to the others. Speed is much more favoured as you leave yourself less vulnerable.
The busywork side of things was absolutely critical to the original game. Travis had to work his way to earn enough cash to even participate in the ranked fights, but now that requirement is gone and the side activities are mostly for getting cash to buy new beam katanas, strengthen up and buy clothing. As a result, they have mostly been turned into 8-bit homages to the NES with a good deal of variety to them. Sadly, the novelty doesn’t last and they do end up becoming just as much of a chore as the previous jobs were, but now they’re not remotely integral to the core experience.
Aesthetically, No More Heroes 2 further expands on the stylings of the original to an even greater degree. The new engine changes make characters more expressive, with a new physics engine in place for hair, clothing and… other assets now making the characters so much more animated even in idle positions. The new artistic adjustments also help, with Travis, in particular, looking much more striking. The rest follows suit from the original, acting as an extension to the graphic design elements from before, so if you haven’t checked out the review for the prior game, please do as I go in-depth to the inspirations behind the artistic direction.
Another significant change would be the music. Masafumi Takada is no longer the lead composer, only really contributing to returning tracks, of which there aren’t that many. Most of the music has actually been contributed by a large number of outside talent, with Jun Fukada acting as music director. The sheer musical variety on offer can’t be beaten, from funk to rock to punk to Hatsune Miku, though it lacks the distinct signature weirdness Masafumi Takada provided in the last game. It’s nice to hear such diversity, but it generally lacks the connective tissue of the first, lacking a distinct identity.
Despite all this, every change has been considered and generally serves the new tone that new director Nobutaka Ichiki has envisioned, with Suda51 now adopting a supervisory role. No More Heroes 2 is now darker and more serious, focusing on the turbulence of revenge, of having all that you care about taken away from you as you fight to strike back at those who took them away.
Right off the bat, the game flings you into a scenario where you’ll probably find yourself scratching your head, and Travis too. A nobody assassin has challenged you to a duel to the death over the murder of his brother, a footnote from the original game that many people likely glossed over much as Travis has. This immediately sets a precedent that revenge doesn’t pay, but still ropes Travis into a tale of vengeance much against his own free will, yet anger still clouds his judgement. His best friend, Bishop, was murdered by hitmen belonging to the CEO of Pizza Batt, another seeming nobody in the grand scheme of things that Travis happened to be responsible for killing his family. Both of these events do actually happen, it’s just that both Travis and the player have glossed over them as they ultimately meant nothing, yet still highlight that every single person killed still has a story behind them.
The first half of the game can be something of a slog, to be blunt. None of the levels have nearly as much thought put into them and you go through dull or frustrating boss battles for the first few ranks you take on. You even skip a significant chunk of the rankings just from one battle, making the whole ranking system seem superfluous, but Travis doesn’t really care at the end of the day and neither should you. After a while though, Travis actually starts doubting what he’s even fighting for, even taking pity on those he defeats, refusing to even kill them himself. This isn’t a story for glory, for recognition, like the first game, the killing is now meaningless, there isn’t anything waiting at the top other than more death. And the worst final boss I’ve ever fought. Can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of hard to telegraph attacks that can be used multiple times in a row.
No More Heroes 2 is surprisingly introspective as a whole, ridiculing the revenge story by stripping the glamour away from getting comeuppance. Despite all the signature insanity that comes from anything in the overall Suda-verse, the game ends on a sombre note that should’ve been the actual end of the series. Yet it seems Travis’ talents for destruction haven’t ended quite yet, with Travis Strikes Again already available to play and the upcoming No More Heroes III rearing its alien superhero menace from over the horizon. With what No More Heroes 2 had to offer, we can only imagine what the third numbered entry has in store.
Again, much like my score for the first game, it depends on your tolerance for putting up with poor design in favour of a more meaningful experience. No More Heroes 2 does genuinely improve on a lot of the bad elements of the first game, making it more playable to general audiences, but lacks a lot of the intent of the first. In exchange, new downsides rear their head, again to satisfy the intentions of the greater narrative. It’s weird to say that this is both more playable than the first yet less playable too. I’ve chosen to give it a lower score than the first on the basis that I think the first game’s downsides better suit the overall purpose, if that even makes any sense, but other people might actually see this as the better title of the two.
Final rating – 4 out of 5
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is available now for Nintendo Switch.
Long time fan of Nintendo and games in general, I always lean on the quirkier and unique sides of things in particular. It all started when I was lucky enough to get a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Yellow for my tenth birthday and it’s been going strong ever since. I’ve always had a need to get my voice heard and share anything I find interesting with the world.