No More Heroes 2: Taken at Face Value

So following on from No More Heroes and its apparent success overseas (it was met with very little in Japan), Suda and Grasshopper obviously began to direct and work on No More Heroes 2, right? Well, sorta.

Goichi Suda at this point would begin some weird absentee method of development. He fell into writing for a lot of Grasshopper games or taking the mantle of ‘executive director’ and producer role. Basically, he was making some moves overseas that didn’t particularly pan out, would probably work on the concept stages of production and then flitter between titles or his name probably used as advertising – as seen in Shadows of the Damned, where the project was directed by someone else entirely.

So Suda wrote No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, laid out the scenario and then around this time was caught up with Lollipop Chainsaw, Shadows of the Damned and presumably the business side of Grasshopper Manufacture. He was getting shit done and wouldn’t direct a game himself until Travis Strikes Again and the upcoming No More Heroes 3, nearly a decade since No More Heroes 2.

With Suda out of the picture, No More Heroes 2 takes a very different turn in how it deals with Travis and the world he inhabits. It’s the humour of the first cranked up to 11, the game itself refined to appease complaints from the first and a bigger focus on giving the player more options when playing.

At some point in the first No More Heroes, Travis discovers that his agent, Sylvia Christel, is nothing but a con-artist. She overheard him drunk in a bar talking about how everything was taken from him – suppressed memories of his parents’ murder by Jeane, the final boss – and essentially creates this elaborate hoax funded by Travis’ side jobs.

It’s a great ploy as a big smack to reality for the player – as well as Travis – that you can’t just blindly trust something that sounds too good to be true. Hell, most of the game he doesn’t even realise that he’s in it for revenge and eventually sheds the weight of revenge almost immediately, in the fight no less. Sylvia also plays into this heavily, with her over-sexualised look and alluring charms, did anyone expect that becoming this legendary assassin who beat it all, would get the girl?

No More Heroes 2’s lesson taken from this is that… actually fuck that. Travis goes from shlub to the legendary myth throughout Santa Destroy. He gets the girl, even! It’s a game that looks upon its predecessor at face value and face value alone, completely missing the glaring subtleties and major plot points (the UAA now actually exists apparently), focusing on providing a far smooth play experience.

Travis’ porn and anime peddler (and only friend), Bishop, has been murdered in an attempt to lure him out while he was distracted by a challenge from the brother of the first off-screen kill that kicks off the first game. All this is happening because Travis killed some pizza CEOs in the first game as side activities. Literally.

The game has no real message, barely any commentary and is actually fairly thin for a sequel. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun and I do enjoy a majority of the changes to the gameplay itself, but it lacks something. I think it perhaps lacks Suda?

No More Heroes, along with the other games Suda has developed are so faithful to his vision that whenever it is taken from him, it begins to warp into something entirely different that doesn’t have that direct connection. There’s no frank look at yourself here, just pure action and comical moments with Travis Touchdown!

This said and going back to the changes made, I do actually prefer them, but while No More Heroes 2 might be a better game to play, it is absolutely not a better experience.

The open-world? Gone. Hideous side jobs? Completely redone or in the case of side-assassinations? They’ve been reduced to 10 one-off fights that lightly follow taking out the people who killed Bishop. There’s also a challenger who you can face off with, but as you’ll see with the rest of the game, is light on anything substantial other than “huh, that’s neat.”

This is a narrower, straight down the middle sequel, only expanding on the bits that the general public really remember and opting to avoid a majority of the deeper meanings.

Travis now has access to multiple beam katanas that he can switch on on the fly (NMH1 required you to choose in the motel), his powerups have been simplified to only focus on flipping about or killing faster and doing more damage. The first game featured you upgrading each katana and also training Travis to increase life and strength. While the gym returns, it seems to have no real bearing on survivability in boss fights, nor does Naomi’s weapon shop serve any purpose as katanas are as they are with no upgrades.

While fighting goons is made way more engaging, with different varieties actually having some meaning, Desperate Struggle’s bosses might be designed with the same flair as before, but have very little impact as memorable moments.

This is mostly due to a major change in NMH2’s design. See, in NMH1, you’d notice that bosses had either invincibility frames, were defending or were doing something new. Here, NMH2 has opted to avoid most of these. Instead of theatrics, you get action. Travis cuts through bosses constantly, with only a couple actually holding any real challenge on Mild difficulty.

There’s barely any ‘learning’ in these fights. I found that brute-forcing my way through a majority of them saw a victory in the end. Let’s use the real last boss, Henry, as an example compared to the final boss of No More Heroes 2, Jasper Batt Jr., the single hardest fight in the entirety of No More Heroes as a whole.

Jasper is split into three forms and each form is a direct correlation with issues to do with No More Heroes 2. Henry simply evolves as his health lowers, eventually bringing out a one-hit-kill that you have to manage.

His first form does not convey any information to you that you need to head into a clash to activate a cutscene to continue. His second starts slow and eventually builds up to a speed that requires a zero-fault run or risk being locked into a cycle of being beaten up. His third is a big meat shield that also requires you to enter a clash to deal enough damage to finish it off.

It wasn’t like Henry, who I’d personally put in as one of the most difficult fights in the series as a whole. Henry’s fight was this elegant dance of learning that he can’t defend on his free hand, so dodge that way and exploit the dark step. Because of this depth of detail, every single boss in NMH1 is far more memorable than the meaty punching bags or gimmicks that the others inhabit.

Jasper continually gave me a game over, not because I didn’t know what to do, but because it was simply far too much all at once. It absolutely demands you know exactly what to do or risk being stuck at the final hurdle of the game. This would be fine if it were built like other bosses in the game or in No More Heroes 1, where you’d figure out the tactic and go in for the kill. Here, it’s simply just butt heads until you perhaps get lucky enough.

For fighting the waves of smaller enemies this is a whole lot of fun, not being held up by watching Travis slam against NPC A-35 with no effect is a joy, for bosses it ultimately undercuts what could have been.

For instance, there’s a boss fight against a supernatural horror with a flamethrower. Not once does the game play into the supernatural aspect that has been built up and the whole ordeal was over in just a couple minutes. A boss that was in a maximum-security prison and is poisonous? Only if you’re clumsy will you find yourself seeing anything unique.

What No More Heroes 2 does well is appreciate video games that No More Heroes and more importantly, Grasshopper, owe its existence to. All the side missions and gym exercises have been completely replaced by 8-bit-mini-games. It’s a nice change of pace and I adore that the loading screen is someone blowing into a cartridge.

However, because they lack any bearing on the game itself – you can just skip them all for the fights – it’s hard to actually comment on these outside of that.

I also really enjoy how for very brief moments, the game decides to experiment with the formula. Fighting up 50 ranks is going to take too long (and too much for Grasshopper to feasibly produce), so for certain sequences you control returning characters ex-boss and previous rank 8, Shinobu and Henry, Travis’ late-revealed twin brother.

I wish we got more time with these characters, as their playable sections are woefully short. Shinobu’s fights against the money-obsessed (he has a money gun!) Million Gunman are prefaced with very basic hallways and horrific platforming. Henry’s dream sequence boss fight alludes to deeper mechanics – as well as Shinobu – as they perform different techniques to the rather physical Travis.

It’s sort of like getting to play as the boss characters in a fighting game, it feels wrong in a way that you’re not supposed to have access to them. Like they’ve been hacked into the game somehow. I wanted so much more to explore Henry’s lighter style and to maybe figure out the best way to deal with enemies as Shinobu that didn’t involve spamming attacks until they exploded in clouds of blood.

All the pieces are there, the story is well fleshed out and amps up the stupidity in a way that I enjoy, but in the end, it lacks the gooey filling that the first game did. If you knocked on the side of No More Heroes 2, it’d ring hollow. It looks great, it plays great for the most part, but it really does not make good on the deeper understandings of the first game.

But even if this tin rings hollow, it has to still have something inside right? Well, No More Heroes 2 takes the low-flying bomb approach to its criticism of the larger beast the world deals with daily. Not once during the actual game itself, nor in the story until its final couple hours with the player does it rear this side of stuff and does so without the jagged edge that Suda brought to the table. Instead, it’s more like a swift hammer to the face.

With no time to breathe on this aspect throughout the game, it flops and flops hard. It’s a message that could be re-discussed via Travis’ walking away and eventual turn to wanting to kill the system that has done this and will continue to do this, but ultimately it fails to capitalise on it properly by only introducing this concept at the very end of the story and even then, barely.

Now, that might be a directorial and team issue or it could be Goichi Suda’s script. But, I have to believe that this emptiness is not the latter.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *