Friday, May 21, 2010

Wii review: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

No More Heroes was a game that surprised many Wii owners as an M-rated slice-and-dice adventure game that actually had a decent story and kept players engaged with its vibrant visuals and varied boss battles. There were side missions to keep players entertained if they wanted to take a break from the main quest, and it made up for some of the absences in mature gaming on Nintendo’s previous system, the Gamecube. Though it wasn’t a blockbuster commercially, No More Heroes garnered enough praise from gamers to become a cult classic and thus a sequel was born. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle hit the Wii in January of 2010 and showed some major improvements over the first title.

Travis Touchdown is back for more beam katana-based violence in the city of Santa Destroy, only this time he’ll have to face 51 opponents to reach the top ranking. While Sylvia promises Travis fame, he’s more interested in avenging the death of his friend Bishop and is ready to cut down anyone who stands in his way.

The game’s vulgar language and often sick humor fuel an otherwise cliché plot. But with each new point that unfolds, it quickly becomes apparent that each new area unlocked is meant to present with a parody of some other video game, film, or anime. Travis and Sylvia constantly poke fun at the story as it progresses, sometimes subtly, other times more forward and obvious, such as when Skelter Helter’s beheaded corpse delivers a foreboding message to Travis and he explains how said event is theoretically impossible. Travis even has to sit on the toilet in order for players to save the game.

The main game is incredibly fast-paced as Travis wields his beam katana through hordes of henchmen. Depending on the combination and angle of attacks, enemies will be killed through different slashes, impalments, and suplexes. This will sometimes reward Travis with health and battery power for his beam katana. If Travis builds up a streak of kills in a short period of time, he is able to take down the remaining enemies with his tiger attack. When hit repeatedly with attacks, Travis becomes dazed momentarily, but this can be enough for nearby enemies to deal significant damage to him and can be a bit of an annoyance at first. Assuming that players are able to get the hang of the controls and learn when to dodge, this can easily be avoided.

Accessing each new chapter of the game’s story is noted with a star on the overworld map of Santa Destroy. This map/menu allows players to quickly select which area they want to visit in order to upgrade weapons, participate in side missions, or continue Travis’ quest. After visiting each are, players are returned immediately to the overworld map to determine where they wish to travel next. It’s a simple but effective menu scheme, though it removes the ability for players to freely roam the streets of Santa Destroy.

Each boss battle requires a different plan of attack from the player in order to respond to both the enemy and the surrounding environment. When taking on other fighters such as Nathan Copeland and Dr. Letz Shake, players must traverse areas that are constantly moving and calculate their moves in order to avoid a swift defeat. In this regard the game can seem a bit frustrating at times, but it is only teaching the player through a trial-and-error process. The boss fights are still as fast-paced as the levels that precede them and incorporate variation on par with the boss fights of Legend of Zelda titles. From time to time, Suda 51 decides to switch the gameplay up on players to keep thing engaging. When Travis clashes swords with an opponent, the game will sometimes enter a short motion-based section where players must react by rapidly moving their Wii-mote in a circular motion. A few boss fights include multiple opponents at one time, and one fight even has Travis piloting a giant robot. There is also a portion of the game where Travis engages in a motorcycle duel prior to one of the boss battles, and the game shifts to a top-down view. However, given the small area in which the duel takes place and the wide turns the motorcycle must take, this section becomes incredibly frustrating.

Side missions allot players both character experience and money to spend on new weaponry and clothing. Many of these side missions switch over to retro 2D arcade-style gaming, and require Travis to accomplish tasks in a limited time. Most of the side missions are straightforward and rather entertaining, though not overly complex. There are a few however, that simply become aggravating, such as the burger-grilling minigame.

Players are not limited to playing only as Travis Touchdown, as they are able to play as both Shinobu and Henry for brief periods in the main game. Shinobu is much more agile and weaker defensively. Henry, on the other hand, is more defense-based and controls almost the same as Travis. For the sake of the story, the change in perspective is a nice addition, though the temporary change doesn’t bring anything new to the game’s mechanics.

The art style is simply stunning and I think the game’s atmosphere greatly benefits from the cel-shading. The blood, while plentiful when slicing and dicing enemies, doesn’t draw too much of the focus – far too often, hack n’ slash games will try to outdo their predecessors by including unnecessary gore and buckets of blood. This game does have bodies spewing fountains of the latter but it feels oddly more artistic than disgusting. The soundtrack is simply outstanding, drawing inspiration from a great variety of sound styles. The music that accompanies the various locales around Santa Destroy is more low-key, while each major level and boss fight has its own distinct theme, often heavy on the drums, synthesizer, and electric guitar.

It’s a ridiculous game with over-the-top action and plenty of violence. Blood and dirty humor are both plentiful and the art style simply fantastic. The broad array of characters and their individual quirks keeps things entertaining from start to finish. There are some shortcomings, but it is still an impressive sequel fitting of its predecessor’s accomplishments. There are a large number of changes in Desperate Struggle, and nearly all of them make the game far more fluid and enjoyable. It certainly won’t be everyone’s bag of chips, but No More Heroes 2 is a most creative and interesting spin on a familiar genre.

My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)

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