Bigger. Better. More. Not exactly the watchwords of the original, shockingly audacious No More Heroes, with its minimal content stretched out across the sweeping, empty landscape of Santa Destroy, memorable for its sheer desolation and entirely in keeping with its satirical take on the “open-world game”. But, as Grasshopper’s splash screen reminds us, punk’s not dead. And what could be more punk than taking almost everything that defined No More Heroes and flipping it on its head?
Sure, the fighting is still in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, and it’s been tweaked with new moves and special attacks to make things that little bit breezier and, yes, more fun. And from that standpoint, it really is bigger. Better. More. The tiresome-by-design part-time job sections, in which you raised money for your next ranked fight? Gone, replaced by enormously fun 8-bit/NES style minigames – including an incredibly addictive variation on the classic Pipe Dream that we’d honestly love to see expanded into a game of its own.
Travis’ apartment, too, has been expanded into a fully-traversable space rammed with distractions; there’s a sidequest of sorts involving playing with his cat, Jeane, who has gotten mighty fat in the three years between this game and its predecessor. In addition to this, there’s a Touhou-style vertical shoot-‘em-up game available to play on Travis’ TV, with multiple levels of play. Also new is the inclusion of an additional playable character, who we are choosing not to spoil. Sure, this game is a decade old, but it’s only right.
The free-roaming meandering of the near-empty Santa Destroy has been excised, instead opting for a simple but stylish menu – no more lengthy, uneventful bike rides between objectives. Hopping around to the various important spots in the city is now effortless; once again you’ll be able to buy clothing, work out at the gym, or simply initiate the next ranked battle.
Another change, here, is the complete removal of the monetary charge for said battles. This is a bit of a double-edged beam katana, as while it’s nice to have the freedom to engage in content simply because you want to and it’s fun, that fabulous air of mickey-taking is lost, or at the very least rendered a little toothless. Indeed, the fourth wall stuff here is much more overt, with characters directly addressing the player even early on in a somewhat forced, obvious manner that’s a world away from the relative subtlety of No More Heroes. And yes, we’re aware we just called the ludicrous, absurd madness that is No More Heroes subtle. It is, okay!?
You can see what we mean when we repeat that mantra; bigger, better, more. In some ways, No More Heroes 2 is the absolute polar opposite of the first game, and that’s a mixed blessing. While the gameplay and style remain as brilliantly over-the-top as before – some sections must be seen to be believed – we found there was an overwhelming sense of compromise to No More Heroes 2. Again, not in terms of what it offers in content, with which it is full to bursting, but in terms of the game’s overall themes and sense of uniqueness.
It would be silly to expect a direct sequel to be as fresh as the first game, naturally, but there’s definitely something missing here that it’s difficult to explain. The fact that the story is motivated by revenge rather than, well, petty egotism, robs the game of some of its anarchic spirit. But then, that’s not really a meaningful criticism, because No More Heroes 2 unambiguously plays better than its big brother in almost every way that makes a good game a good game.
Thinking about it a little more, we’d say that the increased focus on the gameplay at the expense of the meaning we saw in No More Heroes is an interesting choice. It loses some of its satirical identity, but again, perhaps that’s the intention. We found ourselves wondering what it all meant, if indeed it meant anything at all. Sylvia’s purple prose-ish narration in the early game made us think of bad X-Files episodes, and we wondered if Suda51 had lost what was left of his mind and firmly kowtowed to his critics with what seemed like a bad self-parody. But it’s actually more interesting than that, because it's Suda51.
No More Heroes was about all the ways that games can suck, with its deliberately banal locale, pointless repetition and time-wasting travel. No More Heroes 2 is about all the ways that games are awesome. It’s a cliché, but what we have here is Suda51’s love letter to the medium he gave both barrels in the original No More Heroes. Everything here is so slick, so brilliantly tailored to having a good time, that it’s impossible to take any real umbrage at the removal of features that were clearly designed to be irritating.
It's worth noting that the content in No More Heroes 2 is even more extreme and potentially offensive than the original game's, but it's all so over the top that it's difficult not to take in the Grindhouse spirit in which it's presented. It's the video game equivalent of an exploitation movie, with all the excess that suggests.
A fine sequel, Travis Touchdown’s sophomore effort turns the mania up to eleven for an unforgettable blood-soaked thrill ride. While it’s a little more generic in terms of its narrative, it makes up for this wholesale with brilliant pacing, fantastic minigames and a whole brace of new, ingenious assassins to cut to pieces. As confident a follow-up as you could ever want, this is Grasshopper at the top of their game. Another fantastic port of a fantastic title.