In the world of video games, one rule is ironclad: if a game is successful, there will be a sequel. Hell, sometimes if a game isn't successful, there will be a sequel. But though not all games deserve a follow-up, the 2008 cult hit No More Heroes seemed like a better candidate than most. Bursting with ideas, it was a raunchy, transgressive actioner that had as much to say about video-game tropes as it did about its protagonist's sexual fetishes. It hinted at an endless well of cracked ideas from the head of its creative director, Suda 51. Now, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle hints that the well has gone dry.
|No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle | For Nintendo Wii | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture | Published by Ubisoft|
The biggest problem may be that the team at Grasshopper Manufacture took some misguided criticism of the first game to heart. Some reviewers cited a blocky overworld in the original for being clunky and devoid of activity; in the sequel, it's been replaced by a slick, menu-driven map screen. Mundane side jobs, like pumping gas and mowing lawns, are still there, but now they're mostly presented as 8-bit games with NES-quality graphics and sounds. Sure, it's easier to get around the city of Santa Destroy, and the mini-games have a retro charm that the originals lacked, but what's missing is the central emptiness of Travis Touchdown's life, in which he had to interrupt his bloody and vainglorious quest just to pay the bills. There was a mordant humor to his circumstances. Not now.
No More Heroes 2 is still quite funny in places, reveling as it does in profanity, ultra-violence, and adolescent sexuality. Thing is, that stuff was all done in the first game, and it's not given a new perspective here. Travis is still talking trash, severing heads, and ogling babes, and though it would certainly be a departure to see him buttoned down and grown up, at least that would be unexpected. The first game presented one surprise after another. This time out, I kept waiting in vain for that delighted feeling.
So what's left? The hack-and-slash gameplay is still pretty good — mostly button mashing, with just enough variety to make you feel you're doing something. Downed enemies gush blood and erupt cash; the latter flies directly into Travis's pockets. These sequences are a little shorter — which is welcome, since they sometimes dragged in the original. But the boss battles are a step down, not half as clever or unexpected as they were before. You can beat most of the bosses by running up to them and slashing away.
No More Heroes 2 also includes sequences in which you play as Shinobu, an assassin from the original. Her fighting style isn't much different from Travis's, with the exception that she can jump. This is terrific in combat but absolutely brutal when you come to some hideous platforming sequences. Between the game camera and the finicky controls, you've reached the point at which No More Heroes 2 stops being campy and becomes simply bad.
Given all the comments the original made about games and gamer culture — from the throwback high-score screen to the shut-in, otaku lifestyle of its hero — it's surprising how little No More Heroes 2 has to say about sequels. There are some clever exchanges that break the fourth wall, and several familiar characters return, but no effort is made to subvert your expectations. If the original achieved some commercial success despite itself, the follow-up seems to have been made with the bottom line in mind. Sometimes, a sequel is just a sequel.