Oh yes. For all the dedicated mature gamers who have kept hold of their Nintendo Wiis, in the face of the generally misguided disillusionment that is evident in some other factions of the videogaming hardcore, the original No More Heroes from 2000 represented such a rejuvenating break from tradition, such a bewilderingly singular embodiment of self-obsessed cool, that many of its most vocal fans seemed determined not to address any of the game’s flaws. Admittedly there weren’t many (and the main complaint was churlishly based on it being bereft of HD visuals) but No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is a refined and positively gallant second coming. And we aren’t even going to bother beating around the bush, because it’s also a pants down, knock-em-dead masterpiece.
And very much like the work of Quentin Tarantino, still contemporary cinema’s shrewdest magpie, all of the dissolute parts add up to a whole that isn’t just invigorating, it somehow also feels entirely original. In addition to the return of the strung-out, satirical bent of the game’s Otaku worldview, the notable shifts in gameplay structure feel organic and never imposed (despite the fact that all of them just plain work) and they form an integral part of creator Suda 51’s utterly skewed battleplan. So whether you’re playing as a giant robot called Glastonbury who attacks his enemies with ‘London Rockets’, as Travis Touchdown as he tries desperately to bed Silvia Cristel (yes, really) or mauling enemies to death as a Bengal tiger, it never feels disconnected. It’s just No More Heroes.
The sequel also still revels in rampant juvenilia, with fountains of blood and mucho sexual innuendo again fixed to the fore. If you thought that an undue amount of enjoyment was derived from the fashion in which Travis recharged his beam katana last time, then prepare to see that particular gag taken up to eleven and back. The open-world structure of the first game has also been scrapped, and whilst many enjoyed boosting around the desolate land of Santa Destroy on Travis’ motorcycle, that barren environment, although it functioned as an admittedly pretty sharp piss-take of all things GTA, ended up keeping players from the action for some pretty lengthy stretches. That doesn’t happen here.
Bereft of any learning curve at all, No More Heroes 2 is moderately tough from the get-go. Although some of the cutscenes mock the suggestion that any newcomers will be starting from here anyway (and who, Travis cheerfully points out, will probably have skipped the exchange anyway) the sequel begins where the first left off in terms of difficulty. The first assassin that you face (who is ranked 50th – a fact that prompts another Touchdown tantrum about having to start from the bottom of the rankings all over again) is an indescribably bizarre Rastafarian who is either Irish or Jamaican depending on which insult the cackling voice actor responsible for him hurls at you. He appears barely fifteen minutes into the game, and you’ll have to use all of Travis’ skills to take him to the cleaners.
And this time, everything is a game. Travis’ pet cat Jeane, who could be petted and played around with in the first game for no apparent reason, is now morbidly obese, and you’re required to balance playing with her (which helps her to lose weight) with feeding her enough gourmet food at the right moments to ensure that she doesn’t begin to despise you. The jobs that were previously littered around Santa Destroy (and were previously mandatory if you wanted to progress) have accentuated their chore-like nature by being brilliantly uncanny, NES-era retro pastiches, which are so thoroughly convincing that the game’s core audience are liable to shed a nostalgic tear. Never before has a game be so acutely aware of its own audience.
And some of those mini-games, like Bizarre Jerry 5 (which is available to play in Travis’ living room from the start) are breathtaking examples of near-peerless game design. It is a pastiche – as is almost everything in the game – but it is such a well-rounded and observant one that you’ll find yourself investing an absurd amount of time in it. It’s a chirpy, light-hearted rendition of Treasure-style ‘bullet hell’ shooters, and although it only consists of three difficulty settings and one level, it’s five minutes of utter perfection. Outside of those mini-games, the deeply satisfying and tactile katana combat, despite not fully utilising the Wii’s motion controls, still stands as some of the finest action gaming that the Wii has to offer.
The soundtrack is bananas (and richly deserves a retail CD release) the visuals are as distinctive and punkishly scrappy as they were last time, and for a game in which the moment-to-moment rewards are always more important than the bigger picture, it has a surprisingly coherent plot, albeit one that proudly wears its Attention Deficit Disorder like a medal. You may not have felt that the original No More Heroes needed any tinkering, but the sequel’s refinements have served to create something that is about as perfect as something this thoroughly unkempt ever could be. It’s so divisive that it makes Marmite look like Coca Cola, but if you’re tuned in, you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Watch the No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle trailer here…