There Can Be Only One
Diversity in gaming has never been greater than it is today. You’ve got your cute yet deceptively challenging platformers like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and then there are more compelling narratives that take players along a journey extending upward of 100 hours or more, such as the recently released Dragon Age: Origins for next-gen consoles and PC.
And then there’s No More Heroes…
If you’re not familiar with the franchise, No More Heroes is a sort of cyber-punk adventure that’s one part Grand Theft Auto, another part Devil May Cry, but more than anything else, it’s a game with tons of attitude and style. No matter how you slice it, dice it, or pile drive it into bursts of bloody man-pulp, the world of Travis Touchdown is one very unique stew.
The upcoming sequel, No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, picks up roughly three years after where the last game left off, and once again Travis will find himself working his way up the ranks of the world’s top assassins. He’s still pounding the pavement of Santa Destroy, but much of the busy work of the first game has been ripped out in exchange for a collection of fun and endearing mini-games. For example, the coconut-gathering mission from the first game has now been turned into an 8-bit-style, 2D side-scroller, and there’s even one mission that riffs on Diner Dash, though with more painful consequences should you fail to please your customers.
As for the main quest, improvements and tweaks have been made, but the core gameplay is still very much intact. Desperate Struggle takes somewhat of a beat’em-up approach in terms of mission progression, pitting the player against groups of baddies and eventually confronting an end-level boss. In some respects, the real focus of No More Heroes is its boss encounters, where you’ll often square off against more than one assassin at a time.
The game’s creator, Suda 51, promises smarter A.I. and an overall greater level of challenge this time around. Enemies use varying tactics that will keep players on their toes as they attempt to make it to the top of the assassin food chain.
Folks who played the first game will likely have no trouble easing right into the controls for Desperate Struggle. You move Travis with the analog stick on the Nunchuk and execute beam-katana attacks by pressing the A button. You can also pull off melee attacks with the B button, which plays into a host of crazy finishing moves and combos. Our only real reservation thus far has to do with mapping dodging to the D-pad. Being forced to use the same finger to attack and dodge doesn’t necessarily seem like the wisest choice.
Critics hailed the original No More Heroes for its “tasteful” use of motion control, and Desperate Struggle retains, and adds, many great bone-crushing mechanics. Like the first game, when you’ve weakened an enemy substantially, you’ll be prompted to gesture with the controls in order to pull off one of Travis’ brutal finishers. Since both the game’s creator and lead character are professed wrestling fans, there are plenty of flashy finishing moves sure to make a spectacle, not to mention a splatter on your television screen.
The game’s sense of humor hasn’t changed much, either, which means you’ll still need to whip your beam katana (by making a jerking gesture up and down with the Wii Remote) in order to power it back up once it runs out of juice. This time around, however, Travis can dual wield, and a selection of new katanas open the gameplay up in terms of strategy and player preference.
Desperate Struggle uses the same cel-shaded art style as the first game, and though it doesn’t seem to be pushing the envelope in terms of raw processing power, the overall vibe of No More Heroes remains distinctly alluring. Combat finishers end with an explosion of blood (and coins, of course), and these gratuitous displays of over-the-top violence are often more hilarious than they are shocking.
Suda’s love of retro gaming pierces through almost every element of Desperate Struggle’s presentation, though much of the game’s artistic styling has now been made functional. When locking onto enemies (with the Z button), for instance, a pixelated ring will appear around them, representing their health.
The sound and controller feedback were also integral elements of the first game that really enhanced the experience, so we’re glad to see that certain mechanics have been, for the most part, left untouched. The background music rides a fine line between excitingly raucous and utter chaos, and the dialogue is as subversive as ever.
If you were one of the few who “got it” with No More Heroes, it’s a safe bet you’ll love where Suda 51 and the team at Grasshopper Studios are going with its sequel; it is to video games what Kill Bill is to movies – lots of gratuitous violence, immature sex gags, and language that would make a sailor blush. Desperate Heroes also promises a wonderfully visceral gameplay experience that will challenge players, as well as delight them with well-placed humor and quirky but entertaining new mini-game additions. Ubisoft is shooting for a January 2010 release, so be sure to check back soon for our full review.