Release: Out now (US), May 28 (EU)
Publisher: Ubisoft (US), Rising Star Games (EU)
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Fans of the first No More Heroes will remember scrawny no-hoper Travis Touchdown as a wannabe, scrambling up the ranks of the United Assassins Association and killing everyone in his way. But three years later, he’s lost the #1 spot – for reasons we’re never told, as the game assumes we don’t have the attention span – and now it’s time to get back in the fight, for reasons that vary with every cutscene. Sometimes he’s out for revenge, other times he’s crazy with bloodlust, and near the end he makes a stand for the dignity of fictional assassins. You probably don’t care: you’re just here to brawl.
The fighting has changed little since the first game. Whether you’re using the Wii Remote or the Classic Controller, you execute a handful of combos and then duck away before your enemy strikes back. Special attacks and wrestling moves add to your arsenal, but the all-too-similar enemies won’t demand it. Last time around the fighting was repetitive by design, and despite noticeably more enemy types the same is true in No More Heroes 2.
The first few missions go by quickly, with short warm-ups and easy bosses, but by the last third it becomes a test of stamina, as you cut through ever-greater mobs of henchmen and bosses who take aeons to wear down. No More Heroes 2 counts on keeping you hooked with vicious button-mashing and the thrill of slicing your beam katana through limbs and torsos, to the point where you won’t need variety. The game wins that bet: it’s endlessly satisfying to watch this thin, nervy loser attack again and again, hacking like a wolverine that masturbates too much.
As with the first game, No More Heroes 2 marries junk-culture tropes to its beat ’em up action. The visual style incorporates lens flare and even emulates the look of worn-out old kung fu reels, while cutscenes dole out the expected level of “Wha?”, stealing from a different genre for each boss – from slasher horror to a wistful coming-of-age romance. And yet these moments are less astounding and persuasive than in the first game. The bosses might be of a generally higher standard, but their inspirations are more obvious (especially in the finale), and many of them seem confused as to what they’re doing here in the first place.
Meanwhile, everything that previously made Travis’ life believable has been pared down for convenience. Where he used to have to work odd jobs to make the money for each fight, he can now zip from battle to battle without a pause. Meanwhile, those jobs have been reduced from demeaning thirdperson grinds to zippy 8bit-throwback minigames, which are quick but not memorable. The overworld map is also gone, and while cutting it – and all the drab streets – sounds like a good idea, a better one would be to make a city that’s smaller but still worth your while exploring.
The game adds new playable characters, but does little with them. Travis’ brother Henry has a cameo fight, and two of the missions cast you as Shinobu, one of the bosses from the first game. But Shinobu fights more or less the same way as Travis, and her levels also force you to finish rudimentary jumping exercises that highlight the wonkiness of the camera.
The original title won fans for its shocks and surprises; the second takes no risks. While its ultraviolence is slick and satisfying, its schtick has calcified. Bayonetta has raised the bar for ridiculous action and jaw-dropping style, making No More Heroes the safe and timid alternative. It’s a love letter to the fans, when perhaps what’s needed is shock therapy.