This week, Zero Punctuation reviews No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle.
As I theorised back in my review of the original No More Heroes, Suda51 is the result of a cloning experiment to create the world's most auteur game designer. Now the one thing everyone knows about clones is that they suffer from premature aging, but they seem to have licked that problem, if Suda51 is any evidence. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle has finally gotten past the border patrol for the PAL territories, and having played through it I can confidently state that there is absolutely no worry of Suda51 getting more mature.
At some point between Nomeroes 1 and Nomeroes 2, someone introduced him to the concept of jiggle physics, and thus has begun a friendship to last a lifetime. The fact that all the women in the game wear fetish outfits and are either in love with you or have to be bloodily murdered with you giant, throbbing sci-fi memorabilia does feel a little bit backward. I wouldn't usually have a problem, but I thought I'd better express disapproval so I don't get stabbed by Rebecca Mayes.
No More Heroes 2 returns us to the exploits of Travis Touchdown, a massive nerd who also happens to be the world's greatest swordsman. It's a concept that makes a lot of sense to me. A nerd, after all, is someone who obsesses over something, like the cultural impact of gaming or people who criticise same in silly Internet videos. But just because you're staying indoors and forgoing female companionship to learn fighting techniques rather than practice Guitar Hero or mop up your watery spunk with your Japanese love pillow doesn't make you any less of a total dweebo spodmeister with the social skills of a nervous badger.
Anyway, Travis is thrust back into the fighting tournaments when his best friend is murdered, reducing Travis's social circle to zero plus one cat. He starts out at the 50th rank this time, but you skip most of those numbers and pretty much fight the same number of bosses as in Nomeroes 1. Presumably the fifty ranks thing is in place to stop party poopers saying unhelpful things like: "Isn't this just exactly the same set-up as the first game but with wobbly chests and a fatter pussy?"
Well, be silent, party poopers, for things are different. The sandbox has been entirely vacuumed up and replaced with a menu-based transport system, which just goes to show what wavelength Suda51 is on. Traditionally, a sequel is supposed to add features, not delete them. The sandbox in the first game earned some vicious beatings because the city was about as lively as Saturday night in the International Space Station, but I thought it could have been saved by adding some more exploration mechanics, cars that react amusingly when you plow your bike into them, and maybe not making us traipse back to the job centre like a lost lamb every time we wanted to do a minigame and then traipse all the way to the location of the minigame before g'nap-g'nap-rawrrrrgh. Simply removing the sandbox element from the game entirely seems a bit lazy, almost childish really. We complain that Suda51's ball was a funny shape and had been kicked through a few dog turds, so now he's picking up his ball and going home, so now no one gets to play ball and his hands smell of dog turd. Nice one.
You still have to do odd-job minigames to make money, but now - and I hope you're wearing a sturdy belt, because you may split your sides - they all take the form of retro, 8-bit style games. Har har, what a clever, ironic joke. A clever, ironic joke that gets made about ten times. And which you'll have plenty of time to enjoy, because you need to grind these games to make enough money for the seven or eight things in the entire game that are available for purchase. As quirky, referential humour, it's all very clever in that Tarantino style of not in retrospective being particularly clever at all, but as a gameplay mechanic it serves as a harsh reminder of why, outside of maybe towns surrounded by wasteland in the outlying districts of eastern Europe, most people don't play with NESes any more for the same reason we don't launder clothes by slapping them against rocks. Christ, I don't even remember how we managed to game before the invention of the analog stick - maybe this is why we were all such pricks when we were kids.
Fortunately, having money proves largely unnecessary, but this creates the Red Dead Redemption problem of being more like a box of toys than a coherent game - in this case, a box of ironic, retro toys kept on display in the living room of the world's biggest tosser. What all this makes clearer than ever before is that a good percentage of Numeroes is so much cotton wool, just there to fill the spaces between the central boss fights. Before each of which you must clear out a succession a rooms full of generic and incredibly repetitive bad guys, some of whom have stupid amounts of health but are very easily stun-locked, so it's not even a challenge, it's just a delaying tactic, like forcing you to eat twenty dry Jacobs Cream Crackers before you can have any brie. And Nomeroes 2 's concession to difficulty curves is to make these sections longer and longer with each mission. There's one in a carpark that I swear doesn't stop spawning baddies until you've killed more people than vitamin E deficiency.
The Wiimote controls continue to be about as intuitive and immersive as a swimming pool full of concrete, so let the record show: this was the game that made me finally shell out for a classic controller, which are clearly not designed for the larger-handed gentleman. Perhaps there should have been a port for the 360 after all. A hack n' slash game aimed specifically at gamers being exclusive to the Wii is like a Matisse masterpiece being exclusive to the Etch-A-Sketch.
As might reasonably be expected, the boss fights are the best part. Another array of of colourful murderers, like a cross between Enter the Dragon and Cannonball Run II, with enough giant robot fights to break up the succession of button-mashing, dodge-block combo, wrestle with horrible camera routines. There are a couple of fights where you play a different character with a jump ability that's as smooth and controllable as a fat dog on a trampoline, so naturally she has to do some platforming, because after you've jammed a corkscrew through someone's palm you might as well give it a twist while you're at it.
But on the whole, I'm just kind of disappointed by No More Heroes 2. It feels like a holding pattern, adding very little and subtracting a few things too. And I think I preferred Travis when he was an oblivious loser being insulted, manipulated, and beaten up by everyone around him, 'cause now he's all famous and desired by women - less "lovable cock-end" and more "cock-end who deserves tyre iron nasal surgery." I suspect there might be some author-insertion wish fulfillment going on - guess there weren't many titties to be found in containment tube 0051.
- Dark stepping is for poofs: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I don't know why but I always find I sympathise with characters a lot less after they lose their virginity
- Aren't many titties in my containment tube either