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Wednesday 29/03/2017: Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink

April 7, 2017

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Part 1)


Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

So, the Nintendo Switch came out last month. Like a lot of Nintendo fans, I had viewed the Nintendo Direct back in January. At some point, a guy walks on the stage: Goichi Suda, AKA Suda51. And what does he announce? A new game featuring Travis Touchdown, so possibly a new No More Heroes game, set for release on the Nintendo Switch, probably for 2018. I was hyped. Or rather, I would have been, if I wasn’t a perennially-broke guy who cannot afford a Switch anytime soon.

However, this did remind me that I own both previous titles in the NMH franchise, and that I had only reviewed the first one so far. Thus, almost exactly one year after that review, and to ride the coattails of the upcoming game, I bring to you my long-winded rambles about the second game of the series: Desperate Struggle.

Poor Travis, that picture of him will follow him
for his entire life. Such a perverted expression.
So, what happened to Travis Touchdown since we last saw him? Oh, not much. He’s been resting on his laurels for three years. See, he resolved any important loose ends in his life in the first game. He reached the #1 spot he cherished so much. He killed his half-sister, the one responsible for killing his parents. He learned of a half-brother, and faced said half-brother in a friendly (or, perhaps, not-so-friendly) spar. You could add to this that he basically became hyper-aware of the fourth wall and decided to end the game with himself and said half-brother killing each other. Oh, but ignore that part, we have sequels.


On the moral aspect, he learned to pay more interest in the important people he kills – the ranked assassins. Not like that’s much; he might learn about them all he wants, he’s still gonna go out to kill them. Granted, it’s like I said in my original review. Most of those ranked assassins were worse people than him anyway. Oh, sure, he got played by the sexy chick he was trying to get into, and ended up just as poor as he started. But I suppose he gained friends and a family thanks to this? Well, calling Henry, Shinobu and Doctor Naomi “friends and family” may be pushing it, but it’s better than nothing.

Boy, the days of the first game were darker than I remember.
As for what changed outside, well… To put it simply, if you thought the original game’s universe was dark, you haven’t seen shit. Travis’s antics have turned assassination into a kind of sport that some people practice, because why the Hell not. Death seekers, psychopaths and other assorted monsters have taken a liking to this new activity. None of them tried to kill Travis – come on, man, you don’t go for the King unless the King comes to you, that’s just bad etiquette. Everybody has standards, even murderous assholes. And of course, Santa Destroy has become the hotspot for this type of competition. I’m sorry for the poor folks who are trying to live normal lives in that wretched city. Also, there’s a new #1 out there, who has never had to fight Travis to claim the “crown”.

"Someday, fashionably late won't cut it. Till then, I'm
gonna Sonic my way through my battles and arrive
only just in time to stop the threat!
The game actually starts as Santa Destroy sees snow for the first time in 120 years. On the roof of a tall building, an assassin who looks straight out of Final Fantasy is waiting with a beam sword and a weird gun. An elevator dings as it arrives at the roof floor, and the assassin shoots at it. However, when it opens, a decoy is revealed – after which Travis pops up behind the guy. In the ensuing fight, we get a tutorial about Travis’s moves, as you can expect; the battle mechanics haven’t changed much. We get backstory on this new challenger: Skelter Helter, brother of Helter Skelter. Do you remember him? No? It’s normal, that was the 11th ranked assassin for the first game, AKA the one Travis kills during the into cutscene, the one who was in the trailers for NMH but never actually fought. Of course we don’t remember the guy! The fight against Skelter Helter is pretty simple if you know what to do. Stay away from him when his gun is out, and slash all you want when you’re close.

I'm always back for more softcore.
The battle is interrupted halfway through by a cutscene of a mysterious visitor walking up to a cell and speaking to Sylvia Christel. You know? The infamous woman from the first game who arranged the ranked assassination matches solely to get rich out of the gullible Travis? The poor guy expected a hot piece of ass at the end of his quest, all he got was a nasty verbal takedown. The game frequently goes back to this exchange afterwards, where it’s implied Sylvia is telling the story of the game to that visitor. After this cutscene ends, the fight resumes, and Travis takes Skelter’s HP down to 0, after which he cuts the guy’s head off.

"The audience wants to know where you were, Sylvia."
"Well I don't give a shit about them."
Sylvia arrives in a helicopter and tells Travis that he could join the ranked assassin matches again – but due to the sudden surge in popularity of the assassination gig, he would start on Rank 51. Oh, don’t worry, there aren’t 50 bosses in this game. Before dying, despite his recent beheading, Skelter Helter tells Travis that his death is only the beginning of a large plan. A plan of revenge. Sylvia tries to convince Travis to join the competition, claiming that she’ll be in his bed for real if he wins this time – which, considering what we know of the girl, it’s probably a trap once again. But he accepts regardless once she tells him of the various positions she’s apparently capable of doing. ...Downward Dog, huh? Should I look that up on the Internet? ...Probably not.

Wrestling masks, huh? Better than Funko Pop, I guess.
Back at Travis’s motel room, you can see that his situation hasn’t changed in three years. Some geek memorabilia changed, but that’s about it. Same bathroom, same Jane – no longer a kitten, now a cat who needs to lose a couple pounds. Same admiration for the strange Bizarre Jelly 5 franchise, a vertical scrolling shoot’em-up that you can play on Travis’s TV. It would be fine, if for beating that game you didn’t earn a video of the BJ5 fictional “anime”, which features these underage girls in action situations that featured gratuitous panty shots, transformation sequences that have the girls naked at first, and of course, attacks from the current opponent that does nothing aside from destroying the girls' clothing. Argh. Argh argh argh. Softcore porn parading as a magical girl anime featuring underage girls with boobs. I think I’ll be sick. Travis, what the fuck is wrong with you? Or rather, what the fuck is wrong with the people who imagined that thing?

"Guns? You guys are lame. Get some beam katanas."
That is what he would have said if he was a
wisecracker, but he instead accepts death
with dignity.

His blood is brilliant, it spelled "Desperate Struggle"
in the window!
Meanwhile, not very far from there, Travis’s good friend Bishop is, ahem, having private time behind his computer, in the video store no less, when he’s visited by five goons who soon kill him. The head is then packaged into a paper bag and tossed in our protagonist’s motel room, which is why Travis decides to go on a rampage. You can tell the theme this time around: No More Heroes 2 is a tale of revenge. Travis would go Kill Bill on all these fuckers… if he was the Bride. Or if the one who ordered the hit on Bishop was named Bill. On second thought, that metaphor isn’t working. Travis then gets a call from Sylvia, pointing him towards his next opponent.

I'll take this over traveling around a boring city.

Taking out the vermins! Not so different from his usual
job...
We leave the motel room and discover that you can no longer visit the city at your leisure. Remember how the open-world sandbox was one of the weaker aspects of the original NMH? It’s basically been removed here, with all the locations being directly accessible. I think that’s because you can’t let Travis’s bike get caught anywhere, now that Bishop is no longer around to bring it back to you. Now, just select where you want to go, and go there. We're no longer wasting minutes driving around town! You can still take part in little jobs, which are depicted in a very neat 8-bit style. The first job makes an exterminator out of you as Travis goes on a bug-killing spree in the restaurants of Santa Destroy, while the second job has him repairing pipes to make water reach its destination.

Another job sees Travis delivering pizza in this neat
throwback to some older driving games.

Slashing through mooks in three-piece suits like it's
just another Tuesday.
Meeting Sylvia before the next ranked battle, we learn that the guy who ordered the hit is Jasper Batt Jr., owner of Pizza Batt. The guy also owns most of the city, AND is Assassin #1. Just more reasons for Travis to go and climb up the ranks to try and kill him! Sure, we know where the guy is staying, we could go kill him right away, but where's the fun in that? And thus we head towards Rank 50, who currently resides in a room of a hotel by the beach. Nathan Copeland is his name, rapping about becoming a killer and preaching the Murderous Evangelical are his game. He’s the United Assassins Association mouthpiece, and who knows how many people he convinced to join the organization. He speaks like a priest, and has only good things to say about Travis, whom he dubs the Crownless King.

Wait, are his arms boomboxes, or idoes his radio turn into sleeves,
or...? Wow, that's weird.

The fight begins, and it’s hard. Nathan Copeland has rigged his room with all kinds of death traps. Lasers, moving tiles, exploding plants… Oh, and did I mention that Copeland shoots a shit-ton of missiles whenever he wants? And those missiles discharge your beam katana’s batteries instantly? Don’t be fooled by the looks, this may be only the second boss, but he’s hard. He is eventually defeated, and Travis cuts the guy in two.

Christ, all of these cheerleaders look the same.
That's not normal.
One down… 49 more to go! This is gonna take a while. We don’t get much info on our next opponent, side from Sylvia saying he’s a “surprise” that will blow [Travis’s] mind”. Okay then, I can’t wait to see that! This level takes us to Destroy University, and the boss is Charlie MacDonald, the local football team’s superstar, who always parades around with a legion of pom-pom groupies. The level is basic, just kill everybody on the way – that’s what most levels are like anyway. Save at the can, then head into the football field… where we meet Charlie and his angels, pom-pom girls all ranked between 49 and 26. Oh! So we’ll have to take them all down before fighting MacDonald, right? That’s alright, it’s perfectly possible. When MacDonald shows up, he compliment Travis Touchdown’s family name, and then says that this fight will go a little… different from what you’d expect.

Sheesh, the only part of his body that doesn't look like it's on steroids
is his head. It's so tiny! Maybe because he felt he didn't need to use
steroids for it? I dunno.

Makes no damn sense, but Christ it's awesome.
…Then he takes off into the skies with all of his pom-pom girls, and they summon a giant robot that they all control. Hey, that’s cheating! What’s a simple man to do against a giant robot? I could have dealt with 25 opponents in a row, but a giant robot, that's cheating! Thankfully, Travis is savvy enough, and has had Naomi prepare something: His own giant robot, which is admittedly smaller than MacDonald’s, but still perfectly capable to fight! Yes, they’re going there. It makes no sense but they still do. I mean, what’s next, some guy sliced in two previously comes back as two enemies to take down? Admit it, No More Heroes only makes sense on the measure of "What's the coolest thing we could do that we haven't done yet in these games? Let's do it, even if it makes no sense!"

Hey, when did this turn into a 2D fighter?
The battles takes place on a single horizontal line, like a normal 2D fighting game, complete with appropriate controls. Charlie calls for the help of his groupies, but Travis overcomes them, tosses the giant robot into space, and then blows it up. Boom, from Rank 50 to Rank 25 in a single fight! Woo, I am halfway through the game already! (Not really…) Sure, Travis reaps the rewards, but then the UAA confiscates his giant robot to make sure he cannot use it against any following opponent.

I still have no idea how the Hell a football player could have access to a giant robot. And why was Travis’s robot hidden under the pool of the Rank 10 assassin from the previous game?

We can head out to battle the next ranked opponent right away; Sylvia marked on the map the location of that fight. However, she acts decidedly bitchier than usual, which is an achievement in itself. Does she just switch back and forth between personalities at will? Or just to annoy our protagonist? We might never know.

I'm either battling a geeky girl who has awesome taste in
science-fiction, or Darth Maul in a schoolgirl miniskirt.
If you do some other things around town and return to the hotel, however, you can encounter the first real optional boss of the series: Kimmy Howell, a schoolgirl with a recorder flute that becomes a Sith-style double-sided laser katana. She’s a Travis fangirl on her way towards #1, much like him, so Travis must defend his current position in the ranking. I feel… kinda bad having to hit a schoolgirl with something that can slice her up… Well… She has the same kind of weapon that can slice me up, AND she wants her hero’s head mounted to a wall in her house. I’d say it’s okay to hurt her pretty bad. Don’t be fooled by her cutesy demeanor, she hits hard with these beam katanas. When Kimmy is defeated, Travis decides to let her live.

In his room, Travis also gets information on the whereabouts of the assholes who killed Bishop, so if you want to enact some revenge, head down there and have a fun time killing mooks.

The cutscenes with Sylvia explaining the plot to a visitor reveal that there’s something… supernatural going on in Santa Destroy. At least three Akashic locations where weird things can happen. Weird things… that are probably weird even for this franchise. Well, you’ll read about that in Part 2 of this review!