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April 17, 2017

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Part 4)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

In Part 1, Travis killed Assassins #51, 50, 49 to 25 and an extra. In Part 2, he got Assassins #24, 23, then skipped all the way to 10 by killing Doctor Shake, then we used Shinobu to kill Ranks 9 and 8. In Part 3, our protagonist took down Rank 7, Henry destroyed an abomination made of his brother’s creepiest fetishes, then down went Ranks 4, 3 and 2. In other words, we’ve got only one opponent left: The final boss! I even made sure to discuss every other part of the game before, so all there really is left to do is to discuss the last parts.

Yeah, no, I wouldn't ever hook up with a woman like that. But you
spent 1.90 games trying to, Travis, and now you got her. Have your fun.

I wouldn't expect a guy who's spent so long without having
sex to be so brutal and powerful about it.
Oh, but before that… Travis gets his usual call from Sylvia on the phone… only to learn that she’s standing right outside of his motel room door. Wow, it’s the first time she comes to his place! As it turns out, she has actually decided to honor her promise. And, to put it simply, they get to it with the force of two hurricanes. The entire goddamn motel shakes. The “NO MORE HEROES” sign even changes to “MORE ERO”. And here I thought I had made risqué jokes so far in this review!

Now laid and happy, Travis leaves Sylvia in his bedroom while he heads out to face his destiny. We get another scene of Sylvia retelling the events of the game, saying that she doesn’t remember much else of what happened afterwards. She doesn’t even know who she’s talking to. These sequences imply that Travis did dismantle the UAA with his final victory, leaving Sylvia out of a “job”, with no option but to be a stripper in some rundown place that’s closing soon. But of course, these sequences still focus more on her body than on her words. Gee, I wonder who that client might be?

In literary terms, these interludes are part of the Narration's
framing device. Meanwhile, the framing of these shots
clearly has one, or rather, two things of interest.

Tiger form: Destroys every enemy. Gotta wonder
why Travis doesn't trade his beam katana for that.
(This is actually from the previous level by the way)
The final level is a shopping mall. As usual, gunners, beam katana wielders, chainsaw guys, knifers; y’know, same thing we saw in each of the past levels, basically. There aren’t that many different enemy types… Travis climbs up the floors. It’s actually not that difficult, in fact I found it a little disappointing. Remember when I mentioned the power-ups that Travis can get at random? Most of them refill his beam katana’s battery, some others refill his life points. In this final level, I kept getting the BAR power-up, and OHKO-ing most opponents while I was in tiger form. It was very easy, and even outside of power-ups, things were fairly simple – as long as I took out the gunners first.

This is definitly too bright, cheery and colorful to be the
final level. Come on now. Unless the staff blew all of their
grim, grit points in the abandoned forest at the end of NMH1.

I really should have skipped all of the others and gone
directly for that little jackass head of his.
Alright, time for the final boss! Let’s save by leaving a big load in the bathrooms, and then we can move on to Jasper Batt Jr. The guy is actually a small loser with a pizza tattoo on his face and the voice of a teenager. Oh yes, Batt had been waiting for this. For, you see, the stakes are personal on both sides; Travis wants to avenge Bishop… Batt wants to avenge his father and brothers, all three of which were killed by Travis in the first game. Don’t remember them? They were the targets of the three Pizza Butt assassination missions. Not even bosses, just side-quests for money - that's the importance they had for Travis, but clearly even the little goons he kills have families and loved ones... Three servants of Batt come into the room with platters, and reveal their contents: The decapitated heads of… Geez… Holy shit… Shinobu, Henry and Sylvia. No, it’s gotta be a trick! That would be way too cruel to the player!

That time when you have so many images you want to use in the
review, both cutscenes and actual gameplay, so you end up
putting some tohgether to avoid clogging the past with pics...

From this, the fight begins. The petite villain is in an equally petite flying car. He’s out of reach most of the time, but he uses lasers to attack, and one can be used to bring him down. You can then slash at him all you want, but at some point, he won’t take damage any more. You need to clash with him when he’s trying to ram into you with his car. Travis inevitably loses the clash…

…because that’s a cutscene trigger. As Travis is about to lose. Henry jump in through the window and stops Jasper Batt Jr. As Henry wastes no time to explain, the heads shown to Travis were fakes. Just another way to mess with him. Phew, thank God, that was creepy as fuck. P.S. Henry, bro, I did bang your wife this time, or well, since she's now your ex, that makes it A-OK, I hope. The fight resumes and Henry deals with Batt’s bat-themed weapons in a corner while Travis takes Batt down – and the only way now is to clash with his tiny car. After he’s defeated, we get a cutscene… where Batt injects himself with weird shit and becomes a superhero-bodied monstrosity with a tiny babyface head. Oh, just great… I don’t want to imagine the secondary effects.

So, Jasper Batt, with a slight bat theme, as a rich guy on a
mission to avenge his fallen family that has been taken down
by a killer for money. The Batman reference couldn't be
more obvious. And of course, then he becomes a damn
superhero-like muscled dude... Sheesh...
The first battle was meant to depict Batt as a scrawny loser, kind of like Travis, a petty guy who isn’t worth the effort put into fighting him. Or, at least, that’s what they were originally going for, with their message of “revenge only leads to more revenge” and stuff. Not so much for Batt’s second form, which is tough as fuck. Almost every one of his attacks can knock you down. He teleports anytime he wants… AND will chain punches while teleporting, an attack that is extremely hard to avoid, so if he starts spamming it every time you get up, you’re fucked. Oh, and if he punches you and you’re tossed out the window… well, you’re a few dozen floors above ground, you can figure out what happens. Also of note Batt’s weaker attacks that always results into a cutscene where Travis gets spun on the guy’s finger like a friggin’ pizza and then head-slammed into the ground. Hey, isn’t Henry supposed to help?

Nah, he doesn’t help.

Some twin brother he turns out to be.

This went from silly to tough to just... what the fuck.
If you survive and beat down Jasper Batt Jr.’s second form, shit gets weird… or, well, weirder. Blame the secondary effects if you want. Travis smashes Batt through the window, but instead of hitting the ground, the pizzeria CEO instead becomes a giant cartoony inflatable version of his original self. …No, I am not making that up. It seems that the developers wanted to shove a final reference in the game, and couldn’t think of anything other than Stay frigging Puft. Maybe they were nostalgic for Thanksgiving parade floats? Henry cannot stand the sheer stupidity of this turn of events, so he gets the fuck out. That’s okay, we won’t need you!

Let's see... I could either climb that colossus, or just split its sternum in two.
Hm, let's go for the sternum.

I can imagine the people below going, "Did the last parade
lose one of its Pizza Batt mascots? And why is it acting
like it's freaking alive?"
And indeed. We don’t need him. Giant Inflatable Batt Jr. is probably the easiest boss in the game. It stays close to the border of the building, allowing you to score multiple hits at its abdomen. It can still attack, with its fists mostly and with a breath weapon – but it’s still very easy. Just spin the Wii remote once in a while to spar the breath weapon, and it’s all good. Hell, by staying close to the float’s belly, you will instantly avoid most of his attacks. After some slashing, Travis jumps off the building and slices the giant Batt in two, killing him for good. Well… except he’s now falling to his death. Oopsie.

I bet he can't wait to rest with her by his side after all this
heavy fighting and Jasper Batt Float-killing.
He falls but lands on the backseat of Sylvia’s motorcycle and she drives away from Santa Destroy, with Travis’s only words being: “Now that’s paradise!” The story properly ends with a final scene at the bordello, where Sylvia, as the common whore for sale she’s become, is crying. That’s when the client is revealed to be Travis – why he felt the need to hear the entire story of which he was the friggin’ protagonist is unknown. He tells Sylvia that Santa Destroy needs them, and it’s “time to go home”. And that’s how the game ends. (Sequel hook?)

Boy did that end on a silly note, but to be fair, No More Heroes has always been silly. They just went all-out for this final one. Why don’t I say “Suda51 went all out”? Well, Suda51 had little input in this sequel to his game. As a result, Desperate Struggle is more contested in quality than its previous title. I dunno, I personally really loved this one. As much as the original? Hm… about equal. Not sure which one is the better one.

Let’s compare the two, shall we? In the first game, Travis started off without a motivation outside of “Reach the top”, and it was later revealed that he was in it to kill the murderer of his parents. Here, Travis starts off wanting revenge and just goes along with the UAA rankings because it’s less of a hassle, and later changes goal to dismantling the UAA for all the lives it has ruined. Both games are stories of revenge, even if it’s only revealed halfway through for the first one and a major plot point in the second. Sylvia was just a scam without any interest in Travis at first, and here… well, while she changes near the end, she started off just as disinterested in her “clients”, even if she had at least fifty-one assassins working under her organization!

Ultimately, the moral of “revenge is bad and only brings more violence” is there, but muddled. I mean, the villain killed Bishop out of revenge, so Travis killed more people… out of revenge. And by the end, he doesn’t seem too bothered by any of this. His quest did change in the end, and he had actual heroic goals after he encountered the Rank 2 assassin. The comparisons with famous revenge action films is there, and we can go through ten revenge missions before the final level. However, in the end, the revenge quest is turned on its head as the reality of the UAA sneaks up on Travis, and the final battle starts off ridiculous, then difficult, then ridiculous again… as a way to show that… revenge isn’t worth it?!? Even I’m not sure! I mean, after I defeated Batt’s second form, I sure as Hell was happy! You can see what I mean: The moral stays a major element, but the game in the end seems unsure whether to do it justice or go balls-to-the-wall crazy and who cares if the message gets lost.

Most pieces of story are there to forward Travis’s rise in the ranking. The second game at least properly builds on the foundation laid by the first, bringing back favorites like Shinobu and Henry, as playable character no less! Granted, it’s for three battles in total, but that still makes it one fifth of all the boss battles! It also ends the transformation of Travis from nominal hero to Anti-hero. Pretty sure he’d be good drinking buddies with Wade Wilson.

The gameplay is generally the same as it was before; Travis uses his beam katanas, can change between them at will, can apply wrestling moves to hurt opponents. Henry is more speed-centered, while Shinobu focuses more on agility and platforming. That’s interesting, adding new dimensions to the original gameplay. I wish it had been done better for Shinobu, as the platforming sections were troublesome with the annoying camera, and also because the developers had the bizarre idea to make her taunt the opponent anytime she made a combo.

The disappearance of the open-world element of the original? In my opinion, not that big of a problem, honestly. The open-world Santa Destroy was actually rather boring, it had very little to offer, and there were various things that could have been improved – namely, that you had to go accept a job at the job center before heading to the location of the job or assassination, which then requires to just drive around the very calm, boring town. Also, the first game demanded that Travis collect a great amount of money that he then had to pay to access the next ranked battle, and that got really tedious in the end. Santa Destroy lacked things to do.

This game thus does away with the open-world, featuring easily-accessible jobs, revenge missions and places of importance… and featuring very little incentive to actually do most of it. Since you’re not forced to collect money, you can just skip the jobs outright. The money you earn will be spent on Ryan’s training, Naomi’s beam katana upgrades (all 2 of them, when the first game had many more), or on new clothes for Travis (cosmetic changes, the only thing of interest is that Travis keeps whatever clothes you gave him even during cutscenes). The best reason to play the job mini-games is to try to beat them and get high scores, and the retro NES style of the games make them a fun nostalgic throwback. Probably longer and better than the mini-games of the original, and as a bonus, we don’t have the hassle of driving back and forth between the job center and the job itself. Now, whether or not the lack of an open world makes the game lazier than it could have been, or if it’s better that way… that’s up to you. I personally prefer the game without it.

Even without the open world, we have fifteen bosses, most of which are preceded by awesome (and often very long) levels. One again, many bosses are memorable, whether it’s for their great concept, their style, or the fight against them. The names aren’t as great, but the personalities of these characters get to shine – continuing the theme of the original, that Travis isn’t just killing off obstacles, but people with aspirations and quirks. Desperate Struggle sees our protagonist definitively going from heel to face. …Wow, it feels weird to me to use wrestling terms…

In the end, I consider No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle to be about as good as the first No More Heroes; that is, very good. I’d say, play both games. In the correct order, of course. So, look it up, and be sure to wait for the next Suda51 game to feature Travis Touchdown!

On this, I will now start working on my five or six Steam game reviews. And I’ll post them, starting this Friday!