January 29, 2010

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle | First Impressions

Troy Benedict Says Somebody on Twitter made the perfect comparison to No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. They likened it to the 2009 avant-garde, over-the-top action film Crank 2: High Voltage, featuring Jason Statham. The movie is essentially pure testosterone and adrenaline, hardly making any sense and not taking itself seriously at all. The events of the story fly by at a breakneck speed with super-stylized editing and color (im)balancing, and non-stop mixes of sex and violence.

As I was playing through the first couple of hours, the similarities between this game and Crank 2 seemed to run almost in tandem, to the point that the creators behind both products HAD to have appreciated and drawn influences from the others work.

Anybody who has played the original No More Heroes has a pretty good idea what to expect with the sequel. Travis Touchdown, a geeky, fowl-mouth, murderous, "normal guy," returns for more bloodshed, wielding his beam katana--a weapon taken directly from a popular George Lucas project and renamed to something less copyright-infringing.

There is no doubt that No More Heroes 2 is a mature-rated game. The game's opening sequence features a fair share of four-letter swearing, over-the-top fountains of blood, and characters with revealing clothing and long, close-up shots of their “supple” cleavage. There is also a lot of scatological, penile, and sexual references. When you save your game, you go into the bathroom, sit on the toilet, and "drop a save," to quote Travis Touchdown. My point is, this is not a game for kids and it’s not ONLY because of the the blood and gore.

The M-rating seems to be something of a Scarlett Letter with Wii games, and as much as I've enjoyed playing No More Heroes 2, I don't expect it to sell well. That is, if the history of mature games on the Wii has anything to say about it. While most M-rated Wii games have received surprisingly average to decent reviews, they can't seem to actually sell any copies.

I was actually surprised to know that a sequel to No More Heroes 2 was being released amongst a sea of poor-selling M-rated games like House of the Dead: Overkill, MadWorld, and Dead Space: Extraction. Perhaps, because the original game was well-received and sold a decent amount of copies, No More Heroes 2 will sell better than other mature-rated Wii titles. NMH2 is also a niche title, appealing to a more hardcore gaming enthusiast audience. I feel that the game’s “Desperate Struggle” tagline may apply to the game’s commercial success in an industry where M-rated games only seem to sell well on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

The story behind the game is both ridiculous and highly-entertaining. It's definitely a guilty pleasure kind of game, and right now I'm thinking about how much I'd like to go home and see what kind of oddball direction the game goes next. I actually appreciate how No More Heroes 2 is self-referencing, in that it recognizes that it's a video game, and it's literally pointed out in a discussion between two characters after the first opening battle.

For a "lightsaber" style game, I was actually surprised that with NMH2 there was not a lot of required shaking or swinging of the Wii-remote. The only time I had to waggle or shake one or both of the controllers was when executing a finishing move, or charging up the beam katana. Most of the controls require you to hit the A button and the B button for katana and melee attacks, respectively. The Z button on the nunchuck attachment locks on to your target, and the C button switches locked-on targets. It is also possible to play the game using the Wii's classic controller.

The game looks pretty good... for a Wii title. My wife at one point walked into the room and asked me why the game looked the way it did. She wasn't saying that in a positive way, either. She was saying it in the obvious Wii to 360/PS3 visual comparison. I had no defense, and my answer was simple: "It's a game for the Wii." She accepted that and went on with what she was doing. The almost cell-shaded style of the game helps give NMH2 a look that works well for the Wii, but I could only imagine how much more effective this game's visual flair would be if it was running in high definition.

One aspect of No More Heroes 2 that I really liked was the game's homage to the 8-bit days of video games. You see, there is more to Travis than just killing. He can also work and earn money. Money is earned through several different mini games, called Side Jobs. These side jobs are represented in throwback 8-bit style arcade games. Two of my favorites are the tile laying game that gives a nod to Tetris without infringing on its copyright, and a pipe laying game similar to Pipe Dreams. Money from these side jobs can be used to buy Travis new clothes, train at the gym to get more strength and stamina, buy upgraded weapons, and purchase cat food. [Insert record scratch sound effect here.]

"Cat food??" you might be asking. Yes, cat food. In perhaps one of the starkest contrasts to the game's dark sense of humor, the pee and poop jokes, the sexual innuendo, the bad language, and the gore galore, is Travis' overweight cat Jeane.

Jeane is a fat cat. Your goal when interacting with her is to help her lose weight in a series of mini games: play, jump, stretch, massage, and feed. The animation of the cat and the mini games that you participate in to help her lose weight are actually quite cute and add a little bit of endearment and heart to an otherwise savage and hyperactive game.

While the controls for No More Heroes 2 took me a little bit of time to adjust to, I have been enjoying this game tremendously. As I mentioned earlier on in this preview, I have been constantly thinking about ridiculousness of the game since I last played it, and can't wait to sit down with it this evening and see how the story progresses.

In other words, this game has made an impression on me, and it seems to be a lasting one. I am a bit worried about how repetitious the game might become, but perhaps the game's screwball storyline and cast of eclectic characters will keep me satisfied.

I’ll let you know my final take on the game in the next couple of weeks, after I’ve completed the game.