As Grasshopper Manufacture's logo loads up at the start of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, it's prefaced with some chunky 8-bit text letting you know "PUNX NOT DEAD." The veracity of this credo is debatable, but it clearly informs the overall attitude of this inventively trashy and giddily self-referential bloodbath of a game. No More Heroes 2 shares this spirit with its predecessor, though it's learned a few things in the interim, sanding down some of the less aerodynamic parts and replacing them with even more attitude. At a certain point the three-chord structure can wear a little thin even for those that are in on the joke, but sometimes you just need something loud, passionate, and crazy to cleanse the palette.
Following in the footsteps of other unnecessary sequels before it, No More Heroes 2 basically pushes the reset button on our hero, the self-made assassin Travis Touchdown, ginning up a new excuse for him to break out his trusty beam katana and murder his way to the top of the United Assassins Association ranks with the help of his cold and presumably duplicitous agent Sylvia. The game actually maintains continuity with the first game, featuring a number of returning characters and unresolved story threads, though it correctly assumes that, if the person holding the controller didn't play the first game, it's a waste of time to try and explain what the hell is going on. This is a game where, if it'll save time, a character will plainly state that video-game players don't care about backstory, implicating the player with a glance towards the camera.
So his reasons for the unmitigated bloodshed are a little more personal this time around, but the overall structure of Travis Touchdown's mission remains the same, pushing his way through deliberately chunky and garish environments filled with cannon fodder before facing off with the next ranked assassin in an over-the-top boss battle. Your first fight is against a hip-hop-label-owner-turned-cult-leader with a Scottish accent and robotic arms that turn into a deadly boombox. From there, it gets kinda weird.
If you played the first No More Heroes, you'll slip right back into the controls, which demand that you mash on the A button with wild abandon to hack away at your enemies while trying to make precise use of your dodge and block abilities, occasionally whipping the Wii Remote and nunchuk around to perform one of Travis's wrestling-inspired finishing moves. A Classic Controller option has been added, which is great for players with motion-control allergies, and it clearly points to the series' future on platforms other than the Wii. I actually found that I ever-so-slightly preferred the little visceral flair that the occasional curt gesture adds to the action, though I also find that the Classic Controller feels a little cramped in my hands. Oh, also, you can now randomly, and inexplicably, turn into a man-eating tiger, making you invincible and giving you one-hit kills for a short time. There is literally no justifiable reason for Grasshopper to add this to No More Heroes 2, other than they probably thought it would be awesome. Turns out, it totally is.
No More Heroes 2 aims higher with its outlandish boss battles than the first game did, though it eases up on the overall difficulty, making health items more plentiful and boss fights a little less drawn out. There are some structural improvements as well. Gone is the crappy open-world navigation of the first game, replaced with a simple map of Santa Destroy, significantly cutting down on the downtime between activities. You also don't have to pay any exorbitant entry fees to enter a ranking fight, leaving you with more money to spend on training, upgraded beam katanas, and random hipster t-shirts. Money will still, hilariously, fly out of enemies, though you'll need to take on some side jobs to earn some real scratch, all of which are rendered in the style of old 8-bit console games. These games aren't so much good as they are accurate, right down to the crushed and muddled digital voice samples. It only takes a couple plays for most of these side jobs to turn tedious, but they make up for it with volume, and it's impressive how they nail the era and the styles of games they're trying to emulate.
This 8-bit design style bleeds out into the rest of the game in random spots, often in the form of square-wave audio cues and anachronistic fonts, though it takes equal inspiration from giant robot cartoons, lucha libre, anime cheesecake, and spaghetti westerns. No More Heroes 2 is clearly less interested in creating an immersive world than it is a ridiculous playground for its protagonist to murder dudes in, which can make it a very spartan-looking game at times, a sense that's exacerbated by the game's high-contrast art style.
No More Heroes 2 remains propelled by its own bratty enthusiasm for the good first half of its run-time, though it does start to run out of steam somewhat as it approaches the grand finale. There are some sequences where you play as characters other than Travis Touchdown that suffer from ill-conceived controls. And while I said it's generally an easier game than the first, the boss fights can still slide into drawn-out battles of attrition, which can be tedious to win and frustrating to lose. There are significant performance issues as well--despite the fact that most of the game consists of Travis fighting a half-dozen dudes and little more, the frame rate can get real sketchy at times.
In more ways than one, No More Heroes is to games what Crank is the movies--this is a deliberately stupid and absurd game made with incredible craft and passion by people who love video games and hate being bored. No More Heroes 2 is a game seemingly designed specifically to surprise people who have played a lot of video games, and to this end, it's a smashing success.