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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Video Games

‘Heroes’ sequel fails to deliver

The original No More Heroes released in America in 2008. It was the newest arrival from bizarre game developer Suda 51 (real name Goichi Suda) who had made a name for himself in America in 2005 with the experimental Killer 7.

On the surface, it seemed nothing more that an uber-violent, offensive hack-and-slasher, but beyond that it was one of the most original, creative and downright bizarre titles of not only the year, but possibly the decade.

The game featured anti-hero Travis Touchdown, a psychopathic otaku (anime nerd) with a beam katana who kills assassins in a bizarre tournament to the death. It also featured enemies that blew up in piles of blood and money, phone calls through the wiimote, frequent moments of fourth wall breaking and game play that actively taunted the gamer. It’s almost impossible to articulate how weird, post-modern and unexpected the game really was.

After something like that, what could you possibly do with a sequel? The only real option was more of the same. With this year’s release of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, we got to see just that. Travis Touchdown returns to the city of Santa Destroy after becoming No. 1 in the assassin ranks and walking away, only to find his best friend, Bishop, murdered by the evil corporation Pizza Bat.

Now Travis has no choice but to climb the ranks again in order to get revenge. What follows is a series of breezy hack-and-slash levels leading up to challenging and often invigorating boss battles with bizarre characters.

Fans of the original game will notice lots of changes in the second. It seems as though Suda 51 went through all the reviews of the first No More Heroes, isolated all of the complaints and went about fixing them in the sequel. There is no more laborious traveling between destinations, you don’t have to gain money to find the location of the next boss fight, all of the bizarre wiimote mini-games have been replaced with eight-bit classic video game homages, and you no longer rely on chance to get overdrive modes.

But while these changes make the game run smoother, they lose a lot of the sarcastic edge that came with the original flaws. For example, the original game forced you to play mini-games in which Travis had to do inane everyday community service in order to gain money to actually fight and kill people, an absurd attempt to turn the usual open world video game formula on its head. But this touch of the original is now lost.

The game even goes as far as to include quite a few extras for fans of the first game. It brings in cameos from characters in the original, even allowing you to play as two of the returning characters in specific levels and fights. It allows you to get the double beam katanas (Rose Nasty) much sooner as well. Your cat from the first game, Jean, gets fat, and you have to carefully feed and exercise it to get it down to an appropriate weight. But even with all of this, it still seems like something is missing.

The game suffers similar problems throughout its entire course. It follows in the footsteps of its predecessor very closely, delivering all of the absurd violence and mayhem, but without the sarcastic edge and playful tone of the original. Travis seems harsher and more sadistic while simultaneously whining about the lack of morality in the tournaments.

The overdone accents of the side characters that seemed charmingly absurd in the first game now just feel grating. Many of the enemies are so crazy that it seems forced. Many of the clever gags from the first game are retread and loose their steam the second time around.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that I am getting older and I no longer am amused by the ultra violence of a psychotic anime nerd with a light saber. Maybe it’s that the true charm of the first game was its originality and that is inherently lost in making a sequel. Or maybe, just maybe, this isn’t as good of a game, even with all the improvements and extras.

The writing just doesn’t seem as sharp and witty. The whole game seems to take itself far too seriously this time around. It actually builds a real romance between Travis and Sylvia, which is truly the most absurd part of the whole game.

I personally would recommend first trying Suda’s other games, such as Killer 7 and the original No More Heroes, before you take the return trip to Santa Destroy.

All that being said, the game does get lots of extra special points for including cult Japanese film director Takashi Miike as an actual character.

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