Publisher: Rising Star Games
Genius? Visionary? Auteur? Manchild? Call him what you will, but Suda51 is far from boring. Yep, Travis Touchdown is back and he's marked his second coming with more blood, boobs and B-movie quips than ever before. In case you missed the last adventure, although this sequel makes a point of breaking the fourth wall early on to tell you that it's pretty much irrelevant, we last left Travis having just hacked and slashed his way to the top of the pile as the Number 1 Assassin In The World, found out that his ex-lover was in fact his half sister and that the woman he'd been near-literally dying to sleep with was married to his twin brother.
Now it's three years on and someone's just brutally murdered Travis' best mate, an action that triggers something inside our scrawny, otaku protagonist and nudges him to crack out his beam katana once more and return to attempt to climb the ziggurat of assassin rankings to track down the killer. We're not told why or how he got pushed off from the No. 1 spot and Travis himself asks why he can't just get fast tracked to a title match to which the alluring femme fatale Sylvia, returning to titillate and frustrate Travis in equal measure, explains that the market has recently become crowded due to Travis' popularity the last time around and everybody suddenly wants to be an assassin.
So our stylish hero has to start out from square one once more, or rather square fifty one, with half a century to hit before justice can be administered.
Travis Touchdown's first outing was like strapping GTA and Kill Bill to a rollercoaster, pumping them full of e-numbers and showering them in Hustler centrefolds, an adolescent gamer's wet dream that popped with subversive wit, outlandish humour and dripped with an excess of excess that divided critics between those who saw the ultra-violence as yet another nail in the coffin of gaming's public image, and those who simply didn't give a f**k. For my money, there was a certain punkish attitude to No More Heroes, a game that looked at every single thing that the Wii was threatening to become and railing against it, using a deluge of design choices wrought from gaming's history to create a homage of sorts to everything that its creator loved about the industry, including its foibles.
This sequel is, and this will ultimately determine whether or not you'll want to buy it, a game built in the image of its predecessor. Once again Travis is working his way through a series of boss encounters, all of whom are guarded by increasing numbers of varied henchmen, and in between which he is free to nip to the gym, pick out a new wardrobe and hop around town to do out jobs for some spending money. Along the way you'll be bathed in one liners that Bruce Campbell would have chewed off his limbs for, you'll give an obese cat a massage, you'll watch a corpse reanimate itself before ripping off its own head, you'll pirouette and slice and dice to crunching humbucker riffs that segue into J-pop before melting away into some classical strings. You'll laugh, cry, and drop your jaw in confounded amazement and disbelief.
The core gameplay is relatively unchanged, with one button to slash, one to kick and punch and the D-pad for evasive manoeuvres. The random slot reel mechanic is still in effect to a certain extent, but it's been sidelined by an 'Ecstasy Meter' that fills and dips with each hit to land and each one you take. Fill it up and you can unleash hell at double speed, with Travis buzzing with fury like a pissed off bumblebee after three Panda Pops. Prepare yourself for a few different forms of weaponry that affect how Travis fights, from a speedier, more powerful beam katana to one that enlarges and pulsates the more Travis fights (just in case you didn't get the sword-as-penis metaphor) to the deliciously powerful dual katanas displayed on the cover art. As before, a flick of the wrist will split your enemies down the middle or lop of their heads and, as the game progresses, the boss encounters become a real test of strategy, timing and rhythmic execution, punctuated of course by absurdly gory fountains of claret. They all vary of course, the lead up to one foe forcing you to tiptoe into their lair Metal Gear Solid style, and another encounter seeing you jump into a giant mech that vaguely resembles Optimus Prime after a few weeks on the Atkins diet to duel a behemoth formed from an oversized American football jock and his twenty-four cheerleaders.
However, Suda and Co. have kissed goodbye to the open world elements of the last game. Instead of exploring Santa Destroy's grimy, and sometimes bland streets, the city unfolds as a map, with the game in a clear hurry to get you back into action as quickly as possible. For better or for worse, this is a title that desperately wants to be loved and wishes to waste no time whatsoever. It's a bold move, this streamlining, and one that will please many (yours truly included) who found the in-between parts of the original to be detrimental to the pacing and the excitement of the action that surrounded them, but it would have been nicer perhaps to have seen Grasshopper attempt to rectify this issue rather than shy away from it completely.
One change that does work wonders, however, is the move to replace the banal old side missions. Instead of the tedious tasks of the original, Travis' capitalist self-pimping now comes in the form of a variety of 8-bit minigames that are an absolute joy to play. Delivering pizza now comes in the form of a traffic dodging speed fest that owes a certain amount to OutRun. Pipe Mania gets more than a little nod here as Travis attempts some plumbing and Bug Catching now involves hoovering up little beasties like a pixellated 2D Luigi clearing out his mansion. There are some wonderful touches here, from the archaic music to the sound effects that accompany each of these minigames at the start where gamers can listen as Travis blows into the cartridge and wiggles it into place before booting up each little 8-bit treat.
It's through these little details that you fall in love with this game. The ultraviolence and bizarre, bold design choices, not to mention the impressive amalgamation of an avalanche of different styles and inspirations, will cause plenty of WTF moments, but it's the little things that will make you come back. This is a game that revels in its own medium, simultaneously mocking and embracing gaming and its legacy. It's a slicker game, of that you can be sure, and for some that might mean a loss of character, a feeling that No More Heroes 2 can never strike the same chord as its resolutely rebellious progenitor. But that is simply the same complaint as that of the music fan disgruntled because 'their' band has just signed a major label deal. Suda51 might be a name that's creeping into more and more gamers' ears, but he still knows how to make one hell of a game and he still remembers the most important commodity of all: fun.
- The ludicrous boss battles
- The retrotastic 8-bit side jobs
- Countless, breathless, WTF moments
- Some irritating camera issues
- Suda51 playing it a bit safe
- May not appeal to some
The Short Version: Reconnecting with Travis Touchdown's world of beam katanas, decapitations and an obsession with wrestling is a little like getting drunk and hooking up with a crazy ex. The thrill is still like nothing else out there and the experience is a frenetic, adrenaline-fuelled one, but it's tempered this time by familiarity and what seemed so outlandish and exciting originally is a little less exhilarating this time around. Still, NMH2 stands out as one of the finest games on the Wii, anarchically stylish and defiantly belligerent, it's good to have Travis back again.