Because I only recently discovered the No More Heroes series, I had the luxury of diving into the sequel, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, as soon as I wrapped up the first game. And since I know next to nothing about the sequel — I never owned the games for the Nintendo Wii — I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, Desperate Struggle takes everything that made No More Heroes an absolute blast and cranks up the volume. I’m not sure if this statement will get me flagged for heresy among hardcore fans, but I definitely prefer the sequel over the original. The game seems to understand what made the first No More Heroes a bit clunky, and it takes steps to correct it.
Desperate Struggle picks up a few years after the conclusion of the first game. Having wiped out the competition in No More Heroes, Travis takes a well-deserved leave of absence. After all, a guy needs to escape for a while after mowing countless lawns and murdering scores of baddies with his trusty Beam Katana. Unfortunately for Travis, one of his friends get murdered, and Mr. Touchdown takes it upon himself to seek a little blood-soaked justice. In short: Instead of trying to get laid, Travis works his way through another stack of colorful assassins to reach the guy at the very top — the same guy responsible for murdering his buddy.
In terms of storytelling, Desperate Struggle feels more mature and focused than the first game. The plot takes itself a bit more seriously this time around, though it does venture off this path to indulge in some well-executed sophomoric humor. These bursts of absurdity don’t bother me a bit since the story, while typical, clearly wants to tackle more profound elements. Sure, it’s fun to eviscerate dudes with an off-brand lightsaber so Travis can get laid, but the action takes on a more visceral air when our hero has revenge on his mind. Again, Desperate Struggle doesn’t strive to break the proverbial mold, but the yarn it spins often feels urgent and intense.
Thankfully, Desperate Struggle ditches my biggest complaint with the first game: the empty open-world map. Tooling around Santa Destroy never felt enjoyable, and driving that awkward motorcycle back and forth between missions ruined the pacing. The sequel, however, bids farewell to the open world and the need to grind money before heading to the next opponent. You still have the option to embark on a number of side quests, but you don’t need to do so if that doesn’t strike your fancy. If you just want to focus on the story and ignore everything else, then you certainly have this option. That said, the side missions provide a nice break from the main narrative – and they’re also an absolute blast to play. Since I love side quests and substories (thanks, Yakuza!), I spent a fair amount of time with this content.
But here’s the problem: Desperate Struggle feels like a very short game. Of course, I don’t mind short games, but it’s something to keep in mind before giving this one a whirl. Since you don’t need to grind for money or traverse a big, empty map to get to the next mission or quest, the sequel feels more streamlined and purposeful than the first. Naturally, this tends to happen when you toss out the bloat and unnecessary padding. The game left me wanting more, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In other words, I really need No More Heroes 3 in my life right now. At least I won’t have to wait as long for the third installment as other fans have (if all goes well, of course).
Sadly, I can’t comment on how No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle runs on the Switch compared to the Wii, but I will say it looks and plays splendidly. Expect some frame drops here and there, both in docked and handheld mode, but it never tarnishes the game’s shine. Controlling Travis, meanwhile, feels fluid and natural; there’s a weird kind of poetry to the game’s combat system, which has been refined and tweaked. Everything is essentially the same, but Desperate Struggle trims some of the first game’s moves to create a more narrowly defined experience. Travis still controls like Travis, but the developers have removed the fat from his moveset. Some people may see this as a negative, but it makes combat faster and more deliberate. I promise you won’t miss a thing. Probably.
If you couldn’t tell, I adore No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Like the first game, it has a permanent home on my Switch’s overstuffed SD card. If you’ve never played the series, you should definitely give this one a go; don’t sleep on this one the way I did. Even though the sequel is now over 10 years old, you’d never really know it. The game feels weirdly fresh and engaging, even when compared to like-minded titles that have attempted to follow in its footsteps. And in a world filled with remakes, remasters, and HD re-releases, Desperate Struggle (as well as the first game) desperately needed some TLC and a port to a modern console. I’m definitely a fan of the series, and I can’t wait for the next mainline entry in the franchise. The world needs more Travis Touchdown right about now.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by XSEED Games.
A superior sequel in every way, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle takes everything that made the first installment so memorable and gets rid of everything else. It also tells a more focused and mature story, though it doesn't shy away from extreme bloodletting and ridiculous humor. It's truly fantastic from start to finish.