Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had no experience with No More Heroes whatsoever. Having looked at some videos, I thought it looked like a decent way to entertain myself, and so I decided to get it (also because it was cheap …).

Developed by Grasshopper
Published by Rising Star Games
Platform: Wii (Reviewed on Wii)
I had never been pissed off at a game the minute I started it. First we go through some corporate logos of the people behind this atrocious thing, taking some time before we finally get to the start of this hell. The introduction cutscene tells us how this town called Santa Destroy (such a stupid name) has become one corporate center of killing for entertainment. Travis Touchdown is a legend who apparently made his way to assassin number 1 in the last game, but obviously, in this game he has fallen, and now starts out as soon-to-be rank 51.

Your first job is to decapitate Cloud Strife here. Barret’s probably pissed off, since he stole his arm cannon as well.

After being cursed at quite a lot, you will finally emerge victorious and Cloud’s head will sky rocket 200 feet in the air, only to land right on his standing body again. A chopper arrives and this French woman Sylvia peeks out from it and informs Travis that he’s now rank 51, which upsets Travis because it means he’ll have to climb all the way back up to 1 again. Travis then proceeds to question this and how it is that he’s fallen so deep just from the last game, to which Sylvia responds that the players don’t care about continuity and it would take all too long to explain. Plus that there are people starting out from this sequel (good guess, guys). Travis agrees, winking at the “camera”, effectively breaking the fourth wall. In any case, Sylvia persuades Travis to get to rank 1 again, basically by promising to sleep with him. But suddenly, Cloud starts talking, blathering on about how he has taken revenge for Travis killing his brother, and makes his exit by lifting off his head for some exaggerated blood rain. The next day, Travis gets a bloody bag through the window. He opens it, only to find his very good friend Bishop’s head, and lets out a bawl of wrath. He gets a call from Sylvia informing him that she’s set up the next rank battle, and Travis, mad with anger, eagerly accepts it. So begins the hunt for Bishop’s murderer, rank 1, Jasper Batt Jr.

“People handle grief differently: Some people f**k at funerals. I cut off heads.”

Moving on, the gameplay from here on is basically just going to the next stage, and the next one, and the next one, and so on. In between, you can do some training to raise your health and strength, shop for new clothes, or do side jobs. There’s also this Naomi character who sells you new weapons, but she only stocks two of them throughout the WHOLE GAME. This had me going visiting her dozens of times, completely in vain. The side jobs are the interesting part though. These are basically 8-bit games you play in order to get cash (or just to have fun). These are designed MUCH more superior than the game itself, and it’s the main reason the gameplay score will be as high as it is.

There are just sooooo many flaws of this game. Let’s take a look at the back of the case to begin with. “Basic reading ability is needed to fully enjoy this game.” Bullsh*t. The story is one of the worst I’ve ever experienced and you’d be enjoying the game MORE if you didn’t understand what was being said. The storytelling is that awful. “Chicks with short skirts and bad attitudes!” I know this is nitpicking, but there’s just one of those … “Fight 50 of the most original, deadly and downright crazy assassins” There are FIFTEEN bosses/assassins in the game. I don’t know how they could f**k that up. But still, here are some of the “original” ones for you: A black rapper with a boom box, a Russian cosmonaut called “Vladmir”, “Million Gunman”, an old gunslinger who keeps running away from you, looks and behaves so much like Revolver Ocelot from the Metal Gear series, and of course we have SkelterHelter up there (aka Cloud). These are not necessarily bad, as I could imagine some of them being homages to old video game characters, but then they aren’t really original.
A problem with these bosses is that they say things. They have about two lines, and they never… shut… the f**k… up… It gets so repetitive and just pisses me off. Most of the time, you won’t even hear what they’re saying, because it sounds so muffled. I think I found one boss fight to be fun and engaging in this game, and really only because it was different from the others, as you were riding a motorcycle. But even that was really just a test of luck.
Now on each stage it’s the same old thing to do. You hack your way through these salarymen, making blood spray in all directions. There’s not much more to it, so you’ll keep doing that for the rest of the level until you meet the boss for some variation. Although, every time an enemy is chopped to pieces like mincemeat, this one-armed bandit slot machine HUD will pop up, and naturally, if you get three of the same thing, something will happen. For example, if you get three of the BAR icon, you will for a limited time be transformed into a tiger, who can one-hit-kill and can’t be hurt. Getting 777 automatically kills all in the room, except you. And I think there are the three cherries that render your enemies in bullet time, so you can slash through their bodies before they’re able to react. It just seems that it takes even longer to kill an enemy in this mode, so it’s kind of pointless. Overall, the gameplay is really repetitive and tedious. However, I found that it got a bit better around twelve hours in, but it really shouldn’t take that long for improvement.

When I first started the game, the first thing I noticed was this katana trailing effect, that I perceived as an obvious glitch, and this is what started to get at me really. It’s actually an effect that’s put there on purpose, but the thing is that it looks so bad and glitchy. Basically, it appears if you stand still and then start moving and you’ll see that your beam katana is stuck in the place where you originally stood, but you still have it with you, so it duplicated somehow. Another thing is when you’re downed and have to button mash to get up quicker, Travis will do this twitchy, jerky motion that looks really bad. This along with the katana trailing thing had me thinking my copy of the game was f**ked, but these are apparently all consciously made decisions.

The graphics itself has a certain style to it that may be charming to some people, but most of the time, I find that it’s jaggy, blurry, and the textures really could have been done a lot better. It’s especially noticeable when the camera zooms in on a character’s face or eye, and it makes me think “Wow, the Wii can do a lot better than this”. Even the 8-bit games look really greasy. Also, every time you kill someone, blood and bills will gush out like a sprinkler, only for it to rain down on the floor again. It’s quite a satisfying effect, it’s just that the blood won’t even stay on the floor, but just disappear immediately.

While I’m sitting here typing this, I can’t remember one single track from the whole game. I’m just getting songs from games I played further back right now, and that’s saying quite a bit. The “music” in this game is barely music, but best regarded as noise and is highly unmemorable. Briefly put: it sucks.

About the cutscenes, the general rule of thumb here is that if it’s not gory, it’s going to have an excessively amount of sexual focus. For example, there will be sexual innuendos, or the camera will constantly focus on boobs and ass. I find this to be a cheap way of distracting the player from the sh*tty plotline and gameplay, because after so many cutscenes, you’ll be sick of them doing all that. Oh, and almost every cutscene suffers from ridiculous frame rate drops in at least one point of it, and we’re talking around 5-10 FPS here. Some might argue that this is the Wii’s fault for not being able to process such powerful cutscenes correctly, but they really don’t look that impressive at all … This frame rate drop occasionally pops into the gameplay as well, though not as often, it is bothering. Heck, even the loading screen lag from time to time, and in one particular boss battle, the game is prone to freezing, as it did so three times for me. Pathetic. And I wish someone would have proofread the dialog subtitles, because they contain small typos here and there like I’ve never seen in any other game.

To the topic of the controls of the game, you basically have two options: Wii Remote + Nunchuk or the Classic Controller. Wanting to play with the “intended” controls, I went for the Wiimote and Nunchuk. Now here’s the awkward part, the motion controls are implemented really badly in this one. You have one button (A) for attacking with your katana, and depending on if you point the Wii Remote up or down, Travis will make a slow, strong attack, or a fast, weak attack. Using the B button, Travis will make a punch or kick depending on how you hold the controller. You can then chain these attacks and make a combo. I didn’t get this initially, and I blame the awkward control scheme for that. I really didn’t feel like I was in control when using this and it makes me wonder why the hell they didn’t utilize the Wii MotionPlus. I definitely think that would have helped NMH 2 overcome these issues. That being said, I decided to see how the Classic Control was put to use, and it was much better so. Here instead, you have two different buttons for the two types of attacks (Y & X) and the other two (A & B) for punches and kicks. You can also dodge using the right analog stick, but despite BEING an analog stick, you can only dodge in four directions, as these are transferred from the Wii Remote's D-pad.

When it comes to replay value, it gets a few points, as when you complete it, you unlock a third difficulty, which is always welcome. Now, when I first played through it, I played on the Mild difficulty, which is equivalent to Normal (There’s Sweet, Mild, and Bitter). In the beginning of it, the difficulty was quite uneven, where the enemies wouldn’t do sh*t, and the bosses would be totally overpowered. This seemed to even out further into the game however. You also get a deathmatch mode after completing it, where you can replay all the bosses in the game. Still though, the replay value drops remarkably as it is so repetitive.

Without spoiling anything (I really hope you won’t play this anyway) I need also mention that the end boss fight has another one of those moments where it could trick you into thinking the game is glitched. The boss will basically stop taking damage about 55 % through, and you’ll have to do something completely new to damage them. Quite irrational and just another example of the poor game design.

The problem with NMH 2 is that it tries to go back to the oldschool days of gaming, but they focus on entirely wrong things, like the unforgiving difficulty in certain places. One certain boss does this thing where she throws her katanas at you, and if you’re hit, you’re downed, and then she proceeds to throw them at you while you’re down, and so there’s no respite or time period where you’re invulnerable, so it’s a bit like Secret of Mana in that regard.

It’s a game that dares to do a lot that others wouldn’t, and I give it credit for that. On the other hand, this isn’t a game. It’s a motherf**king mess of an unfinished product. If Grasshopper can’t fix their issues before the next potential installment: no more No More Heroes.

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