Suda 51 likes madness; clearly. No More Heroes, his Wii-exclusive third-person hack-em-up through barmy boss fights and mundane part-time jobs, was mental. The sequel, Desperate Struggle, is even crazier.
No More Heroes' stylised visuals, video game references and over-the-top violence (this time with spraying blood), return. So does the Johnny Knoxville-inspired anti-hero Travis Touchdown, who this time climbs up the assassin ladder because he reckons Sylvia Christel - the voluptuous United Assassins Association agent from the first game - will have sex with him if he hits the number one spot. Travis is as horny as ever, but the camera is even more obsessed with tits and arse than the game's spiky-haired protagonist. In between assassination missions we perv over Christel at every available opportunity, glancing a peek at her knickers from behind a pane of glass and zooming in on her breasts as she wobbles about on a vibrating exercise machine.
And the beam katanas return, too. There are two types of stances: low and high, a slash attack, and a melee attack, which doubles as a grab from which you can do wrestling moves like suplexes by following the on-screen waggle prompts (or the thumb stick prompts, if you're using the Classic Controller).
No More Heroes 2's combat is as basic and unsophisticated as it was in its predecessor. All it amounts to is locking on to a target, spamming sword slices and emergency evading out of the way of retaliatory attacks. It's occasionally frustrating, too. The camera, over which you have hardly any control, sometimes decides to lobotomise itself, particularly in enclosed areas. But my main beef with the game's slashing and body slamming is that it's repetitive. As you progress further up the assassin ladder the game spawns more and more enemies lifted from its dozen or so bad guy variations - a lazy move that only serves to highlight the combat's failings.
The Tension Gauge, which fills up by killing enemies but decreases when you get hit, adds a degree of depth. Depending on how full it is, you trigger different results: if it's over 75 per cent combo attacks are extended, for example. If it's at its maximum, however, a press of the minus button triggers Darkside mode, turning Travis into a tiger and mauling his enemies in gruesome slow motion.
In reality, though, the Tension Gauge and Darkside mode just extend the number of ways Travis can kill a man (or thing, as is often the case). At the end of the day, fighting in No More Heroes 2 is as throwaway an experience as it was in the first game, and not significantly improved. When the most memorable thing about the combat is the fact that Travis looks like he's masturbating when you recharge his beam katana, and the icon that displays his weapon's energy looks like a penis, you know it's poor.
But we suffer the combat's flaws because No More Heroes 2 is often spectacularly barmy and astonishingly violent. Death blows decapitate screaming enemies and split torsos in half both vertically and horizontally. Suplexes slam skulls into the concrete with the ferocity of a thousand professional wrestlers. When the blood's spraying it's hard not to feel the kind of satisfaction you get from Tarantino's Kill Bill, a film that has clearly influenced No More Heroes 2's design.
This is especially true of the boss fights, which are easily the game's best moments. In one, an Irish-accented man with ghetto blasters for arms chucks blaxploitation girls at Travis like spears. In another, an American Football jock merges with cheerleaders to form a skyscraper-sized anime robot; Travis jumps inside a robot of his own and the game turns into a side-on fighting game. There are brain robots, mutated baby-faced ghosts and undead women. You will never forget No More Heroes 2's boss fights. Never ever.
What you will forget, however, are the side jobs. The first game was criticised for forcing you to do boring mini-games for cash. In the sequel the side jobs return, but instead of having to carry coconuts around in the game's 3D world, we're now presented with a raft of 8-bit styled mini-games complete with all the digital beeps and boops that defined the Eighties. Examples include fitting Tetris-esque shapes perfectly into a square, cooking steaks, and this God-awful 2D side-scrolling platformer where you have to catch falling coconuts from palm trees.
The thing about the mini-games is that once you get over the novelty of playing them, you realise that they're all really crap, as are most games of that era. No More Heroes 2 is one big gamer in-joke (Sylvia doesn't bother explaining what Travis has been up to in the three years that have past since the first game because, as she puts it, gamers don't care about continuity), but it's a joke that soon gets old.
While so much of what made No More Heroes good (and bad) remains, developer Grasshopper Manufacture has made a couple of significant improvements that help streamline the experience. It's scrapped the open world city Santa Destroy from the first game, which Travis zipped around in on his bike, and replaced it with a teleport system. From the map screen you can jump to side jobs, Travis' hotel room and the main assassination missions, which, thankfully, you no longer have to pay to take on. This leaves you free to dip in and out of the side jobs as you see fit - cash now is only required if you want to buy new weapons, new clothes, or improve Travis' statistics by working out in the gym.
The lack of city exploration saves a lot of time that would otherwise be spent driving around what would probably have been a dour, lifeless virtual city - as was the case in the last game. But it has little impact on the flow. You register for a ranking battle, earn some cash through part-time jobs, visit the shops to buy new weapons and clothes, then take on the ranking battle, hopefully defeating the boss (13 this time) and gaining a promotion on the assassination ladder. Then you go home, save (again, while Travis takes a dump) and repeat. This isn't a criticism; indeed it deserves praise. No More Heroes 2 hurtles along at a breakneck speed, its river of blood dragging you along a current so strong there's no point fighting it.
My main beef with No More Heroes 2 is that it's all style over substance. Don't get me wrong, this is one of the better Wii games, and it's refreshingly different and full of cool characters and ideas. But the gameplay that underpins it all is, frankly, rubbish. No More Heroes is both unique and crap; pleasurable but pointless.
You get the feeling, though, that No More Heroes 2's flaws are deliberate; as if they're all part of Suda 51's maniacal plan for world domination. When you've got a game that looks this cool, how can you not enjoy it? Perhaps we're just not worthy. Perhaps No More Heroes 2, like its predecessor, works on a level our feeble brains aren't capable of comprehending. Perhaps it's so post-modern it's post-post-modern. Well screw that, as Travis Touchdown might have said.