No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle returns players to the fictional town of Santa Destroy and the story of luckless yet stylish geek Travis Touchdown. Where his first outing saw him hit the No. 1 ranking in a society of weirdo assassins in the hopes of getting laid, he’s now tumbled to rank 51, and must battle his way back to the top to find out who killed his best friend.
The brawler pairs joyfully tactile, Wii-mote-driven katana-swinging with professional wrestling moves in almost exactly the same fashion as the previous incarnation. It’s still some of the best combat ever designed on the platform, so why mess with a good thing? The sequel has brilliantly streamlined its predecessor’s shortcomings: The open-world structure pegged as the earlier title’s main dull moment has been replaced with an attractive map that can be quickly navigated from a simple menu, and Travis can still take part-time jobs that play as cleverly-designed 8-bit arcade titles. Even his cat has more interaction—as a hilarious side project, you can help her lose the weight she gained while Travis was falling from grace.
As Travis’ motive is now avenging a friend rather than earning personal time with the mysterious Sylvia Christel (who’s also back to alternately seduce and castigate him), the tone is a little darker—but the edgy humor, surrealism, and outlandish characters are even more effective by contrast, an excess of sex and violence so celebratory, it becomes a satire of excess.
From a design perspective, No More Heroes 2 perfects a formula. But it’s most laudable for the way it simultaneously mocks and adores the videogame culture that birthed it without conceding to shallow in-jokes. Keenly stylized and bleeding with personality, it achieves hip in a fashion rarely seen in games. It’s fitting that the logo for Grasshopper Manufacture calls the team a “videogame band” and declares that “punk’s not dead.” The first No More Heroes game was on its way to a genre-defining marriage of retro-cool and avant-garde. With this polished sequel, it arrives.