Tuesday, February 02, 2010

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Impressions #1)

The original No More Heroes was #9 in my favorite games of the decade list that I posted a while back, so this was one of my most-anticipated games of the year.

So far, though, I have to admit that I'm a bit disappointed.

Here's the thing: the original NMH was silly and profane, but it was also totally exuberant. It was ridiculous and over-the-top in terms of violence, but while it was nominally a story about an assassin killing other assassins to advance up the league table, it somehow retained a sense of innocence. It was also wickedly funny, with some of the most inspired dialogue and plot twists I've ever experienced in a game.

If Quentin Tarantino ever made a video game, I'd like to think it would be something like No More Heroes.

There's something about No More Heroes 2, that's putting me off. It doesn't feel exuberant; it feels angry. It's much darker than the original, and it has a leering quality that lacks the playfulness of the first game. It feels mean-spirited, almost, although I'm still grappling with why I feel that way.

Well, I think I know why I feel that way. In the first game, Travis's journey to become the #1 assassin in the world is almost a lark. In the sequel, his motivation is revenge, and it gives the game a very different vibe.

There are also two design changes that (for me) are disappointing. The first is that Travis doesn't ride his motorcycle to missions anymore. I had great fun tooling around town in the first game, and it helped firmly establish a sense of place. In this game, Travis quick-travels everywhere by just selecting a location on the map, and while it's certainly faster, it makes the game feel like a number of discrete actions instead of a unified whole. It doesn't feel right.

The second change is that the menial employment mini-games, which were goofy and quite fun in the first game (as well as being a ridiculous counterpoint to Travis's other life as an assassin), have now been changed into 8-bit style video games (think NES). That's a great idea, and it's incredibly clever, but it doesn't work very well, because the games just aren't fun. They're tedious, at best, and while the original's mini-games weren't exactly enthralling, it was very funny to see what Travis had to do in the "real world" to make money. The 8-bit games, though, are a departure from the game world with no real purpose, and they're not fun.

I'm hoping that this is just teething pain, so to speak, and after I get adjusted to some of the new features, I'll change my mind, because I really, really want to like this game. So far, though, it doesn't compare to the original.

Site Meter