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PAX 2009 Impressions: No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle

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When No More Heroes was first announced for the Wii, many Wii owners let out a sigh of relief because they were finally getting a bloody, mature game to whet their appetites. Still, they wanted more, and when No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle was revealed at last year's Tokyo Game Show, there was yet another sigh of relief. That second one was probably more so because the game was getting a sequel, even though it had not sold as well as expected.

Still, it wasn't until PAX that No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle was made playable in demo form, tucked away in a corner of Ubisoft's booth while the Splinter Cell: Conviction live demo got top billing. What I played of Desperate Struggle at PAX — a demo on the floor consisting of a few rooms and what is presumably the game's first boss — leads me to believe it will fare much better when it comes to game sales.

One of the first things I notice is that Desperate Struggle retains much of what made the first game such a delight to play. Combat is again button-based with the Wii remote being used to both charge up your sword (and yes, once again, Travis uses that up and down motion that makes him look like he's doing something else) and to execute the game's brutal executions by swinging the Wii Remote in the right direction when prompted. The biggest game play difference, though, is the inclusion of new sets of swords for Travis in addition to his beam katana: two separate beam swords that offer a slight difference in what moves and executions he pulls off. I'm sure there is a lot more to those two new swords than that, but only being able to play through one level kept me from finding out. The swords are interchangeable using the 1 button, which leads me to believe there will be game play requiring you to change them in the middle of levels or boss battles. On top of that, two other swords were shown in a new trailer at PAX, including a huge beam katana that's almost Final Fantasy-like.

Suda 51 had promised an improved A.I. set as well, and it was certainly visible in Desperate Struggle. Both fighting the normal enemies and the boss at the end of the demo level were much harder than in the first title. They knew what angles to take to get to my blind sides and an enemy with a gun knew to stay out of range and fire away. Well, at least until I finally sliced him in half.

The story and dialogue of Desperate Struggle, or what little snippet I saw in my short time with it had to provide, is also very similar to the first No More Heroes game. I don't want to spoil anything, but it's filled with all of the craziness, blood and cussing that made the first game such a thrill ride, especially in the first boss fight against Nathan Copeland. He's the dude with the morphing beatbox you saw in the first game, and whether it transforms into giant robot arms or shoots powerful rockets at you out of its speakers, Nathan's character certainly fits in with the other crazy assassins of the No More Heroes universe. The rest of the story sounds promising and hints at a lengthy story: it features Travis coming out of a self-imposed retirement and re-entering the assassin's ranks with 50 other killers above him. I guess that would make him number 51 (gee, I wonder why that number was picked?) and means there are going to be 49 other boss fights outside of Nathan in Desperate Struggle, though it was earlier announced not all bosses would be one-on-one encounters like the first game.

Graphically, the game looks much the same, somewhat underpolished but intentionally left that way. The cel-shaded art style that looked great in No More Heroes is also back, as is the rock-infused soundtrack that was so popular last time around. It really helps set the tone for each battle as you slice through minions on your way to the boss. It does get somewhat drowned out amongst the screams of the enemies and the sounds of the beam swords, though.

I am really not looking forward to No More Heroes moving to the Xbox 360 after Desperate Struggle, simply because it's not going to be the same kind of game. Sure, the craziness that Suda 51 is known for will still be there, but without the Wii remote and with the 360 controller and/or Natal-based controls, it's just going to be an entirely different beast. But at least Desperate Struggle is shaping up to be one hell of a goodbye to Wii owners, and they ought to give the game a big parting hug by picking it up when it releases in January 2010.

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