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Something Better Change: No More Heroes 2 + The Forgotten Sands (Wii) EU reviews

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REVIEW #5

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Barely Playable; 0: Non-Functional.

NO MORE HEROES: DESPERATE STRUGGLE
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Console: Wii
Players: One

"Everybody deals with grief differently, right? Some people f**k at funerals. I cut off heads." So explains Travis Touchdown, otaku-assassin and gaming counter-culture icon returned to avenge the murder of his best friend Bishop. Gone is the insecure lanky wannabe from his original outing, replaced by a man as lethal with the ladies as he is with his trademark beam katana. Travis knows who he is and what he does. Having seen No More Heroes become the first in a line of slow-burn sleeper hits on the Wii, developers Grasshopper knows what Travis does too and they give him back to us in spades. Everything in this highly-anticipated sequel is streamlined for more Travis moments, more often. Boss battles? Add another five. Otaku culture? An arcade shooter and animé intro ready to play on his TV. Eye for the ladies? New bouncy boob physics. Beloved characters? Shinobu and Mister Sir Henry Motherf**ker playable, with moves lifted from their boss battles. Yes sir, there's everything here a Travis addict could dream of. But why then does it all feel so... perfunctory?

The original No More Heroes revelled in itself. It was a game too busy laughing at its own jokes and delighting in its adolescent fantasies to care if you didn't like how it looked or behaved. No other game has been so delighted to simply exist and if you managed to catch its slipstream, Travis dragged you along on a free-wheeling joyride that made you feel equally as giddy at the miracle of its creation. When Grasshopper declared it a figurehead of gaming punk, they meant it: it did all the things games weren't supposed to and flipped two fingers at anyone trying to protest. They just didn't get it, were part of the establishment, too obsessed with big budgets and new technology to remember to have fun. No More Heroes didn't give a damn what anyone thought and the more it shrugged, the more it was loved.

Desperate Struggle, creator Suda Goichi has often reiterated, is a game for the fans. Your adoration was appreciated and criticisms noted, here's the sequel you dreamt of. The combat is as thrillingly physical as ever, its basic mechanics wisely left untouched since using the Wii remote more ingeniously two years ago than any game since. The addition of new types of enemy adds layers to the crowd control strategies, while the ability to switch katanas on the fly (the usual slow-but-powerful or fast-but-weak types) and refined combat bonuses (when your ecstasy gauge is full, you can either go into a super-accelerated attack mode or risk waiting for the usually more effective slot machine rewards, now including a tiger transformation) rectifies the fighting system's few annoyances while adding to its depths. It lacks the oomph that came from pulling off a successful dark-slide (still in the game but in underpowered form and barely used), but the change gives No More Heroes veterans something new to learn, despite being intermittently undermined by a stubborn fixed camera. There's even a new hidden move to find.



But while the combat is more perfect than ever, much of the rest of the game feels flat. Where one of the greatest joys of No More Heroes was it springing surprises at every turn, Desperate Struggle often feels out of ideas. The problem with slavishly trying to adhere to your audience's wishes is that most fans react instinctively (feature A – good; feature B – bad) without giving thought to how the removal of one ugly cog can affect the game's entire mechanism. The removal of the overworld on one hand plays into Travis' new status: crowned champion, he is now above the mundanities of everyday existence and his life becomes a series of recorded moments. Yet it makes the game feel segmented, like picking scenes from a DVD menu rather than watching the whole film. The new 2D side-jobs are enjoyable but as the only source of real money (assassination missions are out) take too long to complete and feel like they've been pasted in from a different game . Mowing lawns and collecting coconuts in the first game might not have been appreciated, but they emphasized a vital part of who Travis was, as well as making the ranking fights more thrilling by proxy. In Desperate Struggle, the side-jobs feel like a loose end. The loss of one-hit-kill missions is also felt: as unforgiving as they were, there was no better way of learning the combat's divide-and-conquer tactical nuances. The story is a brilliantly devised conclusion to the series, but even the all-important bosses feel less vital now and the increased number sneaks in a few duds: the giant mech fight is slow, clunky and boring, while the sixth battle is ridiculously easy. The two sections aboard Travis' Schpeltiger bike, especially the lead-in to the tenth boss, feel superfluous and broken.

Despite these problems, by keeping the core formula and functions of the first game intact, the sequel remains a great deal of fun for the vast part. But given how unique and free its predecessor was, it's impossible not to feel some sadness for Desperate Struggle's refusal to try new things or pull the rug out from under your feet. Why do revenge missions add nothing to the story? Perhaps the game could have given Travis a more non-linear path through the game, hunting down those responsible for Bishop's death while being challenged by eager new assassins, instead of repeating his trawl through the UAA rankings. Too much feels like it's here just because it was there before. Grasshopper know Travis perhaps too well, not realising that fans didn't love him for doing the things he did, but for doing things they didn't expect. It feels like an annual sports game update, bringing better graphics, tweaked gameplay and more players, but little that's genuinely new. A return to Travis' world is as welcome as it will ever be and there's plenty for fans to sink their teeth into, but this second trip feels more Sandi Thom's idea of punk than The Stranglers'. A good game following an all-time great, the most desperate struggle here is to still see that 'Punx not dead' slogan as a statement rather than a question.

7



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I Want Your Love & I Want Your Revenge: No More Heroes series analysis

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PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE FORGOTTEN SANDS
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Publisher: Ubisoft
Console: Wii
Players: Two

It's a pleasant change that when a Wii experience is touted as being different from the equivalent releases on the HD consoles, it means something more positive than enduring another lazy ports. Ubisoft built the Wii iteration of Forgotten Sands from the ground up, going so far as to include the original Prince of Persia as an unlockable extra (look for the potion behind the waterfalls, near the first genie statue). It's not just a different game, but one which utilises the functions of the Wii remote to create a different kind of experience: the pointer is used to create hooks on walls and vortices on the ground to assist your ascendancy through the series' trademark elaborate architecture. While not as ingenious as previous games' sands of time mechanic (which is given one incongruous reference), you are allowed greater freedom in tackling obstacles and defining your own path to reaching goals. By at first restricting your use of powers to specific pads, a thorough grounding is given in how each ability works, going a long way in overcoming any doubts once the training gloves come off. As with the old 2D Metroid games, it's possible to avoid short segments of the game with ingenious deployment of your abilities. Ubisoft Quebec actively encourage you to find new ways of pulling off the seemingly-impossible: secrets and upgrades are often hidden in plain sight, but in places requiring huge ingenuity to reach. If something is missed first time around, you'll usually pass through the same area again later with new powers to take another shot.

As admirable as its developer's intentions were, Forgotten Sands is severely hampered by two major flaws. The worst of these is the camera: in open spaces it works fine, allowing you to tweak its position with the C Button and pointer. But as the game goes on and obstacles and environments grow in complexity, it struggles to keep up and adopts positions that make it frustratingly difficult to perform the kinds of precise actions asked of you. Were the controls perfect it wouldn't be so much of a problem, but while they're for the most part satisfactory, there's a taint of imprecision that can result in repeated deaths because of the camera's refusal to adopt a helpful angle for the Prince to make in the pixel-perfect jumps he needs to. Running up walls and doing endless flips are a cinch, but asking him to reach out three inches and grab a handle to save him from falling to his death is out of the question. I had to perform most of the stunts in the latter part of the game with my finger pressed on the C Button to keep the camera from flying back to its original useless position – it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out how impractical that solution is.



The second problem is the combat, taking its cue from Twilight Princess by mapping attacks to waves of the remote. I'm not as inherently against this kind of control as many and would even like how the Prince's left and right hands are controlled with the devices in your respective hands, were it not for the Prince's left-hand punch being so utterly useless (it's supposed to break enemies' blocking, which is more convenient to get around with a special move). As it stands, my main criticism of using motion in this way is its imprecision: if I swipe, I want to see my character swipe in the same direction. If I stab, I want him to do the same. Without the exactitude of Motion Plus, all that's left is mindlessly bouncing the remote around in your hand until the screen is clear. While annoying, the waggle isn't the main problem with the combat by a long shot: what really makes it a chore is how weak and how limited in number your attacks are, interminably dragging out fights and encouraging repeated spamming of the same moves. The inability to deactivate the lock-on also inhibits the Prince's movement, combining with the neurotic camera to make your heart sink every time a room's doors lock in preparation for battle.

Despite frustrations in camera and combat, the game offers some marvellous-looking environments to explore. While technically no more impressive than a decent PS2 game, the Arabian temple art direction is diverse enough to stay interesting, while colours are bold and appealingly co-ordinated. A shame so little effort is made in giving each chapter its own distinctive visual identity: the Prince moves through rooms designed like a palace interior to a city exterior and then gardens in succession, where designing each chapter around one specific setting would have given a greater sense of progression. The story is laughably flimsy, but doesn't interrupt gameplay too often, other than for a few lines of tepid dialogue between the Prince and his genie companion. The only time the writing becomes a problem is for the game's ending, which manages in one turn to kill any satisfaction in reaching the end while simultaneously not making much sense. At twelve hours, the game is respectably substantial and despite getting repetitive by the end, its value is padded out with a plethora of extras including challenges, speed runs and videos.

Given Ubisoft Quebec's admirable dedication both to pushing the franchise in new directions and giving Wii owners a game to proudly call their own, it's a great shame that the mistakes made were damaging enough to drag much of the experience down with them. It's the most forward-thinking game of the 3D Prince of Persia series, but the weakest in execution. The Prince may feel he no longer needs the sands of time, but a few rewinds might have given him a better game.

5



PREVIOUS REVIEWS

Sin & Punishment 2

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Heavy Rain/Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

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About Xander Markhamone of us since 3:08 PM on 02.07.2010

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I'm a 26-year old English writer, formerly known on the CBlogs as Xandaça. I've been an avid gamer since I was a wee lad, gripping a NES controller in my hands and comprehensively failing to get past those infuriating Hammer Bros on Level 8-3 of Super Mario Bros. I've stuck with Nintendo since then (not for any animosity towards the other console makers of course - Nintendo just make games I enjoy and have grown up with), apart from a brief sojourn with a Sony PlayStation, several woeful attempts to play Half-Life 2 using a laptop touchpad and sporadically wrangling a turn on my sister's beloved Sega Saturn.

In addition to burping out the occasional novel, I'm a passionate critic, writing reviews and articles of films, book and games for my school magazine and university newspaper, for which I created and edited its film section. In addition to starting up my own blog, covering television, games and movies, I am also a writer for Destructoid's cine-geek sister Flixist. While primarily a film geek, the evolution of the games industry over the course of its short lifetime has fascinated me and provided vast quantities of content for some incendiary pieces of work - perhaps a few more might spring up on here?

My Favourite Games of All Time (because who doesn't love having a few Of All Time lists?) are GoldenEye 007 (which I still play through at least once a year to remind me of its glories), Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Gunstar Heroes, Super Mario Bros 3 (I don't know who told Shigsy Miyamoto-san that raccoons could fly, but I'll love them forever) and No More Heroes.

I hope you find great enjoyment in my many scribings, and please keep an eye out for upcoming news on my novel(s) and do pay a visit to my blog sometime. And yes, the Dtoid community's 'no copy and paste' rule will be fully respected!

Good gaming, everyone!