A disclaimer before I begin: I have not played the original NMH before, and base my review of this game by itself, with no comparison to the first game.
NMH2 is quite a brutal looking hack n slasher starring master assassin Travis Touchdown. The moves are simple, the action is intense and over the top, and it tickles your funny bone, occasionally. Having conquered the rankings, Travis left Santa Destroy and comes back one day to find himself in the bottom rank. The subsequent story sees him slaying a bunch of bosses to reclaim the #1 spot. Of, course, he has a motive for doing so, if it's a bit...um, small.
Story-wise it was more straightforward than I expected, and not difficult to understand at all. I've heard many great things of Suda 51's meandering and complex story in the original No More Heroes, but none of that materialized in the 2nd game. Right off the bat you know who the final boss is, and the story progresses linearly without many plot twists at all. It's not bad by any means, but given the amount of praise the original game received for its storyline, I was really underwhelmed.
Right off the bat you know who the final boss is, the object of Travis' revenge, and once you clean off half the ranking matches the story progresses without remission with little to no plot twists at all. Things pop up in the story with no explanation and disappear abruptly too, although this can be attributed to me not playing the first NMH.
Now to talk about the rest of the game. The controls, for the most, part, are spot-on and work very well, except for the part where you have to wave the Wiimote to pull off a finisher- no matter which direction you swing it the game will accept it as the correct direction. The A Button is used to swing your beam katana(s) and the B Button is used for sparring and wrestling moves. There are quite a few other tricks in the combat system, one being the slots that roll when you kill an enemy. Line them up and Travis gets powered up. One variant slows down time, another fires projectiles off your katana, and so on. Re-charging the beam katana proves to be a hassle, swinging the Wiimote sideways, but you get used to it.
Combat, is like I said, slick and intense. You'll have many enemies to fight along your way to a ranking match. Kill everyone and move to the next area, and so on, until you reach the boss. Although it gets repetitive at some points, the varied environments and varied ways of killing people(finishing them off with the katana, doing different backdrops) keeps it somewhat fresh. The early bosses ooze creativity and are a sight to behold, and include some returning fan favorites from the first game(or so I'm being told based on the cutscenes), and the final showdown is insane as it should be.
The game isn't all combat, however. You start out in Travis' motel and when you head out you get to participate in side jobs to earn money, buy new clothes and weapons or build up your HP and attack power in a gym. The side jobs sound mundane when you get told what you have to do at first, but then, I was genuinely surprised to see the game take a complete turnaround to an 8-bit style of play. Yep, all the side jobs are absurd, funny 8-bit minigames. You catch bugs, deliver pizza and collect garbage from space all in a retro style. Before you start you'll even hear the familiar click-clacking of a cartridge going into its slot. Even the 'training programmes' in the gym are also delightfully 8-bit. It's hilarious to look and listen at and provides a nice change of pace. Especially the one where you have to cook steak, and your customers talk in their castrated, digital voices....'Tastes like sh**!'
Aesthetic-wise, I don't have much to comment, the graphics looks like the same cel-shaded style brought over from the previous game, and suits the atmosphere well especially with the limitations on the Wii's hardware capabilities. Finishers looks all good with a bit of bullet-time thrown in, and with liberal amounts of blood. The voice-overs are cool, but not as many profanities as in the first game(okay, so I have a bit of experience with it...watched it in a gameplay video), while the voice acting in cutscenes are superb.The music tracks or whatever there is of it sound great, but sometimes you get too many dead spots where no music plays at all. Overall, it doesn't impress, but it works, so I can't say I have many complaints here.
On the downside, some of the other side stuff you do in the game seem pointless. For example, you can drop a bomb on buying clothes, but what's the point on buying them if they're displayed on Travis' front part of his body, when most of the time the camera would be facing his back? Another point are the collectibles you get for Travis' room. They're there and they look cool but you can't interact with them in any way, and you don't get any extra video games for the television set(aside from a wacky anime shoot-em-up which ends with a boss with lolpears for guns......no really). Having Travis' cat go on a diet is also another thankless task, you don't know how much weight it should lose, or what you get for it, it's just there for the sake of it.
Also, despite what the game claims, there aren't many 'challengers' to Travis' current rank, save for one person and a handful of timed 'revenge missions'. You either do those or you choose whatever side jobs you want to take, or you just dive back in to the main meat of the story. I felt there should be more to do with a game of this scale, maybe more bosses to fight would be nice, coming from lower ranks too, rather than from higher ranks, some unexpected, forced fights would be great. As it stands, you can complete the story within 4 hours(taking in account the sidequests and other stuff won't add much more), which makes NMH2 a pretty short game, and upon completion you're thrown back to the beginning with a Hard mode.
(One of my pet peeves is having to restart the story over and over each time you beat a game, but that's for another story.)
But despite all that it's not all bad, it's just not as outstanding as I hoped for and it definitely won't live up to the sparkling reputation of the first NMH, but it's still a fun, violent romp and one of the better games for the Nintendo Wii for these few months.