No More Heroes is a franchise I totally forgot I needed in my life. I played the first two to death when they released on the Wii, and always wanted to see where the series was headed or even if we would ever see Travis Touchdown again. The series has long been known to be a bizarre little love letter to gaming, and with Travis Strikes Again, director Goichi Suda (known as Suda51) is as sharp as ever. This time paying homage largely to the indie game scene, Travis Strikes Again is No More Heroes but not as you know it.
The general premise of the plot is best left unexplained, but the game opens with Bad Man trying to murder Travis Touchdown as revenge for him murdering his daughter, Bad Girl from the first game. Somehow, through some strange power, they’re both sucked into the Death Drive MkII, Travis’s rare unreleased gaming console, and must fight their way out. It’s a bonkers story though I’d expect no less from auteur director Suda51 – and includes elements of government conspiracies, existential crises and talking cats (and sheep).Travis Strikes Again might take place in the No More Heroes universe but it certainly plays a whole lot differently. The general premise of the game is that you’ll play as Travis or Bad Man as they venture through six different video games on the Death Drive. Each of the games is littered with bugs that need eradicating as well as a boss. Much like the first two games, the highlights are the boss battles, though unlike the first two games there’s a lot less of them. Still, Travis Strikes Again evokes the spirit of the No More Heroes games but in an entirely different way.
Most of the game is played through a top down perspective, not unlike Diablo and Baldur’s Gate. The difference is that Travis Strikes Again is incredibly fast paced, requiring players to dodge and evade attacks not unlike a game like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. The difference in Travis Strikes Again is in its simplicity – which would normally hold back a game like this. Instead, Travis Strikes Again takes its simplistic premises and transposes them into strange and bizarre situations.Each of the unreleased Death Drive video games Travis jumps into has its own aesthetic and look, but also features unique gimmicks too. One might take the form of a side-scrolling platform game (primarily), while another is a Resident Evil-esque search for clues through an elaborate mansion. One of them even has you fighting to earn parts to upgrade your virtual reality race car (yes, a game within a game. So meta).
Each of these games has their own title screen and intro cinematic too – including one that fans of Suda51’s previous work will absolutely adore which I won’t spoil for you. What I’m trying to say is that even though the core gameplay is quite simplistic at first, each of the worlds Travis plows through are different enough to keep things interesting.
There’s even a faux-magazine article for you to read before jumping into each game, which lists a review as if written in a real magazine and cheats for you to look out for. It’s a loving ode to that era of gaming.Travis and Bad Man can be upgraded using experience points earned from battles too, which improves their health and damage output. Similarly, Skill Chips can also be found in each level which give the guys more unique abilities to rely upon. Some of them might create a healing field, others might lift an enemy and throw them in a direction. Others summon an orbital satellite laser to damage a big group of enemies. There’s around twenty or so skills, of which 2-3 are unique to Travis and Bad Man, and it’s fun to experiment with these to find which suit your playstyle.
Perhaps the biggest thing to note here is that Travis Strikes Again can be played coop with a friend using as little as a single joy-con. This is a great and fun way to play, as the game is simple enough to be picked up and played by almost anyone, but the way progression is handled in the game feels a bit at odds with itself. Earned experience is shared between the two characters means that you’ll have to decide which character to level up – as you can’t level both using the same experience.As an example, on my solo run I finished with Travis at Level 10. Bad Man, on the other hand, was only Level 3 as I chose to focus less of my experience on him. I imagine playing with a friend would be awkward if you wanted to keep all the experience for yourself and it’d become even more awkward and complicated when two more characters are introduced with the downloadable content coming later this year.
If you’re playing solo, you can switch between the two characters though this is cumbersome, requiring you to go into a menu and switch out that way. It’s nice that it can be done at all and essentially gives you a second health bar and second set of abilities to switch between but being able to swap on-the-go would’ve been even better. Perhaps there’s a reason for this, but I couldn’t see one after my extensive time with the game.From start to finish, you can expect Travis Strikes Again to last you between eight to ten hours on your first playthrough, though if you’re a score fiend you’ll want to revisit the levels on one of the four difficulty levels to try and do better. Completing the game awards a new difficulty mode to jump through, though completionists will probably just want to earn enough cash to buy the game’s huge variety of graphic tees – all printed with logos of famous indie games (and a new Nintendo ones too).
Potentially the biggest question most players would have been whether this simplified gameplay style remains interesting from beginning to end. Thankfully, it does. The game’s pacing feels well-tuned, although the final level does become a bit of a grind. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to finish this stage in one sitting, but it was the only time in the game’s whole story that I felt it was a bit grating. Otherwise, the combat is simple but excellent and the enemy encounters and gimmicks inserted here and there (including racing, a visual novel style of exposition and puzzles) keep things fresh.Obviously, being a budget release, Travis Strikes Again was never meant to be a looker but what’s on display here is highly stylised and very good looking. It’s no technical marvel, but the game looks better than its predecessors, which is always good. Playing docked is definitely the better option, as the visuals are sharper and the absolutely phenomenal soundtrack is better serviced on a nice pair of speakers, while playing handheld does give the visuals a bit of a softer look.
I mentioned the soundtrack and will reiterate again – this is one of the finest soundtracks in any of Grasshopper’s games, with an eclectic mix of heavy electronica and kooky sci-fi inspired fare. Of course, I’m still humming the classic No More Heroes tune days after finishing the game, which is catchy as ever and incorporated nicely into the different game worlds which each have their own unique sound too.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
What would otherwise be a mess is beautifully brought together in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. While much more simplistic when compared to its predecessors, Travis Strikes Again is a fun and fast paced action game that commands your attention from beginning to end. It has a few pacing issues, especially towards the end and the co-op implementation might not be perfect, but Travis Strikes Again is yet another momentous trip through the wicked and warped mind of Suda51.