Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes features the otaku assassin slicing and dicing his way through his favorite video games in a project no less weird than Suda 51’s previous works but still one of his lesser efforts.
Title: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: January 18, 2019
Suda 51 is clearly a guy with a lot of interesting ideas about video games. He’s always seemed on the cusp of having one of his titles break beyond the “cult classic” status and be up there with the likes of Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear) or Yoko Taro (Nier: Automata). Would his latest venture, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, on the incredibly popular Nintendo Switch, finally be the game that gets him the notice he deserves?
To be sure, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes features many Suda 51 trademarks that have garnered him a small but pretty loyal fanbase over the years. It’s got a lot of meta-commentary on the state of video games along with what some might categorize as an overwhelming amount of self-awareness in addition to some just plain weird stuff.
The setup of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is that Travis Touchdown, the number one assassin in the world has gotten a little tired and burnt out from his profession. For the last several years, he has just been hiding out in his trailer in the middle of nowhere playing video games.
Travis’ past, however, catches up with him. Badman, the father of an assassin Travis killed in the first No More Heroes game, has tracked him down and seeks revenge. This somehow leads to them being sucked into Travis’ game console, a rare device with mostly un-released experimental games called the Death Drive MkⅡ. What follows is a journey through a bunch of video-game genres where Travis must defeat “bugs” as well as the protagonist of each game; many of which are childhood heroes of his.
As mentioned, a big feature of games by Suda 51 is the meta-commentary and humor; it’s very much present in Travis Strikes Again. There are jokes about budget cuts, development time, references to other game developers, real and fake games, and so on. It’s generally hit and miss throughout though, and in places where it should be pushed harder, it’s barely acknowledged.
The best example of this might be “Sheepman”; a mid-boss you face with increasing difficulty in every level. There is a dialogue between Travis and the Sheepman in every level before they fight and while the Sheepman indicates he’s tougher with a line or two, Travis simply doesn’t react to it. In fact, he should be making quips (voiced or otherwise) throughout the levels you are playing, but almost all that is reserved for the “scenario” gameplay.
There are essentially two modes in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. There are the levels you play through in the Death Drive MkⅡ console and the “scenarios” where Travis goes in search of the “death balls” that contain the games he must complete. The “scenarios” play out like a visual novel, which is a fun concept in the same vein of Deadpool going “we don’t have the budget to bring in all the X-Men,” but it also gets old and seems pointless after awhile.
It would be different if maybe you had to make decisions or at least had some kind of interactivity or was incorporated into the action sections in some way, but as is it just seems like a waste of time the more you have to do it.
In Suda 51’s best titles (No More Heroes, No More Heroes 2, Shadows of the Damned), the humor and weirdness are complemented by arguably flawed but still extremely enjoyable action. The primary mode of Travis Strikes Again is a mostly top-down, but occasionally another perspective fairly mindless hack-n-slash action. There are breaks in this. You race in a vector game; you play an asteroids clone. But these are rare; 95% of the action has you swinging your beam katana mindlessly through hordes of enemies till you hit a boss.
It’s competently done hack-and-slash action to be sure, but it’s certainly disappointing to anyone who’s been a fan of the over-the-top action present in any of Suda 51’s previous games. It also seems like there’s a lot of missed potential here. Badman is a playable character but the differences between him and Travis are minimal, so there’s little reason to switch. There is co-op, but it would’ve made a lot of sense to have him as an A.I. controlled partner that quibbles with Travis throughout the levels that a second player could take over whenever they wanted.
As is, after the initial introduction, Badman doesn’t matter to the story. He’s not developed any further, doesn’t take part in any of the scenario sequences, and you can’t talk to him at your camp. There was real potential for a wacky, twisted, odd couple comedy here and it’s not even attempted.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes seems like a bunch of ideas half-realized. The most telling of these is that it’s supposedly an homage to indie games. There are dozens of shirts you can collect featuring the actual logos of indie games such as Steamworld Dig 2, Undertale, Enter the Gungeon, Hatoful Boyfriend, etc. However, that’s the only evidence that he was inspired by any of them.
How cool would it have been to have Travis Touchdown in a pigeon dating simulator? Or a turn-based strategy game? Or a game where he’s encouraged not to kill anyone? It’s not a celebration or exploration of these different games and genres if the gameplay mostly boils down to one or two play styles.
Despite this, I would say I enjoyed most of my time in my roughly 10 hours spent with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. The humor and pure weirdness worked for me more often than it didn’t, and though mostly mindless, the hack-and-slash gameplay that comprised the majority of the game still felt fun in a Smash TV-esque fashion that didn’t wear out its welcome and there are definitely a lot of fun references for longtime fans of Suda 51’s work.
It’s just that there seems to be potential for Travis Strikes Again to be so much more than a perfectly ok action game with merely decent commentary on games as a medium.