I’ve always admired the world of Goichi “Suda 51” Suda and Grasshopper Manufacture, as he’s always made games his way. They may be a bit offbeat for some tastes, but they're always unique, with releases ranging from Killer Is Dead to Shadows of the Damned to his collaboration with James Gunn, Lollipop Chainsaw. But even then, No More Heroes and the escapades of lightsaber-wielding killer Travis Touchdown stand out, and that trend continues with No More Heroes: Travis Strikes Again.
The first two games, including the sequel Desperate Struggle, were real gems on the Wii. But with the Switch, he takes a different direction with Travis Strikes Again, opting for more of a hack-and-slash style adventure that’s better suited for the platform. It’s a gamble that pays off in the long run, mainly because Suda and his team continue to embrace the unusual but impressive style that worked so well in previous endeavors.
Travis Strikes Again is mostly placed in a top-down setting as Travis makes his way through a series of games on the Death Drive MK-II console, one of his main sources of entertainment in a trailer park which you can explore in-between stages. He’s in a race against Badman, a rival that’s not too thrilled with Travis murdering his assassin daughter in a previous game. The two of them engage in a battle to beat the six bosses strewn throughout the game’s universes in the hopes of receiving a special wish.
The game relies on the aforementioned hack-and-slash tactics as players come across various types of enemies regardless of whether they're exploring neighborhoods to reach a house filled with would-be killers or fighting their way through a Resident Evil-style mansion in an attempt to retrieve coffee and doughnuts to open up more rooms. Players will clear a room of baddies, collect what’s necessary, save by sitting on a toilet and “letting loose,” and repeat. There are variations that mix things up every once in a while like a neat Tron-inspired racing game with timed shifting and nifty visuals, but slashing enemies is the general idea.
Even with the gameplay focus changing, it’s still good fun, as you’ll hack through enemies while leveling up and acquiring new skills such as being able to fling an opponent with a special finisher like a force blast. Co-op is also recommended here, as two players can hack away at enemy forces collectively, making the game slightly easier. This is especially useful with boss battles, which possess old-school methods of defeat that will need to be puzzled out.
Unfortunately, there is a little grind to the game. Some levels require players to hit switches in a certain order to move on, such as taking down a wall by attacking them in the right order. Travis Strikes Again is certainly a game that requires experimentation at times, but it’s not entirely a bad thing. Players might just discover a hidden item or two in the process, like tokens that unlock special gear for Travis and Badman.
The worst aspect of this is that the weapons of No More Heroes -- which are awesome -- require charge to continue running. To do that, players have to shake it ferociously a few times. With motion controls, this can get a little tiring, and even with a Pro Controller, having to click in the left analog stick and then tap the right one repeatedly can get old. It also leaves players way too vulnerable if foes are attacking, especially the aggressive bosses, forcing folks to scramble for a safe spot to recharge before getting back in the action.
Fortunately, the game has other ingredients that help it click. Along with the fun beat-'em-up gameplay, there’s a text minigame called Travis Strikes Back with a whimsical story filled with hilarious twists and turns. There’s a lot of text here, so it may not be for everyone, but getting through each chapter rewards players with a new cartridge for the Death Drive, so it pays off in the long run.
There's also bonuses that unlock new shirts for Travis to wear in the game. Some of these are pretty familiar, based on popular indie games like the upcoming Blazing Chrome as well as Hollow Knight. Players can buy and change these out on their character at any time. They don’t provide any statistical advantage, but they are cool to look at.
For good fun, you can also read faxes, check out ramen dishes to regain health, and engage with oddball characters. It’s all part of the experience, and, like the ramen, fans will eat it up.
Of course, this game would be for naught if it didn’t have style to go along with the amusing hack-and-slash gameplay. Fortunately, the game accomplishes this with ease, as each stage features some terrific level design that will keep players from losing interest.
Each of the game themes are not only unique, but well executed, and the new enemies that are introduced around every corner provide some allure to the overall package, even if some -- like a big skull lurking around the neighborhood trying to end the game early -- can be a bigger nuisance than expected.
The game's art style is fantastic, and it looks great on both handheld Switch screen and television. There are times things can be a bit too zoomed out, but it all remains a part of the game’s engrossing setup. Travis' design is still iconic as well, though it makes Badman pale in comparison. (We haven’t seen the other characters provided in the game’s season pass yet, so it's hard to say if that trend continues.)
While generally being fans of the music, there are times it can repeat on occasion, but the themes here are lovely and enchanting to listen to. The sound effects are fun too, especially the old-school themed bits like the 80’s MIDI voice introducing the name of the Death Drive’s creator. The game’s cast is also in top form with Robin Atkin Downes once again voicing Travis like a boss and Steve Blum bringing some fire as Badman. The rest of the dialogue is garbled, but once you read it, you may find yourself cracking up. It's not often you get to see a large goat-looking man talk crap about things.
Travis Strikes Again isn’t the No More Heroes 3 that fans have been wanting, as it goes more for a hack-and-slash style approach. But it’s still a necessary and worthwhile spinoff, one that should generate interest in the franchise in its own special way. While parts of the game can be annoying at times, it's got enough enjoyable combat to go around (thanks to upgrades), whether solo or with a buddy. Throw in some extra content that’s sure to appeal to the old-school crowd, along with a presentation that’s right on par with other entries in the series, and you have a game that’s not only a hit, but also just the kind of thing that new players can get into as well.0comments
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes releases on January 17th for Nintendo Switch in both physical and digital form through the Nintendo eShop. A code was provided by Grasshopper Manufacture for review.