Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $29.99 [Digital], $39.99 [Physical w/Season Pass]
Travis is finally back! This game has been highly anticipated since its announcement back in January, 2017. While many were hoping otherwise, Travis Strikes Again is not a No More Heroes (NMH) game in the same way as the previous two were. It may not be what fans of the series expect, but it follows Suda’s penchant for creating unorthodox video game experiences, like in killer7. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (TSA) marks a promising return-to-form for Suda, and a future for Grasshopper Manufacture titles on the Switch. Strap in though; this is gonna be a bumpy ride.
It’s not directly mentioned, but some characters are implied to be living in the Death Drive while dead in the real world. Others in the real world are most likely supernatural beings, ranging from demons, immortals, and magical creatures. Travis’s cat, Jeane, is able to speak but it is not explained why in-game.
F*** is a common word used in cutscenes and gameplay. Other words like s*** or b**** are sprinkled in during dialogue. However, there are no vulgar jokes or sexual innuendos like in NMH 2.
Blood is shown during some parts of the story, but the game does not follow the gratuitous violence as seen in NMH 1 and 2. The only depictions were two decapitations: one in a live-action cutscene and the other depicted with pixel art.
I can only recall one time that there was the depiction of drugs, but it was apparently “coffee.” Sure, I’ll buy it!
When saving, Travis and Badman pull down their pants and sit on a virtual toilet with the crotch area obscured from view. Also, when entering a game, Travis and Badman teleport in like Arnold Schwarzenegger from The Terminator; it’s a nice touch. The only female character, Dr. Juvenile, wears a black short dress but is not depicted suggestively.
Travis Strikes Again is a hack-and-slash action game with six dungeons. You play as either Travis or Badman to enter the mysterious Death Drive MkII, an unreleased video game console that is capable of virtual reality. They must defeat every Death Ball game, by reaching its end and defeating the final boss of that game. After completion, you will go through a text adventure segment to retrieve the next Death Ball as quirky characters interact with Travis, interlacing previous Suda-directed titles like Shadows of the Damned with the NMH universe. Travis and Badman compete with each other to finish all six Death Ball games first to be granted a wish upon completion. That sounds a little familiar….
I want to get this out of the way first: TSA is a rough game to go through. Controls feel stiff at times and the camera angle can make enemy crowd control difficult to handle. Often, the camera will not show every enemy on-screen requiring constant observation and movement to get a grasp of all the enemies present in an area. Ultimately, the main priority in combat is getting rid of projectile enemies first so that you aren’t nicked by a shot from off-screen which can result in taking large amounts of damage from the hard-hitters.
Thankfully, skill chips can help clear out weaker enemies so that stronger enemies can be focused on. Skill chips come in two varieties: special damaging attacks or strategic non-damaging moves. Some chips can eliminate multiple enemies easily like the “Shining Chip” which can grab and throw enemies. Other chips help with crowd control like the “Heavy Chip,” a field that slows enemies down. Travis and Bad Man each get two of their own unique skill chips. Travis’s unique attacks are references to power-ups he had in previous NMH titles like “Blueberry-Cheese Brownie” which gives Travis an attack boost and armor but can still take damage and is slowed down significantly. Bad Man’s unique attacks make for interesting gameplay like his “Triple Crown” chip which sends out a large projectile that can be hit back to change the projectile’s path.
The worst part of combat is that I have experienced three separate bugs causing either my character model or an enemy model to be unreachable, or immediate death. To be fair, I found these glitches on accident through my own inputs but it still indicates poor quality control. It’s unfortunate that the game can feel like a slog due to the level design of some of the Death Ball games. In TSA, the third Death Ball game, “Coffee & Doughnuts,” is a prominent example of this as the dungeon layout can be confusing if you’re not paying attention to what rooms you’ve entered. There is no map to check nor any indication of which rooms have been visited, meaning you’ll have to remember or just write down each room number to know which doors you’ve missed.
Yet despite these annoyances, I found myself enjoying the game a lot. TSA is a fun gift for hardcore Suda fans like myself. It contains references and features characters from titles as old as his first-directed title, The Silver Case. There is even an update that adds a new intro featuring Dan Smith from killer7; it is a pleasant surprise since it’s one of my favorite games.
I enjoyed the execution of the story; it pokes fun at the fact it isn’t the anticipated bombastic pseudo-sequel that NMH fans were hoping for. The text adventure segments are fun little breaks from the Death Ball games and expand on the universe that all of Suda’s directed titles appear to exist in. One of the Death Ball games uses a previous Suda title as the entire basis of its dungeon, which is a great throwback; I’d say which one, but it’s more enjoyable to encounter it yourself.
The soundtrack is really solid. Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda, who usually compose for Grasshopper Manufacture, are absent for this title. This game is headed up by DJ Abo and DJ 1-2, who produce a stellar electronic soundtrack. “Electro Triple Star” blasts in full force during the first boss and made me look forward to the bosses of the other Death Ball games.
I think what made TSA so enjoyable for me is that it feels like Suda had fun directing this game. The story is lightheartedly cynical, the game and soundtrack revel in the arcade feel, and honestly makes me glad that this game doesn’t try to tie all the loose ends left from NMH 2. Of course, there’s still the possibility of a third NMH game to release on the Switch in the future which excites me. I look forward to seeing new ideas from Suda and Grasshopper Manufacture. Their raison d’etre has always been to make unique games, and it’s great to see that reflected in their products. I can’t wait to see what else the season pass will deliver when they come out.
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The Bottom Line
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a unique arcade-style hack-and-slash with sub-standard, repetitive combat and an interesting narrative for hardcore Suda fans, but offers little else for players who are not.