Video Game Assassins
If you were a fan of the original No More Heroes 1 and 2 on the Wii, then you were no doubt excited when Grasshopper Manufacture’s Suda51 unveiled that there would be a new installment, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, on the Nintendo Switch. Travis Touchdown, anime fan and assassin, is back for another mature-rated outing with Suda51’s signature brand of over-the-top humor. As a spinoff, it’s markedly different from its predecessors, sporting top-down hack-and-slash gameplay as opposed to the series’ hyper-stylistic gore fests.
Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!
The story premise is one of Travis Strikes Again’s strongest points. It begins with the bat-wielding Bad Man, who arrives at Travis’ trailer to get revenge on the man who killed his daughter, Bad Girl. Their scuffle causes the Death Drive Mk. II, a phantom game console, to suck them into the world of video games. From there, the two set out to seek the Death Balls, each hosting a different game, and complete them in order to make a wish. As is Suda51’s trademark style, the plot is ridiculous and insane twists come out of nowhere. Characters are crude and unafraid to break the fourth wall. And it wouldn’t be a No More Heroes game without the best game mechanic: saving on the toilet.
While Travis Strikes Again may have the series’ charm, it loses a bit of its no-holds barred identity. The behind-the-shoulder perspective is replaced with a top-down view, preventing your characters from standing out. Flashy kills are replaced by hacking at bland enemies, depicted as game bugs. The cutscenes look stunning in HD, but they are few and far between. Travis’ cocky personality and voice is such a dominant aspect of his character, but the voiceover is sadly limited to these few cutscenes.
The hack-and-slash mechanics aren’t elegant, but they get the job done. You play as Travis with his Beam Katana or Bad Man with his bat, though both control similarly. You can perform a continuous weak attack by flailing your weapon or strike with a stronger but slower attack. Eventually you must recharge your weapon, which is awkward. You must press down the left control stick and repeatedly push the right stick side to side, or if you’re using the Joy-Con, rapidly shake the controller. It’s a difficult maneuver in the heat of battle.
You can equip up to four abilities from a set of collectible Skill Chips, and you can create different loadouts for Travis and Bad Man, each of whom have exclusive skills. The abilities, which include electric shocks, dashing, and force fields, are rewarding to pull off. However, most have such a lengthy cooldown timer that you end up spamming your standard attacks anyway. Last but not least is a charge attack, in which your character rushes through the screen. It’s exciting to execute, dealing heavy damage and awarding bonus strength, provided you don’t get hurt.
Every level follows a standard beat ‘em up loop of running through an area, getting locked in a room, and fighting enemy spawns until the game lets you continue. It feels especially repetitive due to the limited moveset and generic foes. Local two-player co-op helps offset the repetition, allowing you to experience the craziness with a friend. It’s convenient that either player can jump in or out at any time.
What most prevents the game from being an utter slog is its basic premise – that Travis is traveling through different game worlds. It’s an ode to gaming, and enthusiasts will appreciate the throwback jingles. Every world exhibits its own graphical interface, musical instrumentation, and mechanic deviations based on a variety of genres. For instance, one game has puzzle elements where you must flip tiles to form a path, and another features vector car racing. My favorite zone involves light platforming on bouncy doughnuts, complete with a sidescrolling perspective. I wish more levels were as ambitious as that world. Based on the trailer, I had envisioned a huge range of gameplay. Yet for the most part, each area is largely a hack-and-slash marathon with the genre shifts serving as diversionary minigames. The exception is the built-in text adventures that you experience between worlds. As humorous as they are, these mandatory story segments won’t appeal to everyone. They’re essentially low-fi cutscenes with zero interactivity.
You can distribute experience points freely between Travis and Bad Man to level them up. Those who want a spicier challenge can opt out of leveling up characters as well as switch to a higher difficulty. With normal progression, I never felt the need to grind, but there is a pesky lives system that adds some artificial strain. If you run out of lives, you’re thrown back to the game menu, but you can warp back to your most recent save toilet. The digital bosses, unfortunately, don’t have too much depth, especially for a series known for memorable boss encounters. These hardcore fracas are plenty exciting, though – a showcase of flashy powers requiring more intense strategies.
Travis Strikes Again takes about ten hours to beat, not including the paid DLC, but I was motivated to replay levels for several reasons. For one, each world hides secrets that you can only find by inputting cheat codes. Creative digital pamphlets provide hints, replicating that nostalgic feeling of opening up a strategy guide or an issue of Nintendo Power. The collectible coins allow you to purchase t-shirts based on numerous indie games. It’s awesome to rep your favorite indies, even if you can’t see the t-shirts clearly midgame.
Overall, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a decent spinoff. The hack-and-slash gets tiresome, but it works in small bursts and is a fine fit for the Switch’s handheld mode. The graphical genre shifts and peppered in minigames provide good variety, thematically feeding into Travis’ love for games. It’s not a visually exciting entry, but it may still be worth it for fans of the series to indulge in Travis’ latest adventure. The insane story beats and off-the-wall humor are still here, alongside satisfying teases. This may not be No More Heroes 3, but Travis Strikes Again stands as a fine stepping stone for Suda51’s otaku assassin.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was posted on DarkStation.