Travis Touchdown is back for a fresh start, but is this the return of a legend or a horrible misstep? Find out in this Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Complete Edition review!
It’s been nine years since the world has seen a game from the No More Heroes franchise (not counting the 2012 mobile game, No More Heroes: World Ranker). However, this is not a true sequel to the beloved cult series, according to director Goichi “Suda51” Suda. Rather it’s more of a spin-off. Due to this lengthy gap and considering that No More Heroes III was announced at this year’s E3, Travis Strikes Again likely functions as an (personal speculation alert!) attempt to make Travis the assassin relevant again to modern audiences before the new game drops in 2020.
Travis Strikes Again originally released in January of 2019 and received two DLCs in the months that followed: “#1 Black Dandelion” and “#2 Bubblegum Fatale.” Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Complete Edition includes the base game as well as both DLC.
Seven years after the events of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Travis Touchdown is living in self-imposed exile in a trailer in Texas. This peaceful existence is broken by the sudden arrival of Badman, an ex-baseball player out to exact revenge on Travis for killing his daughter, Bad Girl. But before any revenge can be done, both men are pulled into a mysterious, never-before-released video game console housed in Travis’ trailer, the Death Drive MK 2.
Travis and Badman learn that if anyone can complete the DDMK 2’s seven games (held on cartridges called Deathballs), they’ll be granted a wish. The pair agree to set aside their differences with the goal of using the wish to resurrect Bad Girl. And everything takes place with Suda51’s signature brand of bonkers storytelling, irreverent meta-humor, and swearing.
The writing is solid and contains a lot of clever humor. Once you’ve gotten used to the tone, however, you’ve pretty much arrived. Things never really progress much after that. It’s very much a case of style over substance, but perhaps it’s folly to expect anything more from the No More Heroes series.
Travis Strikes Back contains seven levels, each corresponding with one of the seven Deathballs. Using his beam katana, Travis hacks and slashes his way through each game’s bugs, which serve as the main enemies. The primary combat is top-down or occasionally side-scrolling. Using a light attack and a heavy attack, players can create combos while offing bugs. They can also just mash down the light attack button to perform a perpetual rush attack. Additionally, as Travis progresses through the game, he will earn new Skills, and these function as special attacks.
Even though Travis Strikes Back clocks in at only 8-10 hours, it feels like an eternity. The reason for this is that everything in the game gets real repetitive, real fast. While the presentations may change, the levels all follow the same pattern: 1) walk a few steps, 2) reach a gated area stuffed with enemies, 3) defeat enemies, 4) repeat. There is very little variety in the bugs, either visually or in the methods you need to defeat them. The mid-bosses would present a welcome change except that they are all simply color variations on the exact same baddie, Generic Sheepman.
Generic Sheepman represents a recurring problem with Travis Strikes Back. There is a lot in this game that seems rushed as if it was made with half-effort. Most of these elements are acknowledged with snarky jokes about how gamers probably hate this section or how this is what’s wrong with games these days. And this leaves me trying to determine if it’s a chicken-or-egg situation. Did the snarky jokes inspire the half-effort game design as a sort of meta-commentary? Or did the half-effort game design come first, and the snarky jokes are an effort to excuse it? Either way, it’s not very fun.
Visuals & Audio
Travis Strikes Back‘s greatest strength is its soundtrack. Composed by DJ Kazuhiro Abo, it’s a great mix of hip hop, rap, and electronic influences. While I did get a bit of soundtrack fatigue during the first level (which is too long anyways, so I shouldn’t blame the music), overall it was extremely enjoyable.
As for visuals, the game’s look is highly stylized but distinctly low-budget. Again I find myself unable to determine if that’s purposeful or just laziness. The intros to every new Deathball are fun homages to various influences, such as PS1 games and grindhouse movies. Unfortunately, the actual games themselves don’t exhibit the same variety, with a few moments of exception (such as Tron-style racing).
Ironically, one of the best parts of Travis Strikes Back is collecting new t-shirts for Travis to wear. The shirts celebrate some of the finest indie games of recent years, including Hollow Knight, The Messenger, and Dead Cells. But while these all represent quality gameplay carved from the hearts and souls of their creators–all for a bargain-basement price–Travis Strikes Back is more expensive (currently £32.99 on the Playstation store) and less well-made than the indies it’s championing.