Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a side game in the No More Heroes series that takes a vastly different approach than ever before. Making its debut on Switch, we’ll see if this indie and retro game inspired entry, is a welcomed addition or if it’s something you should pass on. Taking on the role of Travis Touchdown, you are swallowed into a video game and must complete all the different levels in order to make it out. Should Travis Strike Again or should he strike out?
Release date: January 18th, 2019
Price: $29.99 ($39.99 Physical)
Approximate size: 5.6 GB
Genre: Action Adventure, Hack ‘N Slash
Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture
Published by Grasshopper Manufacture
Reviewed On Nintendo Switch; Console Exclusive.
Travis lives the life many of us wish we could, playing video games in the comfort of our own homes without any care in the world. In his trailer, parked wherever he wants, he plays his games without any need to worry about bills, dependents, or gaming journalist with hidden agendas. However, like everything in life, every action has a consequence and sometimes we cannot escape the past. Several years ago, back during the time of the original No More Heroes, Travis was on the ascent to be the number one ranked assassin in a secret, dark league. One of his victims was a young baseball bat-wielding woman referred to as Bad Girl. Her father, going by Bad Man, tracks down Travis as he plays his games in his trailer for revenge. A tussle, a brawl, between the two ensues but is interrupted when the two of them are absorbed into one of Travis’s games. It is here that these enemies must form a delicate partnership and aid one another to escape the digital turmoil they now find themselves in.
After the opening cutscene, there isn’t much else to tell the story. There are some clips that play but the story is meant to take a backseat to the gameplay. It’s one of those things where you’re given enough to explain and justify your action but that’s pretty much it. The game does, surprisingly, offer funny dialogue and articles during the course of your gameplay. Some of it will draw a chuckle out of you and offer those a little more story content and lore of this game but it’s very light. Don’t expect a deep narrative or to be on the edge of your seat. Don’t expect any story progression for the mainline No More Heroes storyline either. Despite all of this, it never bothered me.
Suda 51 has created some unique and creative works across a spectrum of different genres. He knows how to make a game deep with mechanics and he knows how to use a more simplistic approach. Travis Strikes Again falls closer to the latter but there is more depth here than might otherwise be seen at first glance. On the surface, what you’ll come most familiar with first, you’ll have your light attack, heavy attack, and a grab. Digging deeper you’ll find an aerial attack, special attacks, and the need to charge your lightsaber. Taking all of this into account, and with different enemy variety, you’ll have to experiment and use your entire arsenal of abilities to continue forward in the game. You may, or may not, be able to get by with mashing the light and heavy attack buttons but the game does an excellent job of teaching you the mechanics and slowly easing you into understanding how it all works. It does a great job of introducing an enemy, explaining a gameplay element, and then having you perform the action. It’s never overbearing and never impedes on the experience.
The fights themselves come across as small arena encounters. You’ll come across a group of enemies, be locked in with each other, and fight until you clear them all out to move forward. As you progress further into the game, it does well to offer you a variety of enemies that encourages utilizing the different mechanics at your disposal. One element I found myself constantly enduring while in combat was the constant need to recharge the lightsaber. It becomes a game of chess, in a sense, as you have to dodge the enemies and find a safe spot to quickly recharge. It implants a sense of urgency in you as you keep an eye on it your depleting energy during the course of the battle and you have to choose, stop the flow of combat to recharge or risk it to kill a few more enemies. The latter is tempting, and the former is usually the best course of action but fewer enemies mean more of a breather to recharge and recharging first gives you more energy to deal with all the enemies. It’s an addictive style and one that is so simple and executed extremely well.
The game offers a nice balance between easy fodder you can go through with ease and more challenging opponents that require strategy and, sometimes, improvisation to defeat. The highlight of the encounters rests solely on the boss fights. They are grand fights that will push you and offer a nice satisfying feeling when you overcome them. They aren’t on the scale of the other No More Heroes games, but they can capture some of the magic you felt when you overcome those threats. Player movement feels good as well during the combat, especially the dodge button. I really enjoyed dodging and then entering for a quick couple of attacks and then dodging out of enemy range. I call this the Mosquito Strategy. It works. One area of the game, especially concerning the movement, that suffers greatly and comes across as a chore is the platforming. You’ll feel floaty, the controls almost unresponsive, and you’ll fail even if you know without a doubt that you estimated the jump accurately. Maybe this can be addressed with a patch but it’s inexcusable either way. I expect better from a release of this level, with the brilliant mind behind it, and the impression the team should be trying to make with their first release on new hardware.
The game does have other variables to it, besides the fighting and the platforming, and one of those elements is racing. I am not a fan of racing games unless they involve karts and mischievous mechanics to ensure victory. I walked in with this skepticism when I learned there was racing but it all quickly faded to the background as I actually played it. It’s nothing revolutionary or next level stuff but it’s fun and I lost myself a few times playing it. This is what we call a welcomed surprise and a great edition you were expecting to find but were happy enough to experience. The graphical style used helped this as well. The game can be played locally via co-op, with one player taking control of Travis and the other Bad-Man. I didn’t notice a drastic change in difficulty when playing with another player. We both went our ways and went through the enemies with relative ease and when encountering bosses, we spoke out or strategy in real time. Much like the racing, the co-op was surprisingly fun and a nice experience overall.
Now, as you’ve been playing through the game, you’ll be rewarded with different things to unlock and spend when not in a video game world but in the game’s small hub world. First off, you get experience points that raise your level. I feel this is terribly underutilized. You don’t get much from leveling up, there is no skill tree, and you don’t really get access to anything special. It’ll raise your health and attack but never to a point that it’s noticeable. At least not at first, for me. Another thing you’ll be getting is Chips. These are special moves named after Gundams that can be assigned to a button. There are twenty-four and offer a nice variety, such as timed bombs and spinning Travis right round like a record, baby. The latter is very satisfying on lower level enemies. Then there are coins you’ll get through your play time. This currency is used to unlock clothing based off of other indie games and designs from the world itself. In the original two No More Heroes games, you could change the shirts Travis wore and this element returns in this game. The added twist, as mentioned above, is the inclusion of clothing designs off of other indie darlings. It’s nice to see other titles get this love and support from Suda 51. Yes, they are addicting to collect. Some clothing can only be bought with Aztec coins, special coins hidden throughout the levels.
Travis Strikes Again is a fun game to play, in bursts. It can feel like a drag at times when one fighting encounter leads into another and this continual bleeding from one conflict to another can feel like one overly long fight that drags. Don’t get me wrong, the mechanics are fun and work it’s just, for whatever reason, playing for too long made it feel like a chore. The platforming elements are absolutely abysmal to shocking levels and the game does suffer from some hiccups and stutters here and there. Nothing major but noticeable and frequent enough that it deserves mention. My biggest enjoyment was playing in bursts, small intervals.
The game’s presentation as a whole is actually pretty great. Each game has its own themes and provides you with different locales, and even art styles, to look at. Before we get into the great, let’s address the not so good aspects of the graphics. The more realistic parts of the game’s graphics fall short and below the standard of everything else. They stick our as blemishes and are of the lower quality of what’s already present in the game. Other than that, the game’s graphics are good and, at times, can be great. The one that comes to mind instantly is the Tron inspired sections that have you racing. This area had bright neon colors and it gives you that deep retro feels with some 80s flair. Other nice areas to look at is the mansion with all the elevators, giving off a feel of royalty in a way. There is the house you maneuver through where you interact with a serial killer, a nice suburban neighborhood designed to feel safe like the 70s. Graphically, this game excels at basing itself off of older games and mimicking that graphical style while giving it its own flair. The only real blemish, as mentioned above, is when the game goes for that realism approaching in certain areas. It doesn’t work.
Character models are, for the most part, good. The highlights are Travis, Bad Man, and the bosses. Travis looks better than he ever has before, Bad Man has a cool homeless retired pro wrestler vibe going on, and the bosses are really nicely designed. Seriously, the devs have had liberties and a ton of freedom and fun to design these characters. You have crazy demon goat looking monstrosities, trench coat teleporting detective looking guys, and a tube connected skinny Bane appearing dude. They are very nicely designed and can’t wait to see what new bosses are going to show up in the inevitable DLC. The regular enemies are also nicely designed but the lack the polish that went into the bosses. Also, due to how many times you fight them, they can come across as repetitive. This isn’t a problem if you play the game in bursts as I did but playing it for hours without a break can have you feeling visually fatigued.
The game’s art used in dialogue and the menu/U.I. is really nice and sleek. This games system actually enhances the game’s vision and experience like few other menus systems do. It’s an added layer of detail that often gets overlooked but Travis Strikes Again does a lot of minor visual touches that make the whole better than it would be otherwise. I actually enjoyed navigating the menus and upgrade tree, buying shirts, and wandering around the tiny hub area. In terms of performance, this game is rougher than it should be. Framerate drops, hiccups, hitches, and crashes have all been experienced. It only crashed once but I lost a chunk of progress that required me to have to redo a clunky platforming section and it wasn’t appreciated. The stuttering and hiccups seemed like they shouldn’t even be an issue with this game due to how little was happening when they appeared. Framerate issues occurred when fighting large groups of enemies but the large groups in this game aren’t really large when compared to other games that run flawlessly on Switch. It’s weird and means the game needs more polish and work. Still, unacceptable in this day and age. This goes for any and all games that require day one patches as well. At least the cutscenes were nice to look at, the few that they had.
The game, despite having some funny dialogue and text, offers very little voice acting. Outside of a few scenes, there is nothing. This is a shame because Robin Atkin Downes is so, so, good at capturing and portraying who Travis is. He’s a very talented voice actor who could have really elevated this game to another level. Steve Blum also does a great job with Bad Man and I would have liked to hear more from this new character. The sound effects in the game are all great and fit the world, adding another layer to the experience. The game constantly reminds you that you are in a video game with its computerized sound effects, matching the visual border that surrounds your gameplay. The music, though it largely fades to the background when combat really ramps up, is a nice blend of rock and synth. It’s nothing truly memorable but some tracks are catchy, and it does serve its purpose. They do get pretty creative with the music and each area has its own flow and message they want to come across through the beats and sounds. No two areas sound the same and it’s apparent the songs and tones were designed around the areas and bosses. It all fits and flows better than expected.