Hello, I am Matthew Lovenzka (AShadowLink). I was brought onto Source Gaming to make long-form editorial content. This review is, as such, that. However, this is a condensed version of the script I wrote for my video. I would appreciate if, as long as you’re not avoiding spoilers, you check out the video version of this review below, as I worked myself to the bone on it, and I put my all into it. I also go much deeper into the hidden meaning in the video, so if the conclusion of this article peaks your interest, there’s a lot more where that came from.
I remember the feeling of playing the last No More Heroes game, and it being generally okay, but there was something missing. It wasn’t the gameplay, and it wasn’t the music- definitely not the music- but it felt like something vital wasn’t there. Maybe it’s because Suda 51, creator extraordinaire and director of the first No More Heroes, didn’t direct No More Heroes 2. 2 felt like it was lacking the self-awareness and punk attitude that 1 had. So, when I found out Suda 51 would be returning to the director’s chair for the newest No More Heroes, I got a bit pumped. Suda hasn’t directed an original game since that first No More Heroes, so it’s rather fitting that he’d return to the helm with this series.
In case you’re unaware, the mainline No More Heroes series is comprised of two games, No More Heroes 1 and 2 for the Nintendo Wii, and the franchise has laid dormant since 2010 while its developer, Grasshopper Manufacture, continued making new properties. The reveal of a new No More Heroes game at 2017’s Switch conference took many by surprise, but I think people weren’t quite expecting the game that we got. You see, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, is a spinoff. Sort of. Suda 51 doesn’t want to say it’s a spinoff. It’s like “a stepping stone on the road to No More Heroes 3,” he’s said in his own words. It’s kinda like the Chain of Memories of No More Heroes, to uh, put it that way. A lot of important things happen in terms of the overall story- but it doesn’t play the same and is structured differently. Sure, every level culminates in a boss, but Travis is not fighting up his way in the United Assassins Association this time.
Travis has run away from his life after No More Heroes 2, hoping to find some solace in the great wilderness of Texas with his cat. All that changes however, when he is ambushed by Badman, father of a character from the first game, Bad Girl, who is out to kill Travis, but has a change of heart when he believes Travis can help him revive his daughter.
The core premise of the game is that by, uh collecting the six Death Balls, one of which Badman has, someone will be able to make any wish they desire and have it come true. Badman is going to wish for his daughter to be alive again, and Travis has to find the rest of them to accomplish this. The Death Balls are the creation of a scientist and game developer named Dr. Juvenile, and have the unique property when played with the Death Drive Mk II that inexplicably Travis has, to transport the player’s consciousness into the game.
The game is presented, usually, from a top-down perspective, and ends up playing like a 2D game most of the time. The game looks fine typically, it’s not a looker aside from certain set-pieces, but the environments do their job fine, and the character models and animations are great. However, in comparison to the previous installments and most Grasshopper Manufacture games, Travis Strikes Again runs beautifully. At most points, Travis Strikes Again will run at a smooth 60 FPS, which is a marked improvement over the unlocked framerate of 1 which hovered around 30-45 FPS, and the locked 30 FPS of 2.
The combat is fast and feels silky smooth as well
The music, composed by two series newcomers, DJ Abo and DJ 1-2, is quite good. While nothing in the game really got stuck in my head quite like the songs of previous entries did, most of the tracks usually did a good job of enveloping me in a trance-like state and made me feel like I was getting sucked into the experience; like there was nothing between myself and the game. Considering the game’s premise, that’s pretty fitting.
As said before, Travis Strikes Again deviates from the usual No More Heroes formula. Not only in the level structure, but also in the combat. Instead of focusing on stringing together combos and killing blows, the combat has its appeal in quickly dashing around enemies and dodging attacks to build up a super meter. Travis Strikes Again perfectly telegraphs almost all enemy attacks to make maneuvering around them a breeze, and overall making the game a lot more fast-paced and fun. When you hit enough enemies, you gain the ability to do a 3 hit super attack, and your character’s combat ability increases. As you continue evading and landing blows, your power will build up, and after executing another super, your moves and supers reach their full potential. The core of the combat system is bolstered by a very extensive skill system, which gives you access to four extra moves of your choosing.
Instead of taking down other assassins, levels are spent fighting abstract enemies meant to represent the bugs in video games, and that’s really fun. Every new enemy type has its own distinct profile and personality, and there’s quite a good amount of variety in the enemy designs. And there’s a good amount of variety in the games that Travis acquires that keeps the game fun and interesting up until the end. In true No More Heroes fashion, every level culminates with taking on a boss, and these encounters are the biggest highlights of the game. It’s very exhilarating zipping in and out of danger, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t prefer this playstyle over the previous games. It’s certainly a lot more polished and feels a lot more fair.
The game relies on a leveling system which I almost always feel for non-RPGs is a crutch, but it works well here. I felt obligated to put all my XP into Travis, who I started playing with, because hey, it’s a No More Heroes game! I couldn’t play much as the second character, Badman, but with what little time I was able to play with him, I found he plays pretty different. Both characters have their own exclusive skills and have their own string of heavy attacks. And there’s a really cool dynamic where if one character is getting low on health, you can switch to another. I couldn’t use this to its fullest because Badman hadn’t been leveled up, but it seems like it would be vital for playing on higher difficulties. And you can play the game in co-op with both characters at once! Co-op is frantic and a lot of fun. Aside from a few camera issues, co-op was a lot of fun and I hope to be able to play it again sometime.
One thing that’s clear with this entry is that the budget isn’t quite there. While I’ve already gone over the graphical presentation, it seems apparent that the game looks the way it does because of budget restraints. There are hardly any traditional cutscenes, but I don’t feel the game really needed them though, the writing alone is solid enough as is. Instead, the story is presented in visual novel style dialogue sequences. In the game itself, we have art drawn by the Liverpool artist Boneface set to Star Fox style gibberish. It’s not the same artist as the past few games- Yusuke Kozaki- but it’s fantastically detailed and stylistically suits the tone of No More Heroes.
Where the true meat of the game’s story takes place is in a mode the game dubs Travis Strikes Back. New chapters in this mode unlock after every level, and the graphics and presentation are styled like an old-school adventure game. If you thought No More Heroes was unhinged before- prepare yourself, because this is where the game goes completely off the rails. It constantly cracks jokes at the state of the No More Heroes franchise, the games industry, and the fact that the developers have no budget which is why they have to present the story like this to begin with. It’s gleefully tongue-in-cheek, and I found myself bursting out into laughter constantly, unprepared for what madness would come next.
Banter of all kinds happens when you go on a roadtrip with your talking cat
Travis Strikes Again just so happens to coincide with Grasshopper Manufacture’s 20th anniversary, so there are lots of fun cameos in the story from all across Grasshopper and Suda 51’s repertoire. There are lots of fun references to pop culture and old-school games as well, such as a full-blown cheesy FMV sequence and a PS1 styled CG cutscene. I won’t go into further detail here, as I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything, but do pay attention to who and what does happen, because this game is smarter then it lets on, and it’s building up to something greater.
The hidden meaning of Travis Strikes Again is that it’s an outlet for Suda 51 to vent his frustration about the games industry. Starting from humble beginnings, to making critical darlings like Killer7 and No More Heroes, to getting his plans screwed by EA and others, Suda 51 has been trodden upon by the games industry. Pushed around by publishers and with reception polarized, Suda had to go low-budget to make the game he wanted, inspired by the creative drive of indie devs around the world; that’s why there’s so many shirts with indie game iconography on them.
This Hatoful Boyfriend shirt and many more like it are featured in Travis Strikes Again
Travis Strikes Again is a thoroughly personal game. It oozes the essence of Suda 51 throughout it. Travis Strikes Again is a vehicle for Suda to vent his anger with the games industry over the past decade, and it shows. You can feel it- Suda’s frustration; his anger- in his interviews, in his games.
And yet, even through it all, he stands strong, continuing to create. It’s not the end of the world, and life moves on. We can erase the mistakes of our past and make a new tomorrow. That’s what I interpret Travis Strikes Again as. Acknowledging and undoing all the mistakes made since No More Heroes, looking back on and casting away the failures, but still keeping what you hold dear close. A few under-realized games is not the end of the world.
What would I score it? Well I can’t, in good faith. This game is unfinished, plain and simple. I’ll be back to review the game in more detail in May, when it’s going to be done. But would I recommend Travis Strikes Again? Absolutely. It’s one of the most genuine and heartfelt games I’ve played in years. The developers really put their heart and soul into their work with what little resources they had, and it shows. It has charming writing, great music, fun gameplay, and real emotion at its core. You might need to be a fan of Suda to understand the deeper meaning behind this one, it might fall flat if you didn’t play his previous works, but I can assure you, Travis Strikes Again and the rest of Suda 51’s catalog is very worth your time.