The return of the No More Heroes series has been something fans have been clamoring for ever since No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle's credits rolled nearly ten years ago. The charismatic otaku-turned-assassin Travis Touchdown resonated with players when he debuted in No More Heroes, as did the games' brutal violence, hilarious dialogue, uber-stylish art style, and the hip Suda51 polish that came with it. The fact that it was a Wii title was surprising, back when we were still living in an era where Mature-rated titles on the system were a shocking thing, and it quickly cemented itself as one of Suda’s must-play series for anyone who followed the provocative auteur.
Now, No More Heroes is back, though it’s not the coveted third game players have been hoping for. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a new adventure for the now-former assassin, a “new” beginning for the character as Suda referred to it, but unfortunately it’s miles away from recapturing the same magic as the games that came before it. For fans looking for a stopgap between No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle and the eventual No More Heroes 3 we just know we’re going to see someday, this Switch-only entry is a bitter letdown.
Villains of circumstance
Let it be said, however, that in terms of style, attitude, and razor-sharp wit, Travis Strikes Again hits the nail on the head. It’s unmistakably Suda51 in every way, and that permeates every inch of the game. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough to carry it for the entirety of the adventure. Aside from these high points, it’s just about as far-removed from a typical No More Heroes title as you can get.
Tired of living life as an assassin, Travis retreated to a trailer out in the middle of nowhere to get off the grid, or as he puts it, to "become one with the trees and become a 'living thing' again." When the father of the slain assassin Bad Girl comes calling, things change very quickly. Bad Man is after Travis’s Death Drive Mk II in a bid to bring his daughter back to life using the exact thing Travis has. So much for Travis trying to live out the rest of his days off the radar.
But what does the Death Drive have to do with bringing Bad Man’s daughter back to life? It’s a legendary console that never got a wide release, becoming something of an urban legend. There were six games meant to be released with the console, which came housed on "Death Ball" cartridges. If you collected all six, then beat them all, legend has it that any wish you had would come true, no strings attached. You see where we’re going with this.
It’s an interesting story, to be sure, but one that’s meted out unfortunately in one of the blandest delivery vehicles the series has seen in some time. The opening cut scene introducing Travis and Bad Man offer fully voiced dialogue and character models like those seen in the previous games. Unfortunately, you get a scant amount of both things when you’re in the game proper. Most cutscenes (when you get them) and dialogue aren’t voiced, and are instead replaced with gibberish like Simlish.
Story snippets play out in quick chats with Travis between boss fights, which come in bite-sized scenarios. There are a few connections to the No More Heroes series to be found here, such as a moment during a scenario where Travis mentions Buzariashvili Bishop, the younger brother of Georgy Bishop, who starred in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. He took over his brother's shop, Beef Head, a video store that was refashioned into a game store when Georgy took over. These are fun nods to longtime fans, and sprinkled with fun gaming and media references as well.
But the story itself is relegated to simplistic text logs and visual novel-styled encounters that, while bringing titles like Snatcher and classic Japanese games to mind, are quite boring. You can’t skip ahead, save in the middle of one, and you don’t even get to hear Travis or kitten Jeane talk trash – that was a huge part of the fun in the other games, and it’s sorely missed here.
(Rotten) strawberry on the shortcake
While the game is bereft of much meaningful narrative, however, it's got plenty of killing to speak of. That's where the six games I mentioned previously come in. Yes, you have to play through them all, and yes, there are boss encounters awaiting you at the end.
Each game you encounter has its own set of rules and quirks, but they're also largely similar. For instance, the first game, Electric Thunder Tiger II has electric-themed decor and a boss that uses the element to attack you. There's a fun live-action clip with a cheesy horror sequence that opens up Life is Destroy, which opens up a "serial killer hunt" where you have to swap around pieces of a puzzle-like neighborhood to sniff out the bad guy.
It's got plenty of fourth wall-breaking humor sprinkled with tons of pop culture references, and these games are silly enough, but lacking any real substance. Typically, they usually boil down to "attack this batch of enemies, hit this switch, solve this puzzle, fight a boss." Granted, both earlier No More Heroes games suffered from much of the same, but its production values were considerably higher, and its combat much more satisfying.
Speaking of fighting – if you're familiar with combat in the previous No More Heroes games, it's essentially the same here – plenty of hack and slash action, but downsized in some frustrating ways. Basic light and heavy attacks usually get the job done when cutting through hordes of enemies, and you've also got your jump and dodge options mapped to the face buttons. Everything typically takes place from a top-down perspective save for some special cases, and everyone is small, as a result, which can make being five bad guys deep in battle a bit frustrating.
Holding a face button and shoulder button lets you unleash a special equipped ability that you can allocate to the button of your choice, with their own corresponding cooldown times. These range from large blasts that take out multiple enemies at once to single-target long range attacks to eliminate the baddies who can put the hurt on you the quickest. You've also got your super move, which you unleash by tapping the right shoulder button thrice – a maneuver that doesn't feel particularly intuitive, and isn't as visually impressive as Travis's older arsenal of moves. Luckily, fans will be pleased to know that during boss fights, he does attempt to pull off his infamous wrestling moves that require quick-time event button pressing and motion controls. At least that remains the same.
One of the funniest mechanics seen in the other No More Heroes games, the "recharge jerk," returns in Travis Strikes Again, but as much as I hate to say this, I wish it hadn't. It's incredibly awkward to do in Handheld Mode, and I couldn't find an alternate way to charge Travis's Beam Katana while lounging with the Switch in that configuration.
Playing with a Joy-Con is the only time the recharging mechanic feels natural. When opting for a Pro Controller or grip with both Joy-Con, clicking in the stick and shaking the controller (pretty hard, I might add) is the only way you can recover all the juice you need. The suggestive "jerking it" motion that was simple and intuitive with the Wii version (or even the PlayStation Move controllers with the PlayStation 3 port) felt way better than this. Clicking in the stick to recharge is frustrating, and throws off the entire rhythm (and joke) of the motion. It also ensures you’re completely defenseless when in the middle of battle. Obviously this means you need to be selective about when to do it, but when it's such an annoying motion to complete, you dread running out of juice. The other games? Bring on that silly jerkin' thing, I'm having a blast.
Combat does require you to be strategic when utilizing your special moves, and it can be challenging, but mostly it's a slog as you cut through the generic enemies over and over again. Some are a bit stronger, so you need to use your stronger attacks. Some need to be destroyed before they start spawning more baddies. It's all very familiar, by the book stuff. You can charge up your special abilities by landing hits, but it's all like a very stale dance by the third game, and it's hard to want to push ahead and keep playing by then.
You can add a co-op player to the mix if you'd like them to join you as Bad Man (or you can play as Bad Man if you so choose and hand them the role of Travis), but this doesn't really add anything significant to the game, other than a tag team partner to bash the goons with. It can also add to the confusion of who's who on screen when you're right in the thick of things, as both Travis and Bad Man have similarly-colored rings around them to denote which player is which, and that cannot be changed. Too often you'll be charging around the screen thinking you're one character when you're the other – and their size on-screen doesn't help.
During each stage, Travis can find cash to purchase T-shirts back at the trailer, power-ups, ability chips, and other goodies. There are ramen shops located everywhere that you can stop and eat at that fill Travis's ramen blog. You can check the entries out back at his home on the internet to see what he thought of the cuisine, but their most useful effect is recharging your power so you can unleash a devastating ability quick, like before a boss battle.
The T-shirts available for Travis, as an aside, are a fun mix of indie games and in-game references. There's a wide variety, including Golf Story, Hotline Miami, Minit, Undertale, and much more. If you've got a favorite indie title, chances are it's represented here. You can change his shirt out in the bathroom at your trailer, and even give Bad Man a funky new tank top if you prefer. This was certainly a highlight for me, though some of the shirt designs leave much to be desired.
Some of the most frustrating parts of Travis Strikes Again weren't localized to the way the game plays, but bugs I encountered during my time with it. While speaking to Bishop at the game store, who was readying the Death Drive Mk II, the game simply would no longer accept input from my Joy-Con controllers or let me enter the menu. I had to turn the game off and back on, and because I had done so I lost all my progress in the visual novel-styled section.
This happened with another section during a boss encounter, where I had almost whittled all the first boss's health away during a second run. I exited to the Switch menu, where the Joy-Con functioned normally. Back in the game, they didn't respond. Losing this kind of progress is especially frustrating when you consider how repetitive the game is.
There's also a lengthy time between when you go to open the game and when it actually loads, about a 30-45 second wait before the Switch's controller notification, and then another 15 seconds after that before it starts loading the game proper. When I started a new game to record co-op footage, the first time I attempted to play I could no longer skip the opening cutscene, despite being able to before. The option was simply gone. When I reached the main menu after restarting, I could no longer press any buttons on the menu to get the game started. This was remedied by doing a complete system restart, but it was worrisome to deal with.
Beyond technical issues, there were multiple design issues I questioned, such as the fact that some stages made Travis or Bad Man so ridiculously small that playing in the Switch’s Handheld Mode felt like a farce. The characters are already scaled down to a ridiculous manner in certain scenes, so much that players with vision problems will likely be too frustrated to continue playing. This scaling issue is alleviated when playing on a larger TV, but the Switch is meant to take with you – this isn’t a game I want to play on the go seeing that some games may as well ask you to control a dot moving around on your screen.
The world needs new heroes
As an unapologetic Suda51 and No More Heroes fan, it’s such a letdown to have to pen these words after finally, finally seeing one of my favorite franchises resurrected on the Switch. While I dug absolutely every facet of the game's aesthetics and the fact that I was finally able to get more No More Heroes after such a long wait, I didn't quite want it in this format. While it was clear at the start that this wouldn't be a core entry in the series, it's also bereft of much of what makes No More Heroes such an unforgettable and classic game in the first place. Technical issues, strange gameplay decisions, and an overall lackluster series of features make Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes an unworthy placeholder for the next entry in the series.
Travis Strikes Again
- Same No More Heroes attitude and style you've come to expect.
- Fun Easter eggs and references for gamers and pop culture addicts.
- Small bits of story that connect to the core games.
- Frustrating controls and design decisions.
- Incredibly light on story and meaty cutscenes.
- Short game length.
- Various bugs and glitches that affect gameplay progress.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes review - Feels bad, man
Sad, but not totally unexpected given how it sounds like they're just throwing a bunch of indy games under the Travis banner.