Review: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

When it comes to creating unusual video games with bizarre concepts, oddball characters and eclectic presentation, few can rival the output of game designer, Goichi Suda (aka Suda51) and his studio Grasshopper Manufacture. The developer behind titles like, Killer 7, Lollipop Chainsaw, Let It Die and of course, No More Heroes.

For their first foray into Nintendo Switch development, Grasshopper have returned to the No More Heroes universe in the form of spin-off title, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes.

TSA intro

The Unreal Engine logo makes a lot of appearances, even as an in-game collectible item.

Things kick off with a slick and stylish cutscene where Travis (who appears to be enjoying a game of Hotline Miami) gets jumped by Badman (looking to avenge the murder of his daughter, Charlotte, aka Bad Girl from the original No More Heroes). As the two characters struggle, Travis takes the opportunity to introduce himself to “a new generation of gamers” meanwhile the developers are eager to let us know that the game is developed with the Unreal Engine. These are the first of many references and fourth wall breaks that are present throughout Travis Strikes Again.

TSA trippy

Yep, it's a Suda51 game, psychedelia comes as standard.

As you would expect the story is pretty out-there, revolving around an unreleased video game console called the Death Drive Mk II and 6 legendary games on the Death Drive’s cartridge format, Death Balls. It seems that anyone who can successfully obtain and complete all of the Death Ball video games will have a wish granted, and therefore Badman is desperately trying to accomplish this feat in an attempt to resurrect his daughter. Makes perfect sense, right?

TSA firststage

Well said, Travis.

While the story of Travis Strikes Again may be baffling, luckily the gameplay is straightforward. A third person hack-and-slash, broken up into a collection of stages which are then presented to the player as different video games within the game itself. Travis must physically enter the video game world through the Death Drive, defeat enemies (or Bugs as they're referred to) gather coins (LB$) and collectables before defeating the boss and returning to the real world.

Successfully clearing a game on the Death Drive will unlock a scenario, these are then accessed via Travis' motorbike and expand the game's story via retro visual novel segments. Once you've read through a scenario a new Death Ball will be obtained, unlocking the next playable game on the Death Drive and enabling you to continue the adventure.

TSA scenario

The dialogue often pokes fun at gamers and the video game industry in general. It’s entertaining stuff.

Controls during the Death Drive sections of the game are simple, comprising of a basic attack, heavy attack, jump and evade. The basic attack input (Y button) can be held down for continuous hits while retaining player movement (useful for dispatching groups of weaker Bugs) although you need to keep an eye on the energy level of your weapon and recharge accordingly, this is done by clicking in the left stick and then either shaking the Joy-Con or wiggling the right stick. Both basic and heavy attack types can also be combined with jumping for additional combat moves, these create some tactical options such as a quick way to engage enemies or breaking the guard of tougher bugs.

TSA skillGET

It's dangerous to go alone! Take this Skill Chip.

Experience points are earned from defeated enemies giving players the ability to manually level up from the pause menu, doing so will increase damage dealt and maximum HP but there’s another way to improve your chosen character’s performance, and that is with the assistance of Skill Chips. These can be found across the stages and assigned to any of the face buttons, then activated during gameplay by pressing the same button in conjunction with the L button.

Skills generally offer different forms of attack, but can also provide defensive options like temporarily slowing enemies or health regeneration. Finally, The R button is used to trigger a special attack which has up to 3 levels of charge. The gauge increases as you attack bugs but taking damage causes it to instantly drop a level, so it’s a nice incentive to avoid getting hit, as the special is more potent and flashy at a higher charge.

TSA combat

The glitchy chromatic effects when defeating enemies are very cool indeed.

While the core gameplay remains the same throughout all of the various Death Drive video games, each one does offer slight changes to keep things feeling fresh. Some will add light puzzle elements, while others put the emphasis on exploration and finding specific items. Unfortunately these additions don't always work in favour of the overall experience and can at times even become a source of frustration due to things like flaky platforming sections or disorienting level design.

The game can also be played as a co-op experience, with one player controlling Travis and another using Badman. The simple control scheme lends itself well to the configuration of a single Joy-Con, and co-op sessions can be created or ended easily will little disruption to an existing single player game.

TSA switchscreen

Where's Travis? This is OK on a large display, but not so great on the Switch itself.

As you may have noticed in some of the screenshots, the game utilises a 4:3 aspect ratio during gameplay. This is a cool little nod to retro gaming, however, combined with certain camera angles it can also severely limit visibility, making it quite difficult to keep track of the action when playing the game in portable mode. This is especially problematic during much of the 2nd Death Drive game which features a rather zoomed out birds eye view.

On the plus side, the HUD has been cleverly designed around the 4:3 image, utilising that space to display weapon energy, special attack level, currently equipped skills and player health for both characters. Another useful feature is a red glow that emerges around this border to indicate the position of any off-screen bugs.

TSA movie

Yes. And cheesy live-action cutscenes that look like genuine VHS footage.

From a graphical perspective the game feels somewhat dated, although this is actually a perfect fit considering the theme. That said there are still some impressive visual effects and details on display, and more importantly for an action game the performance is generally stable, with only a few stutters to the frame rate in certain areas. The audio is also very good and keeps things interesting by working with a wide variety of styles. Realistic sounds are seamlessly mixed with 8-bit effects and the punchy electronic soundtrack (which often plays around with different instrumentation and genres) is absolutely sublime.

Another interesting component and a much publicised feature of Travis Strikes Again is the collaboration it has with a large number of indie titles. These feature as a selection of purchasable T-Shirts to customise Travis and Badman, and while not something that’s really noticeable during gameplay, is a nice touch regardless.

TSA tshirts

There’s lots of choice in the indie game T-Shirt shop.

The game takes around 10 hours to finish and roughly double that to discover every collectable and secret, all of which are tracked along with a variety of stats in the pause menu. Boss battle completion time is also tracked and ranked individually, and there’s an additional difficulty level to tackle upon clearing the game, potentially adding a bit of extra replay value.

TSA saving

Nothing beats a nice evacuation after a hard day's gaming.

Travis Strikes Again is a tricky game to recommend in the sense that it’s a very esoteric product. Anyone that can appreciate the eccentric vibe, humour and retro aesthetic should find themselves having a good time. Whereas if none of those aspects are particularly appealing that’s likely to have quite a negative impact on your enjoyment of the experience.

N-Europe Final Verdict

While Travis Strikes Again isn’t the “No More Heroes 3” we were hoping for, it is nonetheless an entertaining action game that’s certainly worth checking out, especially for fans of Grasshopper Manufacture and their distinctive style.

  • Gameplay3
  • Playability4
  • Visuals4
  • Audio5
  • Lifespan3
Final Score

8

Pros

Simple but satisfying combat
Fantastic soundtrack
Packed with references and humour
Quirky presentation

Cons

Some frustrating moments
Lack of clarity in portable mode
A few camera issues


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