Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture is one of THOSE developers. Developers that always bring something weird to the table but aren’t always up to the “standards” of other, bigger, developers. Suda51’s games usually end up on the “Cult Classic” lists for one reason or another, and no game of his is as good of an example of this as the Wii’s No More Heroes. Starring the incredibly lame, but still cool, foul mouthed otaku assassin Travis Touchdown, the hyper violent action game really stood out among the Wii’s more family friendly library at the time. It was incredibly simple but stylish, violent and weird enough to leave a lasting impression. It’s been eleven years since the original released in 2008 and fans, me included, have been anticipating a sequel. To tide us over while Suda digs in between the couch cushions to find the funds to make a No More Heroes 3, Grasshopper unleashed Travis in the indie Beat’em Up Travis Strikes Again exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. While not a proper No More Heroes 3, it’s exciting to see the Otaku Assassin back in action. Is his return worth the wait? And is it going to be worth waiting for a proper third entry?
The plotlines in the No More Heroes games have always been a little all over the place and Travis Strikes Again is no exception. The game starts off simple enough; Bad Man, the father of Bad Girl from No More Heroes 1, has come for Travis’ head in the name of revenge. He manages to find Travis, who was hiding out in a trailer in the middle of Texas, and when he’s about to try and fight him, the two are sucked into the game console Travis happened to have; the Death Drive MK II. Turns out, Bad Man didn’t come to visit Travis empty handed, he had one of the games for the console; a Death Ball. Turns out that completing all six of the Death Drive’s games will allow your wish to come true. This is the most straightforward bit of story you’ll get, Travis is out to complete the games because he’s a gamer and Bad Man is out to complete the games to revive his daughter.
Outside of the face story, there is a bunch of background things happening involving the creation of the Death Drive and Travis going about finding the games. Everything that’s happening is frigging weird, but it’s also hard to explain without spoiling some of the fun. Just know, that the story you see explaining Travis getting the games, is some of the weirdest, most amusing dialogue I ever read and I was always looking forward to seeing what hijinks Travis was going to get himself into just as much as I was looking forward to seeing what the next game was going to be. It goes to some strange places, and each game has their own “story”, complete with their own intros, and it has a few surprises along the way. While it definitely feels like a side game, a side game full of references and nods to other indies developers, it kept me interested the entire way and kept me interested in Suda’s future.
This game doesn’t try to hide what it is at all, it’s an indie Beat’em Up and is as simple as they come. You run around mostly flat 3D environments from a top down, or tilted down, perspective, either solo or in co-op, as either Travis or Bad Man and hack enemies to death. The game is broken up into stages, labeled as different Death Drive games, and each stage ends in a boss. You have two basic attacks, a weak light attack you can do indefinitely as long as you hold the Y Button down and a heavy attack that comes out in two hits and leaves you open but deals a lot more damage when you press the X Button up to twice. Despite having two attack buttons, the weak attack isn’t too useful, only being used to take down the weakest enemies, but it still remains satisfying hitting with the heavy attack.
Other than base attacks, you can both dodge and jump. Jump is used for both getting out of the way and for some light platforming in some sections of the games while dodging is used for exactly what it says it’s for. One thing to keep in mind about the dodge though, it has a delay and it seems to buffer inputs sometimes, meaning if you mash you might find yourself dodging more than once. This can be annoying, but if you keep that in mind, it’s not that much of an issue. Outside of these basic actions, you find special skills that are obtained by finding Skill Chips throughout the stage or from defeating bosses. These skills range in ability but all are useful and make the basic combat more enjoyable, although I found myself keeping the ones I found in the first game all the way through. Upon using a skill you can’t use it again until it recharges and each skill has a different recharge time so you need to use them sparingly or you’ll find yourself stuck with basic attacks.
The enemies in the game are all forms of bugs, this is a game after all, aside from the bosses and each one has different abilities. Some are standard melee fighters, some shoot, some do other special things and all have different HP values. Some enemies are straight up annoying to fight, but it is a Beat’em Up, so this is to be expected I feel. The bosses themselves are the highlights of the combat, just like the other No More Heroes games, and while each one varies in quality, each are fun to fight and have some of that No More Heroes dialogue before and after the fight.
Throughout the games you collect coins, both regular LB and Azteca coins which are used to unlock shirts, Unreal Logos, Skill Chips and Ramen. Ramen fully powers you up after eating and are typically found at the midway point and before the boss of each game. Not only that, it adds a fun little something you can read later. You also find the No More Heroes staple save point, the good old toilet, throughout the games and they not only save your progress but also heal you completely and give you a cash bonus the first time you use it.
Sadly, the gameplay does fall into the repetitive side, which isn’t uncommon for a No More Heroes game or a Beat’em Up. It also doesn’t really do anything “new”, the whole game thing is mostly a visual gimmick and the pulled back camera makes it feel cheaper. Some levels are a slog also, thankfully these are the minority, but some of the games make up for these levels. Like I do for all Beat’em Ups, I suggest playing it one game at a time, sadly this shouldn’t be something you have to do.
One thing that does break up gameplay is the Trailer. After every game, you go back to Travis’ trailer. This just serves as the hub where you can purchase new shirts, check out some messages, including amusing reviews on all the Ramen you ate, on both the computer and fax, and interact with Travis’ motorcycle. Interacting with Travis’ motorcycle starts what’s known as Travis Strikes Back and is an old PC style visual novel showcasing Travis’ journey to find the Death Balls. While this may seem dry to some people, as mentioned before it’s hilarious and worth every second of your time. Overall, while the game gets repetitive, and has some real low spots, it’s a fun distraction game with some amazingly weird moments.
This is Travis’ first completely HD game, not counting the PS3 port of the first game, and it’s not really the best showcase of what Travis, or the Switch, can do. It’s not a bad looking game by any means, the pulled back camera sees to that, and the Bugs have a unique look to them, but you can definitely tell the game was made on a budget. Character models look fine, but the environments are drab, a staple in the No More Heroes franchise. Every game at least has a different aesthetic so that stops the visuals from getting repetitive throughout the entire adventure, but some of the games go on for long enough that you are tired of looking before you are done. One thing that stands strong is it’s dedication to the retro game concept. When you unlock games you unlock magazine articles about them and they are all gloriously recreated reviews that look straight out of something you might have read as a kid. The Death Drive itself also has a great classic boot up that straight up parodies the Genesis boot up. It’s not offensive to look at, but it’s definitely indie with that Suda flair.
On the audio side of things, it’s actually pretty great, aside from the lack of much voice work. For those of you hoping to hear more of Robin Atkin Downes as Travis, you’ll be disappointed. There is some solid voice work in the intro and a tiny bit in the ending but most of the time you’ll be hearing Travis and Bad Man crying out from attacking and taking damage in battle. It’s still great to hear Travis again, but I wish I could have heard him more. Other than that, the sound is great. The sound effects are what you expect from a game themed game and the music is a nice mix of No More Heroes, old retro games and some nice electronic music. Also, they have that nice voice synthesizer back for the boss names, it wouldn’t be the same without it.
Overall, the audio is much better than the visual presentation, but it’s not offensive or anything so it’s all good.
Overall, the title says it all; Travis Strikes Again. It’s a charming Beat’em Up adventure that, while it does get repetitive, is weird enough to keep you going. The game gimmick is actually fairly strong, and keeps things interesting as you go along. It’s not the No More Heroes 3 we wanted, and it didn’t claim to be, but it sets up some interesting things and leaves me excited for the future. If you are open minded about the scope of the game, you might find yourself surprised. It’s not the best game of 2019 or anything, but it’s a pleasant surprise and left me, a No More Heroes and Suda51 weird action game fan, happy. It has some negatives, not a long list and what is there counts but it’s nice to see Travis back, and Suda back in the Director’s seat. Bring on the next chapter of the No More Heroes story!