Suda 51 is known for his bizarre take on each gaming genre he turns his hand too, and over the years has brought us classics like Lollipop Chainsaw, Killer 7 and obviously No More Heroes. The fourth game in the series (or third if you exclude the mobile iteration) is Travis Strikes Again and is not a sequel to the previous games, but more of a spin off that explores what happened to Travis Touchdown after he became the top-ranked assassin in America. Promising variety and teaming up with a number of indie developers to bring different styles into the game, have Grasshopper Manufacture delivered another hit, or will this end up with reduced impact in the complete edition of the game, newly released on PS4 and PC?
Travis Strikes Again may not be a true No More Heroes sequel, but it does pull on the original for inspiration. Travis has retired and is off the grid spending all his time playing video games. Badman, the father of Bad Girl that Travis defeated in the original, has been sent to eliminate him as revenge for killing his daughter, and because a syndicate wants him dead. As the two meet in Travis’ trailer and are about to fight, the Death Drive MKII console in the corner comes to life and pulls the duo into a game where they’ll need to put aside their differences to fight for their lives and find a way to escape. Battling their way through fictional game Electric Thunder Tiger II, they defeat the titular boss and make it back to the real world, ready to start the adventure proper. Travis jumps on his bike and heads off… into a visual novel.
It may sound trite, but that’s pretty much the loop that Travis Strikes Again goes through – read visual novel, obtain new Death Drive game, plug into to console, explore and fight a new boss. It’s not as one-dimensional as it sounds though because each game is a different genre and means that there’s a different scenario in play for each self-contained story. Whether it’s a detective tale, a maze escape or a racing game, there’s something new and different each time a Death Ball is discovered and loaded. Choosing solo or co-op also adds an alternate way of playing and changes up the feeling again. There’s a surprise lying in wait that compels the investigation of a new level, and delight can be found in the way each is introduced with interesting and unique cutscenes styled on 80s classics. The homages go out far and wide for both games and movies, and it feels like a melting pot of ideas. Albeit a very small pot.
What seems to have been strained out is the actual gameplay. The in-game “games” are great ideas, yet the core mechanic is a hack and slash so no matter how much effort has gone in to parodying or paying due respect to a title, it’s all reduced down to running and mashing the square and triangle buttons. It’s a bit at odds with what the overall tale is trying to do. If you’ve been sucked into the guts of playing a detective story, then surely you should be detecting instead of running between arbitrary barriers and beating enemies with a faux lightsabre? Don’t get it wrong, the combat is pretty slick with light and heavy attacks augmented with skills that are discovered and can be swapped at will; and there’s a satisfaction in clearing big groups with minimal effort and not getting hit. It just becomes repetitive really fast, despite new enemies requiring different strategies popping up at regular intervals. Even the swapping of camera from rear to side to top down depending on the level design doesn’t feel like it breaks up the monotony much.
Managing the power gauges and hot swapping between skills is all dependent on how often the side bars are looked at. The character representation is for health, the icons above that are the skills that work on a cooldown basis, on top of those is the charge count, and then above that is the power meter that once drained means Travis (or Badman) do virtually no damage. It’s a nice touch that waggling the joypad refills the power meter so you can frantically fill it mid-fight, though making it need the left stick clicking in means that the actions in the real world are clumsy. Much better to just flick the right stick a couple of times – it has the same effect. When the charge meter is full Travis can unleash a power move that requires mashing R1 and directing the attack, which comes in handy with its relatively quick refresh. It’s a good piece of design that no enemy is immune to any attacks, though some do block, and it means that skills and charges are equally useful all the time and open up different options for dealing damage.
Visually there’s a decent variation between the worlds and the way that each is presented, though a fairly minimalist vibe is ever present. It doesn’t sound too bad either. There’s a lot of text to read and the game knows not to make it too small or lengthy, yet it would have been nice to have more voice acting out of the cast for some of the more intimate fights. Exploration and replayability come in via receiving faxes that hint at locations to revisit, and for the completionists there’s a few collectables in every Death Drive game to hunt down. Most of the cash picked up is used to change T-Shirts in the hub screen, though what the point of that is unclear except shouting out to some great indie developers. Travis is pretty much continually with his back to the camera, so it really doesn’t matter what’s under his jacket. You will see it each time he decides to take a dump though… which is genuinely how progress is saved.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Complete Edition features all the characters and DLC that eventually shipped to the Switch version, and there’s a reasonable amount to work through. It’s well put together, leverages the influences that it wants to portray to great effect, but ultimately has a core mechanic that grows tiresome quite quickly. It’s not boring, it’s too esoteric for that, it’s just a bit (and it feels weird to write it) bland when it comes to the combat. Basic hack and slash fans are well catered for here, those who like more depth and variety will love it at the start, and could probably end up feeling like they’re going through the motions on autopilot for most of the time thereafter.
A PS4 review copy of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Complete Edition was provided by Grasshopper Manufacture’s PR team, and the game is available now on PS4 and PC, and in its original form on the Switch.