No More Heroes and its sequel were some of the finest games on Nintendo’s Wii, showing that the system could be home to games filled with violence and gore, juxtaposed against the family-friendly fare that flooded its library. The game was later ported to PlayStation 3, but it’s been years since we’ve seen its anti-hero, the video game-obsessed otaku and assassin Travis Touchdown in action. Unapologetically boorish, and with a massive chip on his shoulder, Travis is the sort of person I’d hate in the real world, but he’s somehow endearing when confined to video games.
Travis Strikes Again in a new hack-and-slash Switch exclusive that’s a spin-off of No More Heroes. In it, an older Travis has grown tired of being an assassin and has gone off the grid. He’s tracked down by Bad Man, the vengeful father of one of his previous targets. During their battle, they awaken a mythical unreleased video game console called the Death Drive MK II, and get sucked into various video game worlds. These worlds are, however, infested with software bugs, which Travis and – if playing co-operatively – Bad Man need to vanquish.
Instead of the third-person perspective from the No More Heroes games, things are pulled back a
It wouldn’t be so bad if the action in question wasn’t so simplified. Travis has a basic set of attacks in his repertoire. He can do a weak attack, a heavy one, a dodge and he can jump. In mid-air, he can execute the weak and heavy attacks to bring his beaming sword crashing down on enemies. And that’s about it for his core attacks. It means there are no real combos or chains (the heavy attack can be used twice in succession, doubling its damage on the second hit), making the minute-to-minute action a little more boring than it should be. There is also a sort of super move that Travis can do, that powers up in tiers, letting him unleash a devastating attack. Of course, Travis can’t just go about swinging his Beam Katana with reckless abandon, and has to do the same motion-controlled onanistic gesture to replenish the weapon’s energy.
At the beginning of the game, new types of bugs (with awful, pun-laden names like Bugstreet Boys and Zuckerbug) are introduced, with each having different ways of attacking. Some are hordes that rush towards the player like zombie runners, while others brandish swords or explode within player proximity. Adding a little in the way of depth are Skill Chips. Littered throughout the game, collectible skill Chips add up to four assignable powers to the mix, ranging from healing effects, to shotgun blasts, to Area of Effect blasts. They all operate on a cooldown and add just enough variety into the game to stop it from being unbearably dull.
Unforgiveable is just how much the potential for variety is squandered. With Travis and Bad Man entering different games, it would have been fantastic to fight against enemies and characters from those mostly fictionalised games. Instead, it’s the same mindlessly repetitive hacking and slashing against the same repetitive armies of bugs. There where moments where I thought that might change – like when you enter what’s supposed to be a racing game. The racing ended up being a simple minigame, while the rest of it was the same hack and slash action found everywhere else. As you work your way through the collection of games that Travis gets pulled into, you realise that it’s all going to be the same unexciting gameplay given different coats of paint.
Even the exposition is drab, dreary and a convoluted mess. It’s all delivered via green, monochromatic walls of text that are reminiscent of old school DOS visual novels, but you’re unable to make any choices, so you’re just stuck there reading scrolling walls of largely uninteresting text that sometimes includes a worthwhile self-referential joke, reference or Easter egg. The game even recognises this, with a character saying that gamers aren’t interested in all of the text and just want to get back to the action. Jokes like this abound, and the series has always been self-aware – but they’re often a little too on-the-nose to be funny. Those expecting an actual adventure mode are going to be bitterly disappointed.
Travis Strikes Again is designed to be repetitive, to evoke nostalgic memories of old arcade games, but it ends up being tiresome instead. There are some shining moments though. Each world has an end boss for Travis to fight, and they’re all interesting and fun to battle against. There are, of course, lots of little nods to previous Suda 51 games, and a revelation or two that’ll leave Grasshopper Manufacture fans frothing. It’s just a pity that those fleeting moments of brilliance are wrapped up in a game that’s just no fun to play. It’s never a good sign when you’re playing a game, and you just can’t wait for it to end.
After so many years, No More Heroes fans – and Travis himself – deserve better than this.
Last Updated: January 16, 2019