Review – Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

I can’t account for my fascination with the character of Travis Touchdown. He’s a womanizing, awkward, selfish, and overall pathetic character, but I find him difficult to fully hate. Even in terms of his characterization, he’s inconsistently written to the point where it’s sometimes hard to peg whether his pseudo-intellectual musings on the topic of bloodlust are sincere, or just him trying to act cool. Maybe it’s just because he’s part of the same social world as I am. He’s a geek, an otaku. He plays video games and watches anime. If we became co-workers, we’d have something to talk about, even if I wouldn’t be doing anything after work with him.

It’s a strangely rare character archetype in video games. Most games don’t delve too far into the hobbies of their protagonists in the first place. In media res or amnesia usually wipes that corner of their personality away. Yet, here’s Travis, he’s a loser. I can relate to that, I guess, even if I find parts of him to be repugnant.

So, yeah, No More Heroes and its sequel have been cemented into the foggy, constantly shifting list of favourite games. I’ve got a lot of goodwill for both it, and its creator, Suda 51. So when a downloadable spin-off comes along; I’m on board so hard.

A WHOLE NEW GENERATION OF GAMERS

The premise of Travis Strikes Again reads like a twisted version of my life. Travis Touchdown has been living off the grid for a while, playing video games and living in a trailer. Badman shows up seeking revenge for the daughter that Travis killed in the original No More Heroes. One thing leads to another, and suddenly they get sucked into a prototype game console that Travis has for some reason. Gameplay then alternates between getting more games for the machine and diving in to complete them.

Travis even blogs (albeit about ramen), what else do we have in common?

Initially, the idea of being trapped in a game world didn’t appeal to me but returning to the trailer after completing a game sort of anchors everything in a satisfying way. The video game worlds act as a throwback to retro games, and each time a new ball is added, you’re given an article from an old magazine that gives information on the title, written in that simple, conversational tone of early 90’s game journalism.

Collecting games and reading old magazines, that’s a typical Saturday for me.

FIRE UP YOUR BEAM KATANA

The gameplay diverges in a minor way that makes a major impact on how it plays. It is once again a hack-and-slash at heart, capping each level off with a boss battle. However, the gameplay has been simplified. Sort of. No More Heroes never had the deepest combat in the first place, but Travis Strikes Again has made it faster, making it easier to tackle multiple enemies at the same time. There are light and heavy attacks, which can’t be strung together in any interesting fashion, and the ability to use both while jumping. There are also a selection of powers that you can pick up and equip, but the game has a weird objection to you becoming overpowered, so every power is disappointing in its own way.

No More Heroes and, indeed, most of Suda 51’s games typically try to subvert your expectations at every opportunity, which is the case here, as well. Most stages involve top-down hack-’em-up gameplay, but almost every game throws something into the works to change things. Sometimes you solve puzzles, while others are straight fighting. One has you racing, another has you side-scrolling. The combat never changes, but sometimes it’s less of a focus.

It would be nice if it was less of a focus more often, however, because, holy gosh, it is monotonous. There’s not that much variation to enemies, not even from game to game. Only bosses really show true variety when it comes to combat. This gets particularly bad towards the end of the game when the levels get stretched out, the environments become more boring, and it’s just a slog in general. I’m tired of fighting those damned enemy spawning skulls.

SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE

It’s not like any of Suda 51’s games have really nailed the gameplay itself. He’s always been a style over substance sort of dude, and Travis Strikes Again certainly follows his modus operandi. While trudging through boring, enemy-infested corridors make up the bulk of the game, returning to the trailer after beating a boss nets you a bunch of flavourful asides. Progressing the story requires you going through an old DOS-like text adventure, while Travis’ blogs on ramen are available to peruse. Further story is hinted at in faxes, and the potential of their sincerity layers on a bit more intrigue to the overall plot.

It’s what helps make the trailer feel more homely, and comes across after a bit of an award for slogging through the dry gameplay sections. You can buy t-shirts for the characters, but since the game is always such a zoomed out angle, they’re not very worth buying. There are also cheat codes that can be triggered at certain points within a level. They don’t necessarily do anything exciting, but it’s an extra goal if you feel the game ends to soon.

There’s also a two-player co-op mode, which I’ll admit, I didn’t get to play. My normal co-op partner didn’t seem too interested in partaking, and I have deadlines to meet. It seems kind of cool. Apparently, Badman plays slightly different than Travis. I’m not going to try that, though. Badman’s gross.

NICE TRAILER

In order to truly appraise the game, I sort of have to put aside the connection I have with it and the character. Give me a second. Okay, so the game was okay. It’s something that I’ll likely pop in again when the DLC comes out or when I can rope in a co-op partner. It’s not something that I’ll likely be looking forward to returning to the next time I try to play through the whole series. It might be more worthwhile to just reload my save and putter around the trailer, reading ramen reviews and old magazine articles.

It’s maybe damning with praise that my favourite part of Travis Strikes Again is the downtime you get when you’re not actually playing the game. When you’re actually playing the game itself, the combat is a slog, but the writing, the style, and the flavour is all perfect. The toppings are so delicious that your mouth will temporarily forget about the fact that the broth is flavourless water. It creates a dish that delights in small islands surrounded by disappointment. Gochisousama deshita.

5/10

This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.

About Adzuken 160 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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