After completing Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, it’s apparent the game is just an appetizer, a taste of what’s to come for the cult favorite series. As a massive fan of the previous entries, this was a relief. Whereas those games were absurd, comically violent character action romps set in pseudo open world environments, the scale of this entry was decidedly smaller. It played like a straightforward beat ‘em up, and had more in common with Streets of Rage than the frenetic action of its predecessors. When the gameplay failed to captivate, as it often did, the trademark Suda51 kitsch succeeded. Despite a pared down budget, this was still a title with a vulgar script and memorable scenarios.
Released worldwide on January 18, 2019, Travis Strikes Again was developed and published by Grasshopper Manufacture, with a physical edition distributed by Nintendo. This is actually only the second game the Tokyo-based developer has self-published in their twenty-one years. Taking place years after Travis Touchdown rose through the ranks of the United Assassins Association, twice, he now resides in a remote trailer house, somewhere in Texas. His past catches up to him when Badman, the father of one of the assassins Travis murdered previously, arrives, seeking revenge. They get sucked into the Death Drive MK-II, a forbidden video game console and together, begrudgingly work towards completing the full library of games; whoever does so first will be granted one wish.
Controlling either Travis or Badman, my friend and I guided the pair through the half-dozen or so games they needed to play through. We hacked and slashed our way through stages that had little variation from one to the next and lasted much too long. Each one tasked us defeating that game’s boss, but not before vanquishing hundreds of lesser enemies and dabbling in platforming or navigational puzzle solving. In addition to their light, heavy, and charged attacks, Travis and Badman could be equipped with up to four special moves. By the end of the game, we had a diverse selection of special moves, from area of effect attacks to healing maneuvers, and enjoyed formulating strategies and calling out actions. Besides the joy of camaraderie inherent in playing with a friend, the game’s shallow gameplay fast became an exercise in monotony. Eventually, we labored away not out of enjoyment, but out of responsibility for how far we had come.
In between these action stages were visual novel segments where Travis tracked down the next game he and Badman needed to play. Suda’s punk rock style and immature humor shone through in these relatively brief interludes. Presented as though they were chapters of a retro visual novel played on a monochrome monitor, my friend and I buttoned through fourth-wall breaking, self-referential dialogue that harkened back to our playthroughs of the Silver Case games, and not just figuratively. Characters from those games, and other Grasshopper Manufacture works, littered the scenarios, prompting a sense of pride when we “got” the references. These sections were a breath of fresh air, and something to look forward to amidst the repetitive action gameplay prevalent throughout the rest of the game.
Playing up the low budget, independent angle, the game was infused with much love for indie game developers. Dozens of shirts bearing logos or images from indie games such as Golf Story and Undertale were available to clothe Travis or Badman. A few shirts bearing Zelda iconography were also included, which was somewhat unreal considering the adult content present. Well actually, I guess it’s all Unreal… since the game was made with Unreal Engine… I’ll see myself out. Much love was shown to Hotline Miami in particular: a few stages bore resemblance to the well-regarded top-down shooter, including the final stage which included an apocryphal arcade version of HLM and similar dialogue windows.
Furthering the game’s indie credentials, the music was composed by a pair of little-known Japanese DJs: DJ Abo and DJ 1-2. Mostly comprised of pulsing contemporary electronica, the songs fit the on-screen action well. Abrasive rock, chiptunes, and even a dour Japanese folk song, rounded out the auditory journey. A soundtrack hasn’t been announced, but there are plenty of standout tracks that warrant one, such as the mansion theme to Coffee & Doughnuts, the Death Drive’s game select, and the stage theme for Electric Thunder Tiger II.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes was a disappointment. My friend and I had a good time, but we’d honestly have a good time no matter what we played. The absurd dialogue and callbacks to previous Suda51 works kept us going when the shallow gameplay and lengthy stages otherwise diminished the experience. Fortunately, it appears that a proper No More Heroes 3 is in development. My hope is that with it, Grasshopper Manufacture will be able to better marry the qualities that have made their past works not only unique, but fun to play.