The Nintendo Wii didn’t have the most ‘hardcore’ reputation. The immense sales it accumulated did translate into software variety, but not in a flattering way. Retroactively speaking, the Wii’s use was primarily that of bringing the family together over some Christmas-time Wii Sports. Its library consisted mostly of shovelware, but there were some diamonds in the rough. Amongst the usual Nintendo suspects like Mario or Zelda, games like Disaster: Day of Crisis, Madworld and House of the Dead: Overkill were diamonds in the rough. Not popular games, per-se, but memorable ones.
No More Heroes is one of the more well-known ‘hardcore’ Wii games. It quickly garnered praise for its stylistic approach to a mish-mash of genres, providing one of the most solid experiences on the console. It got a sequel and a PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 port in 2010, three years after the original’s release, but the series has maintained radio silence ever since. The Nintendo Switch is the console to break that silence, however, as Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes bursts into the world of 2019.
Travis Strikes Again is the third game in the series, set after No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. That said, it’s not No More Heroes 3; those words (and a number) will pick up the heartrate of any fan of the series or designer Goichi Suda’s work. Suda, better known as Suda51, has had a rough patch of sorts for the last few years. While none of his more recent games have lost the punk rock attitude that Suda’s known for, they’ve all been commercially or critically lukewarm. Travis Strikes Again is not only a great opportunity for Suda to return to his former form but it’s also a fantastic game by itself.
Without giving too much away, series protagonist Travis Touchdown – still voiced by the immaculate Robin Atkin Downes – has secluded himself in the woods to escape his Assassin life so he can play his video games in peace. In the middle of a Hotline Miami session (no, really, the music was playing and everything) he’s found and confronted by masked man Badman. He’s a new character, but he’s the father of another one that fans of the series will be familiar with: Travis killed his daughter Badgirl at the end of the first game.
The game looks perpetually gorgeous
There’s always something new being added to test your skills
After a brief tussle, Travis shows Badman something that could solve his ‘dead daughter’ problem. He’s come across a video game system – the Death Drive Mark II – that thrusts its players into the game world…for real. If you die in the game, you die in real life! However, the console will seemingly grant the wishes of anybody who can beat all seven of its games, called ‘Death Balls’. Badman wants to use the DDM2’s wishes to resurrect his daughter, and Travis – being the dude who killed her – is coming along for the ride.
The first thing that fans of the series will notice is that Travis Strikes Again doesn’t feel all that much like a No More Heroes game. It’s a spin-off, after all, and not a direct sequel. The style and attitude are there, absolutely, but Travis Strikes Again plays more like an arcade game than the Grand Theft Auto stylings of its predecessors. Combat is deceptively simple; both Travis and Badman have light and heavy attacks with ground and aerial varieties, a dodge roll, and several interchangeable ‘Skills’ that each carry a different power-up.
These Skills are wonderfully specific, making none more ‘viable’ than any other. Picking them really is up to how you like to play. As well as Skills, levelling up either Travis or Badman with XP from a shared pool will make their attacks deal more damage. This combat system betrays its depth with how simple it is to pick up and play. I spent hours fine-tuning my skills according to my playstyle, and the enemy variety will put different approaches to the test.
There’s just the right amount of gameplay variety, too
Travis Strikes Again shows its arcade inspirations further with said enemies. The plentiful cannon fodder will die in one hit, but heavier enemies (each with different attacks) can take more beatings before disintegrating in a Matrix-style dramatic leap backwards. No matter how comfortable you get, Travis Strikes Again finds a way to make you sweat. There’s always something new being added to test your skills. Some of these additions prove more frustrating than others, like the 2 dollar shop variety Pac Man that chases you through a suburban maze, but it rarely gets more irritating than that.
The co-op mode, too, plays into the arcade motif. At any time, anybody with just a single Joy-Con can enter your game and play alongside you – just like putting in that extra dollar at an arcade machine. Even without a second player, you can swap between Travis and Badman at any time. They both have their own Skill slots, and each has their own health bar. Yes, you can cheese the game by getting Travis to low health then switching to Badman for a full pool of health! Just make sure you’ve levelled him up accordingly, or you’ll have a bad time.
Travis Strikes Again has seven Death Balls, but you only start with one. How you collect more is just one sentence in a thousand word love letter to the video games of old. When you beat a Death Ball, you get the next one by going through an Amiga-style text cutscene chock full of Suda’s trademark humour and fourth wall jokes. The Death Balls themselves may play moreso like arcade games, but their details are more akin to the PS1 era of games. Intro cutscenes for each Death Ball look like they were ripped straight out of a black-bottomed PS1 disc. In one, a cheesy FMV cutscene employs every budget Horror trick in the book. In another, a Tekken-like speechless drama plays out with low-poly models and an archaic camera. Even the pixel art cutscene of the first Death Ball is more reminiscent of 32-bit pixel games like Suikoden II or Parodius. Nostalgia aside, these visual choices are presented extremely well and with just the right amount of straightness. Each Death Ball’s music is also heavily inspired by older sensibilities, but has the same polish and matches its visual counterpart perfectly.
They also rag on Deadpool in one of these segments. This game’s great
It’s not just older games that Travis Strikes Again pays homage to. Part of the game’s many collectables are T-shirts that Travis and Badman can wear, all of which feature indie games. Papers, Please, Hatoful Boyfriend, UNDERTALE, and RUINER are just some of the multitude of indies that get the Suda nod. It’s not just the Hotline Miami plug at the beginning. The reference to indies is definitely not just for looks, though. Travis Strikes Again is much smaller in scope than any of Suda’s previous games, and the famous designer was eager to work on something that required a smaller team. This works to the game’s advantage, funnily enough, as it’s resulted in a much more polished title – filled to the brim with the up-yours attitude that made Suda such a popular figure in the first place. Although that has lent to Travis Strikes Again being on the short side.
That’s the important thing to remember: Travis Strikes Again may be a spin-off, but it’s still a No More Heroes game. Travis does his suplexes to finish off end bosses, you still save the game by going to the toilet, and Travis is as foul-mothed as ever…albeit with less dick jokes. In that regard Travis Strikes Again is just one part of a growing trend of what I like to call the ‘toe-dip reboot’. Older game series are being bought back in a more restrained form to dip their toes in the current gaming climate. Remasters are its most obvious form, but some games like recent critic darling God of War or the upcoming Half-Life VR are offering re-interpretations of their source material. If Travis Strikes Again is definitely one of the latter, I’m very confident that No More Heroes still has a place in the gaming world of 2019 and beyond.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is not only a fantastic return of an iconic series, but a dazzling reminder that Suda51 has still got it. It’s also a fantastic game, regardless of your history with Suda’s work or the No More Heroes Series. Filled to the brim with satisfying gameplay and overflowing with attitude and character, Travis Strikes Again is a game that every Switch owner must have. MUST.