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Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Is An Odd Duck, But a Good Duck

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is the third game in the No More Heroes series of action-adventure hack-and-slash  games, developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and headed by Goichi “Suda 51” Suda. Travis Strikes Again serves as a spin-off to the main No More Heroes games, and features some significant departures from the mainline games. As such, don’t go into Travis Strikes Again with the expectation that you’re getting a conventional No More Heroes game (if you can even describe No More Heroes as conventional), because you’ll be disappointed.

Screenshot: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

The story of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes takes place seven years after the events of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Travis Touchdown, the main protagonist of the series, has hidden out in the mountains in attempt to leave his life as an assassin in the United Assassin’s Association behind, and do what he loves most: watch anime and play video games. However, his peaceful life is interrupted when Badman, the father of one of the assassins Travis had to kill in the original No More Heroes, finds Travis’s trailer and attempts to kill him. During the fight, the two men are sucked into the Death Drive Mark II, a video game console which never made it to the public, and that supposedly has the ability to grant you a wish if you beat all  six games which were meant to launch with the console. What follows is a race between Travis and Badman as they both try to beat all six games and get their wish.

Travis Strikes Again diverges from the main No More Heroes games in many ways, with the most obvious change being to the camera, as the game uses an overhead isometric view (and occasionally side-scrolling) instead of third-person, and reminiscent of a twin-stick shooter. Combat has also been simplified, with your character having access to a light attack, which can be used constantly and while moving, and a heavy attack which is slower and does much more damage. You have the option to use these attacks in the air for a dive bomb (light attack) or a ground pound (heavy attack), although these are fairly limited in usefulness, and I found myself barely using them. You also have a Charge Attack which you have to charge up by attacking enemies, and which is activated by pressing the right bumper three times. Death blows, a mechanic which allowed you to finish off weakened enemies in a shower of blood, have been removed, and the wrestling moves from previous games are now only available for use on bosses.

Screenshot: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Of course, this wouldn’t be a No More Heroes game if your off-brand light saber didn’t run out of batteries. You can recharge it by either clicking in the left thumbstick and wiggling the right thumbstick-which is a pain in the butt-or by clicking in the left thumbstick and shaking the right Joy-Con, which is a significantly better option. It almost seems that the controls were made this simple so that the game can comfortably be played with a single Joy-Con, because this game only utilizes six buttons and a thumbstick if you use motion controls. However, that means when you’re playing single player and using both Joy-Cons simultaneously, you’ve got six buttons and a thumbstick just sitting there and doing nothing.

Leveling up is somewhat strange, in that you have to go into the menu and manually level up your character, and you aren’t given any indication when you’ve gained enough XP to level your character up. Near the beginning of the game it’s suggested that you go through the entire game without leveling up “like a true gamer”, which explains this decision. Unfortunately, all leveling up does is increase your max health and the damage you deal with the beam katana and offensive Skill Chips, and doesn’t unlock combos or new weapons. Scattered around the levels are toilets, which not only let you save the game, but refill your health and give you some coins.  The game also features a lives mechanic, although it functions differently than in most games. Instead of using a life to start at the last checkpoint, lives allow you to immediately revive yourself where you died, with all enemies at the same health level as when you died. Losing all your lives will boot you back to the last toilet you saved at, and additional lives can be found in crates scattered around each level.

Screenshot: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

The other big addition are Skill Chips, different abilities that Travis and Badman can equip that give you new skills, and all of which are named after different Gundam, in keeping with Travis Strikes Again’s habit of having pop culture and video game references crammed into literally every facet of the game. Travis utilizes Skill Chips through the Death Glove, a gauntlet on his left hand that looks like a combination of a Nintendo Power Glove and Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet. Skill Chips are the real meat and potatoes of gameplay, and save Travis Strikes Again from being an entirely repetitive hack and slash. Each character can equip four Skill Chips, with abilities granted by Skill Chips range from a knockoff Force choke (further cementing Travis as an imitation Jedi), a field which slows enemies down, a healing aura, and a kinetic blast from Travis’ hand which damages and stuns enemies. New Skill Chips are given to the player after they beat the final boss of each game, with additional Skill Chips hidden throughout the levels.

New to the series is the ability to play the game in co-op, with one player as Travis and the other as Badman. I’m honestly really confused about some of the decisions that were made when it comes to co-op. As I mentioned previously, you don’t automatically level up, but you have to manually spend XP to level up. However, when you level up it only applies to one character, and if you level up Travis first, you aren’t then able to use that XP to level up Badman. This means that if you’re regularly leveling up Travis, you’ll have no XP left for Badman, meaning that player 2 will be at a disadvantage. Another strange decision is that both players are unable to equip the same Skill Chips at the same time, which really limits the already limited customization in Travis Strikes Again. The final gripe I have about co-op (although it’s a small one) is that the circles around each character-meant to help you tell your character apart from the other player-are so similar in color that it’s very easy to lose track of your character in the midst of combat. As a side note, if you’re playing single player, you can choose to play as Badman instead of Travis by going to the menu and choosing character select.

Screenshot: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

When you want to take a break from gameplay, you can go to Travis’s trailer, where you can look at faxes; the Ramen Blog (which updates everytime you encounter a new ramen stand ingame); check out the Death Drive Mk. II, where you can select what game you want to play; as well as buy new T-shirts to dress Travis and Badman in, which are bought with coins or Azteca Stones, both of which can be earned through gameplay. Unfortunately, with the camera angle and Travis’s jacket, you are almost never able to see the T-shirts, especially during normal gameplay, which is a let down. Funnily enough, with Badman’s torn up button down shirt, the T-shirts are actually more visible. You can also experience Travis Strikes Back, a visual novel which chronicles Travis’s journey to collect all the Death Balls, which is how you gain access to new games. Every time you beat a game, Travis Strikes Back becomes available, and is accessed by going to Travis’s motorcycle. Travis Strikes Back is a real treat, and is full of great dialogue and fourth wall breaking jokes.

Where Travis Strikes Again truly shines is in the art direction, its style, the dialogue, the music, and in the almost stupid amount of pop culture and video game references to be found in the game. Each different game you have to beat in Travis Strikes Back is a reference to old school games, with perhaps my favorite being Life Is Destroy, done in the style of games like Night Trap. When you first choose Life Is Destroy, you’re greeted with an FMV (full motion video for the uninitiated) which looks like it was ripped straight out of Night Trap. Every single T-shirt you can wear features the logo of some indie game from recent years, like Superhot, Enter the Gungeon, Hollow Knight, Dead Cells–the list goes on and on. The aformentioned Travis Strikes Back, which can range in length from a couple of minutes to 7+ minutes, and last, but possibly weirdest, is Bugxtra, a weird man who you can find around levels and talk to who gives you “Grandpa’s words of wisdom” which can range from mildly goofy food advice to truly surreal philosophical ponderings, that sometimes end with goofy food advice. There are so many little details, it almost seems that more attention was paid to everything BUT the gameplay.

Screenshot: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is, as the title of this review might suggest, a very odd duck. It’s one of the weirdest games I’ve played in recent memory, and I’m really not sure what to think of it. On one hand, the simple, repetitive gameplay and wonky camera are definite turnoffs. This is a game to be played in short bursts, because you can become bored with it after too long. On the other hand, I love the supremely goofy atmosphere, Travis’s character, and all the teeny-tiny details this game is bursting at the seams with, which I’m finding even more of as I play through the game again. So, is Travis Strikes Again the follow-up to No More Heroes 2 that fans wanted? Probably not. Does that mean it’s a bad game? Not at all. Gameplay-wise, it’s not really a No More Heroes game, with the true spirit of the series instead coming through in the dialogue and the general atmosphere. So if you played No More Heroes for the hack-and-slash gameplay, this probably isn’t for you. However, if you love the series for the all of the fourth wall breaks, the dialogue, and the just overall ridiculousness of the world it’s set it in, then Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes might just be right up your alley.

After launch, Travis Strikes Again was updated to include a New Game+ mode, as well as the addition of new T-shirts.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is available now on Nintendo Switch.

 

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