By Josh Speer / January 25th, 2019
|Title||Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes|
|Developer||Grasshopper Manufacture Inc.|
|Publisher||Grasshopper Manufacture Inc.|
|Release Date||January 18th, 2019|
|Age Rating||M for Mature 17+ – Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Violence|
Let me clarify something really quick. Travis Strikes Again is NOT No More Heroes 3. That was my initial assumption, and it’s important that those of you reading this understand the difference. See, Travis Strikes Again is a gaiden game, and that shows in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very much No More Heroes, and is pungent with that insane musk the series is known for. Suda51 has crafted an entry that often defies expectations and regularly defies logic. But in some ways, it’s very much the first of its kind. The question then, is if that’s a good thing? And more importantly, does Travis Strikes Again make up for the nine-year hiatus since the Wii?
Travis Strikes Again starts with an epic cutscene that I’m sure most of you have already seen. Badman, the father of the murderous, bat-wielding Bad Girl, wants revenge on Travis for her death. He hunts him down, and finds Travis roughing it in his outdoor trailer. Banter is exchanged, winks are made at the audience, and then things get especially weird. Apparently, at some point Travis found a nigh impossible to locate game console called the Death Drive Mk II. Think the Virtual Boy combined with VR and you’re on the right track. Somehow the game machine suddenly comes to life and sucks both Travis and his assailant into a strange game world, and thus begins our story.
In the first world, Electric Thunder Tiger II, Travis quickly finds out that the Death Drive games are all full of dangerous bugs, who are all out to kill you. The system itself was created by an ahead of her time genius, Dr. Juvenile. Not only does her system draw in the players, but there’s also a myth about the game cartridges, called Death Balls. By collecting six of them, the owner can have their dearest wish granted. If that sounds familiar, then just wait, cause Travis Strikes Again has a shit ton of references to popular culture, from anime to other video games and much more.
While I was drawn in quickly by the opening sequence, once you beat the first world the plot meanders unexpectedly. Badman was initially hellbent on murdering Travis, but after they both come out of the game, it seems things have changed. The game doesn’t really address this change of heart, mind you, and you’ll see Badman wandering the trailer between stages. Though his presence does serve a functional purpose for co-op, his sudden lack of menace really hurts the urgency of the story. It wasn’t clear to me what exactly was happening, and it isn’t til much later that it seems apparent Travis and Badman are suddenly working together. It’s possible I missed something in the copious amount of dialogue in the game, but if not this sudden shift was puzzling. Thankfully, while the story in no way is actually about Travis vs Badman, the other tangents it goes on are pretty interesting by themselves.
Each of the Death Ball titles is a reference to popular culture’s past. For example, Life is Destroy starts off with a bloody sequence that made me instantly think of Night Trap. Another, Golden Dragon GP, has vector graphics that strongly reminded me of Tron. They all have their own vibe, and that goes double for the epic Archive material about them. These materials are a nod to old Nintendo Power style magazine coverage, and feature commentary, art and even secrets that you can check out in each level. I was frankly stunned by how much work went into making a bunch of flavor text that the majority of gamers won’t even bother reading, though I’d say those gamers are missing out. The essential flavor of this game is one that embraces and parodies the video game phenomenon. I loved all the little nods to classics, both obvious and more esoteric.
My only real complaint is that the stages themselves don’t start offering really standout features until later in the game, about four stages in. Keeping in mind there are only six stages in the game, that was a bit of a letdown. Mostly because without unique aspects like Golden Dragon GP’s racing, stages mostly break down to ‘fight all the enemies, kill the boss, rinse and repeat.’ I guess part of my issue with the relative monotony of the experience is I have fond memories of the NES-styled minigames from No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. The amount of diversity in those was really great, and though they could get frustrating, I enjoyed their inclusion. Which brings us to the combat in Travis Strikes Again, and how different it feels from the rest of the series. Note that I didn’t say worse, but it is worth covering how significant a departure it is from the first two games.
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