Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (NS) – we’d certainly advise skipping it

The creator of killer7 and Lollipop Chainsaw makes his big comeback with a Switch exclusive that pokes fun at gaming and gamers.

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For years the logo of developer Grasshopper Manufacture featured the motto ‘Punk’s not Dead’, an indication of founder Goichi ‘Suda51’ Suda’s attitude towards pop culture in general and game design in particular. Indie in sensibility, if not business set-up, games like killer7 and the original two No More Heroes were surreal, anarchic, and completely unlike anything else being published at the time.

But his most famous titles are all over a decade old at this point and, as he explained to us when we met him last month, Suda has spent the intervening time as a producer, acting in more secondary roles even on games like Lollipop Chainsaw and Killer Is Dead. But this game, which he has been clear to point out is not No More Heroes 3, marks his long-awaited return to the director’s chair.

In terms of style and presentation it features all the signature elements you’d expect of a Suda51 game, as well as celebrating his newfound love for Western indie gaming. But unfortunately none of it seems anywhere near as daring or funny as it used to. The question then is whether the gameplay and distinctive art style can still keep things interesting…

Coherent storytelling is not something Suda has ever been interested in but while this might not be a numbered sequel it is a direct follow-up to No More Heroes 2. The game’s protagonist, the purposefully unlikeable otaku parody Travis Touchdown, has tired of being an international assassin and has retired to live in a trailer in the middle of a forest. The game’s story revolves around the father of Bad Girl from the first game, who has come to seek revenge on Travis for killing his daughter. Which results in… both of them being sucked into a possessed video game console.

Although Travis is still armed with a faux lightsabre, and has a penchant for wrestling moves, the combat has only a passing similarity to that of the originals. The action is viewed from a very distant top down perspective (which makes for some spectacularly ugly screenshots) and almost seems like it’s trying to channel old school coin-ops like Gauntlet, especially as there’s now a major focus on two-player co-op.

The basic action and repartee of moves is very simple but this can be augmented by collecting ‘chips’ which grant a wide range of unique abilities that work on a cooldown meter. These range from all manner of elemental attacks to grenades, poison gas, and what are essentially magic attacks (or rather Force powers, given the presence of the not-a-lightsabre). There are disappointingly few chips that are unique to each character though, which seems a missed opportunity.

The other spice of variety is the game’s innumerable mini-games and frequent, but brief, shifts into other genres. To escape the console you’re trying to collect six different games and this is represented by the action occasionally switching to a side-on view, adding in platforming and puzzle elements, or indulging in a racing mini-game. There’s also a recurring visual novel, whose monochrome aesthetics are used to make up for the fact that there’s very little voice-acting.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (NS) – not a triumphal return

Although the core combat wears thin very quickly the basic set-up is fine, even if the attempts to switch genres seems rather half-hearted. What’s clearly supposed to tie it all together is the dialogue and a constant stream of jokes, (dated) pop culture references, and fourth wall breaks. The problem is that very little of it is funny. On the contrary, much of it is cringe-inducingly bad.

There do seem to be some translation issues, but either way a lot of the dialogue is flat out embarrassing and even the in-jokes about being a low-budget developer seem rather desperate. The game’s references to various modern indie games, both in terms of collectable T-shirts and actual gameplay nods, feel a lot less synthetic and you can tell that’s where Suda’s real passion is nowadays – not trying to recreate his past glories through what quickly begins to feel like a bad pastiche.

But while the subjective nature of humour offers some shield for the script the real problem is simply that the core gameplay is too shallow and the level design too repetitive to sustain any real interest. It’s a particular shame because the artwork, by British artist Boneface, is great – weird, varied, and colourful in a way the game itself seldom is.

While Travis Strikes Again is not a terrible game, as a comeback it could barely be worse. It feels like it’s made by someone that didn’t actually want to return and even the plot itself suggests a director that is now more interested in other people’s games than his own. Like Johnny Rotten shilling for Country Life butter, punk may not be dead but its most famous exponents are getting well past their best before date.



Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

In Short: A disappointing return for Suda51 whose shallow, repetitive action is not helped by a relentlessly unfunny script and tired pop culture references.

Pros: The core combat is not irredeemable and can be perfectly entertaining at first, especially when playing with a friend. Some great art design and the attempts at variety are a welcome effort.

Cons: The gameplay is far too simplistic to keep your interest and the level design needlessly repetitive, despite all the mini-games and distractions. Weak script.

Score: 4/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch
Price: £24.99
Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: 18th January 2019
Age Rating: 16

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