It’s been nearly nine years since the release of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle on the Nintendo Wii. Suda51 and his crew at Grasshopper Manufacture have gained quite the following for their beam-sword wielding assassin, Travis Touchdown. With stylish violence and great boss battles, the series was due for a return. In comes the Nintendo Switch and Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, releasing at a budget price point. Made as a spin-off to test the waters for a sequel, the game takes an indie approach and changes the formula a bit. Is this new Suda51 trip worth the wait? Or is it best to let this series sleep?
The premise of the game is an interesting one indeed. Set years after No More Heroes 2, Travis Strikes Again casts the titular hero in the southern part of the United States in his trailer home. Badman, the father of the assassin Bad Girl, is out for revenge against Travis for his actions in the first game. Travis has obtained the rare game console, the Death Drive Mark II, and during a fight with Badman, they are both suddenly transported into the game world. There are six unreleased games (known as “Death Balls”) made for the console, and legend has it that one who beats all six may have their wish granted. Clearly, an homage to the long running Dragon Ball series.
With the unusual circumstances, Travis and Badman work together to obtain all the Death Balls in the hopes to bring back Bad Girl. Each game is linked to a larger conspiracy, which gets revealed more over the course of the game. In the beginning, Travis only has one Death Ball, but using his motorcycle, he can start Travis Strikes Back: No More Heroes to get more. Essentially a visual novel within the game, Travis Strikes Back takes players on a journey to collect the Death Balls one by one. The story, and game as a whole really, is ripe with tons of references and tributes to other games and pop culture. The big Suda51 fans are also in for a treat with this one.
Getting to the actual gameplay, the game is essentially a hack n’ slash. Players can play as either Travis or Badman to force their way through each game. Couch co-op is also an option, allowing for a second player to drop in or out with ease. While the core gameplay is mostly the same, each game does change things up slightly. One might involve working through mazes to reach a goal while another might incorporate a racing game. While the gameplay never takes a huge departure, the variety is enough to work through the interesting pacing of the game.
The combat isn’t quite as complex as the previous two games, offering light and heavy attacks, jump attacks, and a dodge roll. Players will still have to recharge their weapon in classic No More Heroes fashion by shaking the controller. The main difference here is the new Death Glove controller that Travis wears, offering the use of new skill chips (named after Gundam models). Able to equip up to four skill chips, players can customize their abilities more than ever before. Some skills may give Travis a dash ability while others might summon an orbital laser. It’s best for players to find what works best for them, though the dash ability does end up being required to reach certain areas. Players can also choose to level up and become stronger by spending experience points at their leisure. It’s truly a different type of No More Heroes experience.
Talking a bit more about the multiplayer, the game only offers local co-op. It’s a bit unfortunate that there is no online capability, but it’s understandable for this type of game. It’s also worth mentioning that while Travis and Badman can each equip four skills, they can’t equip the same skills at once. This is a problem mostly because it will take a while to gather enough skill chips for both players to round out their equipment. Another issue is that experience gained in single player does not carry over to the partner character when they are not in use. If you beat the entire game as one character, the other one will be significantly weaker. Finally, there are moments in the game that can only be done by the first player, leaving player two twiddling their thumbs.
As mentioned before, the game is full of tons of references. Every generic enemy represents a bug in the game, applying the word “bug” to a celebrity or group. Names like Lady BugBug (Lady Gaga) and Bug Gates (Bill Gates) are just the tip of the iceberg, but the references don’t stop there. Each game starts with Travis or Badman entering the game like a time traveling Terminator, fully nude and sporting the iconic pose. In a lot of ways, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a true pop culture love letter. Both characters are also able to sport clothing representing a long list of various real indie games. There are plenty of other references throughout the adventure, but it’s best not to ruin the surprises.
While combat is simple, the fact that Travis now has the ability to jump brings in one of the biggest issues of the game. Some of the Death Ball games offer platforming segments, which can bring quite a lot of frustration. There is a bit of a delay between pressing the jump button and Travis actually jumping, but it’s not just that. Some platforms offer very small landing areas and can make an easy place for Travis to fall. For such an unresponsive jump, it requires way too much precision. Luckily, falling doesn’t instantly kill Travis and only deals minor damage. Even so, while it offers some gameplay variety, it may have been best to omit the platforming.
The No More Heroes series has been known for some of it’s clever writing and dialogue. Offering plenty of humor and fourth wall breaks, Travis Strikes Again is no different. Even though the writing is still fun and enjoyable, it’s unfortunate that the majority of the game lacks voice acting. For the moments it’s there, it’s fantastic, as Robin Atkin Downes brings his wonderful attitude back to Travis. Badman is also excellent, with the deep tones of voice acting veteran Steve Blum delivering a fun performance. Despite the shortage of voice acting, some of the text dialogue is still great. I especially recommend the Bugsxtra dialogue for extra zaniness.
Another feature the series is known for, as previously mentioned, is the boss battles. They’re not as stylish as some of the ones in the previous games, but they’re still a highlight. Travis is placed in various arenas, where he has to fight the playable character of each game to the death. Dialogue here is great, though again, it’s unfortunate that most of the bosses are limited to speech bubbles. After defeating a boss, Travis gains their power via a skill chip, similar to when Mega Man defeats a Robot Master. It’s a nice touch and fits well with the theme of the game.
It’s very clear that this game was on a smaller budget, likely to fit the indie aesthetic. While the series is finally in HD on a Nintendo platform, it doesn’t take full advantage of the hardware graphically. The No More Heroes series has always been stylized with cel-shaded graphics on top of detailed models. The cel-shading is still there, but it feels somewhat cheaper; likely intentional as even the characters mention the budget in the game. Despite that, there are still plenty of moments of pop-in textures and dips in the frame rate. The game overall feels a little less polished, more like the first No More Heroes rather than its sequel.
One thing that I really love about the game is the amount of secrets and the method to obtain them. Each game has a magazine review for players to glance at for extra details. On these review pages, there are special codes to unlock bonuses and even hidden enemy characters. Players have to find these locations in the game and input the code to obtain them, just like games of yore. While it’s entirely optional, there’s a certain thrill to this retro throwback to cheats in games. Travis’ cat Jeane will also get stuck in the games after a bit, tasking players with finding her.
Music in the game is performed by two Japanese DJ’s, DJ Abo and DJ 1-2. They bring a retro feel to a lot of the tracks, but they do get repetitive after a while. They’re fairly generic, but they get the job done. The remixes to one of the staple No More Heroes tracks is easily among the more memorable tracks. Overall, the music is fine, though I can’t help but miss the tracks by Masafumi Takada. At least Jun Fukuda stuck around to design the sound, which fits the aesthetic well.
Overall, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a solid experience. While not a full No More Heroes sequel, it presents the Suda51 style with gusto and leaves me wanting more. While it could be more polished, it clearly does what it wanted to accomplish. It highlights indie games and celebrates that scene with plenty of love and respect. With a variety of game styles and fun boss battles, the game could easily reach cult status. Incorporating co-op multiplayer was a good fit for the Switch too, offering a journey that lasts roughly 14 hours. For a budget No More Heroes experience with more content on the way, Travis Strikes Again is a fun ride.
Final Score: 8 out of 10