Gamers don’t have the most celebrated history of being cool people. Except for yours truly. Not since The Wizard featuring the mighty Fred Savage, has their been a player that exudes cool with a capital C. That is until we meet Travis Touchdown from Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes.
You might remember him from such titles as No More Heroes or No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (spoiler: that’s the sequel) which were famously on the Wii. Did Nintendo do a background check on him? A gamer assassin obsessed with porn and wrestling on the casual console? Not that I’m complaining – he’s basically the image of what some western otaku think is an actual otaku. Instead, they’re mostly one-handed typists, wear wax jackets and collect jailbait figures draped in bikinis. What are you talking about – ‘stereotypes’? It’s true! I read a blog about it.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is the third in the series by Suda51 (look him up), but interestingly, it’s not really considered a follow up to the second title – it’s more of a companion piece and flirts with indie games. Heck, if someone was playing this on their home rectangle and you weren’t aware it was a No More Heroes game, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was either a Nintendo eShop game or PSN title. It’s not the gameplay that stands out, but the segments in-between.
Wait… isn’t that Chris Redfield…?
Game Over, Now Where Are The Credits?
I do like self-aware entertainment – especially when it comes to breaking the fourth wall. Just as long as it isn’t overdone. Travis remains in character throughout (what a model professional) and doesn’t break his cool once. Apparently, he was modelled on Johnny Knoxville at the height of his Jackass fame. Wikipedia can get stuffed – I got all the facts. Bugger, Wikipedia does actually state that on his Wiki page.
The tale begins with a series of cutscenes that result in Badman being charged with the task of killing Travis. He has his motive – Travis killed his daughter. The bastard. Travis now lives isolated in a trailer, somewhere in Texas(?), playing videogames – living the dream. There’s not much to explain really, but Badman has been given a Death Ball which when in the proximity of Travis’ seemingly redundant console ‘Death Drive MK II’, causes them both chaps to be absorbed into the game. Their task is to find out more about the mysterious Dr Juvenile and defeat the bugs that plague each game. Are you still following?
The levels are represented by the Death Balls you need to collect and plug into the console. Progression isn’t a linear process as to unlock a new level, you have to obtain a Death Ball. This is easily done as all you have to do is read. That’s right, there’s a mini-story entitled ‘Travis Strikes Again’, presented in a monochrome visual text adventure. It’s not interactive, other than speeding through the dialogue. You can skip the lot if you want as this will unlock the next level no matter what, but I highly endorse reading it as it’s proper droll and aware that you are reading text within a game, within a game.
Balls: Gotta Collect Them All
Plug the Death Ball into the machine, and a new level begins. Some have slight themes like a Tron type game, another is a maze in the style of Hotline Miami. Still, they’re all predominantly the same game of running around hitting things with your beam katana (the other one is trademarked), collecting coins and levelling up. Enemies encountered are all the same apart from a lick of paint and a new mask – even the mid-bosses are just sheep in different colours. It’s this part of the game – the actual game – that will put a lot of people off as it is incredibly repetitive and there isn’t much to do other than light and heavy attacks, plus an evasion technique. Skill chips are unlocked though, and you have the option of assigning four at a time along with a hotkey (L1 plus triangle, for example). Charging your sword is a must too. There isn’t any ammo to collect, but you either have to shake the controller like a lemon or press L3 and wiggle the right stick to get your mojo back.
I thought the skill chips were a bit of a gimmick at first, but some of them are indispensable like health power-ups or sticky bombs. The latter being my favourite for crowd control and also to keep the bosses at a distance. Others are immobilising moves or energy drains which sound better in design that in practice. The difficulty is fair. You have a few options at the start, rated by flavour (sweet, mild and bitter), and when you finish it the first time around, the hardest mode is unlocked – spicy. Did I finish this mode? Have I f… On the topic of spicy, there are quite a few unlockables in the game, including t-shirts to wear and ramen. To eat.
Again, they’re mostly self-referential elements like gushing over fellow indie games by having Travis don an Absolver t-shirt or a random wrestling move (Suda51 is a big wrestling fan if you didn’t know). They have no perks other than Travis appearing quite dapper. Badman can wear the tees too as he’s one of the first playable characters that you can use by yourself or use both in a co-op. When you finish the game, there are two more playable characters to erm… play with. If you’re looking to platinum this one, it will take a long time – unless you don’t sleep or have a job – so adding two more players adds to the duration. By the way, the ramen just restores health in-game, but when you unlock the ramen stall in each level, you can hop on your computer in your hideout and ‘like’ the post on a ramen blog. Again, it doesn’t do anything to the game (other than a trophy for liking all the ramen). It’s another surplus feature – like the faxes you can retrieve and the archives, but these add to the overall experience if you’re into it. Which I was.
Tales of the surburbs
Triple Threat: Travis Touchdown, Trophies
Take, for example, one of the trophies: destroy 10,000 bugs. I would anticipate that it will likely be a total of three to four playthroughs to get to that number. Doable, but I don’t know if that game has that kind of longevity. You see, the highlight of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is the cutscenes and extras. Suda51 is clearly a fanboy himself, there are constant in-jokes, self-awareness and pop culture references throughout. I don’t get off on these sort of things usually, but every now and then I got a reference, and it made me chuckle. Which seemed to echo in my cell. One of the games referred to is Shadows of the Damned. This one flew over my head as I have no idea about the story or characters. No probs, though. I know who Deadpool is when he gets marked.
I touched upon this being like an indie game. That’s mostly all I play on the Nintendo Switch, so if I played this on my favourite handheld device, it wouldn’t look out of place. The graphics in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes are a bit naff if I’m to be honest. For the primary levels of combat, it’s quite a distant view so you can’t see all the character models that well. Maybe for the better, I don’t know. It’s hardly next-generation visuals, but that said, the presentation and experience throughout are awesome. From the animated HUD at either side of the 4:3 ratio screen to the FMV cutscenes for each game (the intro for the Death Drive MK II is remarkably like the Mega Drive…), it just works.
If you like geeky stuff, then you’ll love this, but be warned that it is incredibly samey and while there is a lot of fun to be had with the humour – notably the dialogue, I’m not too sure on longevity. Since completing the story mode, going through and playing again to see the same exchange so soon isn’t exactly exciting – and I’m certainly not going back for the gameplay. Yet again, another trophy reference really as that is the only motivation.
Disclaimer: I first played No More Heroes a bit later than most. Yeah, I had a Wii, but at the time was in Japan and there was no way I could follow the dialogue without the subtitles. It wasn’t until my Wii sophomore years that I played it and very much liked it.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes doesn’t have the same feel as the original games in terms of gameplay, but it does with presence. I’m sure there will be another one in the future – it’s been over 10 years since the original though. In the meantime, this is a good one for the fans, but maybe wait for a sale and while waiting, grab a bowl of ramen. IRL.