Back in 2016, game designer Suda51 was featured in a documentary series called toco toco. In his episode, Suda stated that he wanted to “make games that couldn’t be categorized in any genre”. Indeed, he’s spent years designing, writing and directing genre-bending games that carry a punk-rock flair and charm only someone like Suda51 could deliver. He’s made visual novel crime stories, side-scrolling platformers, and third person action adventures. Yet, with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, it feels like Suda has created an artistic, personally-driven video game experience that truly belongs to no genre or category.
Suda51 rarely makes sequels to his works, instead pumping out a nearly constant stream of original games. Travis Strikes Again is a rare exception, however, as it’s the third entry in his cult classic series No More Heroes. To call it No More Heroes 3 would be a bit of a stretch, though. While this game does take place after No More Heroes 2, it’s more of a quirky aside than a direct follow up.
Travis is living in a trailer in the woods when Bad Man, father of ex-assassin and current corpse-in-the-ground Bad Girl, tracks him down in order to get revenge for the death of his daughter. During their scuffle, the two are sucked into the Death Drive MK2, a forbidden game console that Travis somehow got his hands on. From there, it’s up to Travis to track down and beat all six video games for the Death Drive MK2.
The initial set-up for the story in Travis Strikes Again is a bit of an arcade-y mess, mainly serving to quickly set up the gameplay more than anything. Bad Man acts as your co-op partner in-game, but why him and Travis end up teaming up isn’t very clearly explained. Once you get beyond that stuff, though, you’re treated to a non-stop feast of colourful, expressive, fourth wall shattering dialogue and writing that kept me constantly entertained. Travis Touchdown is an incredible asshole of a videogame protagonist, and seeing him take the reigns for one more ride is satisfying as ever.
Travis Strikes Again has a pretty simple loop where you beat a Death Drive game, play an episode of Travis Strikes Back to obtain the next game, and then repeat until you’ve reached the ending. These Travis Strikes Back segments, which are DOS-style visual novel vignettes, are where some of the best writing of the game is kept. You can tell that Suda51 poured his heart and soul into writing each episode. Characters lament the limited budget of Travis Strikes Again and tease the big plans for No More Heroes 3, and characters from previous Suda51 joints even make appearances. Each episode was a treat to flip through, and if this game was just these retro visual novel scenes, I would have been satisfied.
It isn’t, though. Once you finish one of these episodes, you get to dive into one of six different Death Drive games, each packing a unique retro game experience. The core gameplay of eath Death Drive game is consistent: Travis can rapidly slash his beam katana, perform a heavy attack, roll and jump. It’s way less intricate than the original games, and the attack combos and wrestling moves of those Wii classics are sorely missed.
Thankfully, combat in Travis Strikes Back is spiced up a bit by the Skill Chip system. As you play the game, you’ll find and unlock a variety of Skill Chips that you can equip to one of your four face buttons. They’re each on seperate cool-downs, and holding down L while pressing a button activates the corresponding chip. There’s a huge variety of chips, from ones that give you quick dashes and defensive barriers to others that give you electricity attacks and time-slowing fields. You can combine and utilize them in a variety of ways, and they help add an extra layer to engagements that keeps the action from getting too mindless or repetitive.
Each Death Drive game isn’t just a new set of levels and boss battles, though. They’re each packaged and designed like totally different video games. In one, you’ll be manoeuvring through a town of pipe-matching puzzles to enter the homes that a mass murderer struck. In another, you’ll be engaging in 1-on-1 motorcycle races and climbing the towers of a Yakuza conglomerate to get upgrades for your bike. The camera angle and objectives change drastically in each game, similar to the way dungeons from Nier would feature different types of puzzles and camera angles. On top of that, each Death Drive game is prefaced by incredible retro FMV that is hammy and edgy in just the right way.
Still, while the gameplay is well put together, it doesn’t hold a candle to that of the original No More Heroes games. This is especially prevalant in boss fights. While each boss is incredibly designed by the talented UK artist Boneface, the fights themselves aren’t really anything memorable.
For me, the average combat simply served as a vehicle to drive me through the oodles of great writing, sharp music, and incredible visuals that Travis Strikes Again has to offer. Each level is packed with collectibles that unlock additional treats back in your trailer. Read magazine cut-outs written by the game guru from Let It Die, or spend your money buying dozens of different wearable t-shirts from real-life indie games. Travis rocking a VA-11 HA-11-A shirt or a Minit made me stupidly happy, but not as happy as the unlockable ramen blogs, which feature a reviewer who consistently scores ramen in the negatives because he can’t order any beer. There’s so many little bits of style and charm like this in Travis Strikes Again, and it all adds up to a front-to-back feast that I couldn’t get enough of.
If you love No More Heroes, or any work of Suda51’s, then Travis Strikes Again is a must-play game. It’s a creative explosion of fanservice, callbacks and classic Travis Touchdown charm that will make any fan grin from ear to ear. If No More Heroes was all about the combat and gameplay for you, then this might be a harder sell. While the combat in Travis Strikes Again doesn’t surpass the gameplay from the originals, the variety of gameplay styles and genres that Travis Strikes Again explores and dips its toes in more than makes up for it. Travis Strikes Again is a love letter to gaming, and the perfect way to whet fans appetites before No More Heroes 3 gets made proper.