As consumers of media (games,movies,or otherwise) a heavy factor that plays into our continuation or enjoyment of said media is our familiarity with the work or known previous works that have preceded it. Does it appeal to our senses of aesthetic from an art or musical perspective? For game’s sake, does it follow a particular genre style that we are familiar with that enjoy playing? Diverging from our comfort zones to play other various genres we aren’t familiar with also plays into this from a personal judgement perspective to judge if we truly enjoyed that piece of media upon first or early exposures. It’s these questions and many others that can drive a personal experience when we decide to consume various pieces of media.
With this in mind I had to ask myself, excluding having played the other games in the series, could “Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes” as a whole appeal to people unfamiliar with the series? That answer is yes, however not without being hidden amongst a veneer of “If and then” situations and previous familiarity particularly with the director himself, Suda 51 and his works before him.
“Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes” is the latest in the No More Heroes franchise directed by Goichi Suda (more colloquially known as Suda 51) that originally emerged back on the Wii in 2007. Taking place years after the first game, sees our anti-hero Travis Touchdown, being hunted by Bad Man (the father of Bad Girl from the first No More Heroes) outside of Santa Destroy in a trailer. While the two struggle in combat from the result of a hit-gone-wrong, a killer cancelled game console in Travis’ possession called the “Death Drive Mk II” comes alive and sweeps both of them into the consoles’ varying game worlds. It is within this console they discover whoever beats all six of the games first within the console will be granted one single wish.
The premise of this concept is indeed striking, as it sees you playing as either Travis or Bad Man (or both in local co-op), going through six different games of various genres, in a race to have a wish granted. It is unfortunate however within its execution that I struggle to recommend to most people that may be unfamiliar with the franchise or the director Suda 51 himself.
For those unfamiliar with Suda 51’s previous works, he’s a director having worked on a variety of games ranging from the more prolific like No More Heroes, Killer is Dead, and killer7, to his more earlier and obscure works which hadn’t (until recently) been released outside of Japan particularly in this case, “The Silver Case and The 25th Ward: The Silver Case. What’s driven more of his known titles is his use of a “punk” aesthetic that takes eastern ideas and concepts, and presents them through a lens of punk-rock americana that westernizes those ideas as if it were a movie. It is with this use of Suda’s established presentation that I found is what was the primary “fuel” for “Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes” that kept me progressing through the game. Everything from the retro wave aesthetic of the Death Drive mk II and its character art through dialogue and sound, to Travis Touchdown’s character himself, the visual and audio aesthetic is something I found to be the one aspect that kept me playing to its end.
Now while its aesthetic is certainly pleasing, it of course is still a video game that is to be played, and for most people (especially for those that are unfamiliar with the director) visual and audio presentation can only take your experience so far as for this game’s gameplay style. First things first, as you progress through the six games on the Death Drive mk II, you have to acquire each of the different games themselves through a side-story called Travis Strikes Back: No More Heroes. This side story accessed separately from the Death Drive, is presented in a visual novel with a style akin to Suda’s previous work, The Silver Case. The actual novel itself is presented quite nicely, telling different stories of how Travis acquires each of the different games to be played on the Death Drive itself. If this is your first foray into visual novels however, you may be stunted at first as visual novels are games primarily meant to be read not so much played. One neat thing about this side story however is that along with the presentation following akin to Suda’s work on The Silver Case, he’s thrown in other easter eggs and cameos from his previous works that fans would be delighted to notice.
As for its standard gameplay style, No More Heroes has always been a hack-and-slash game of you going through different stages and killing enemies in a variety of different ways. Unfortunately it has taken this gameplay model, and distilled it considerably from previous games in the series that it becomes noticeable as you progress. Previous No More Heroes titles saw you vary in combat styles with the use of lighter or heavier beam katanas, different combinations of high and low attacks, and the usage of steadily growing wrestling moves in Travis’ repertoire. Because of Travis Strikes Again’s gameplay style taking place in styles of different video games, the combat model has mostly been reduced to primarily light and heavy attacks. Despite this, one thing that has been added is the acquisition and use of different chips (named after varying Gundam models from the series’ canon) that have varying abilities like allowing dashes and slowing down enemies in an AOE. While this does spice up the gameplay in slight bursts, it’s hard to shake the monotony of following hallways and defeating masses of enemies in the same wide open spaces, save for the bosses which have some actual variances that make you think as you progress in the fight.
At the end of this confliction, I had to ultimately ask myself, “Where does Travis Strikes Again stand in regards of a recommendation?”. During development, Suda 51 did go on record of saying that this title was not to be perceived as “No More Heroes 3”, plus that the development team was built on a considerably smaller scale than in previous iterations. While this does certainly show within its gameplay model and $30 price tag currently on the Nintendo Eshop, its hard to completely shake the feeling that for $30 (not counting for season pass) there’s plenty more satisfying experiences that could be had. For fans of the series, especially that the season pass is being headlined with playable characters, Shinobu Jacobs and Bad Girl, there’s a little bit more credence towards a definitive recommendation if have been with the series before and want to see where this will go in the future.
All in all, “Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes” is a game that presents a rather rudimentary gameplay style that’s glossed in the veneer of an amazing capture of sound and aesthetic that Suda 51 delivers over and over again. If you’ve been exposed to his style before and want to see/support the future of the franchise, I’d personally say go for it,but don’t be surprised if things start to feel rather same-y. For just about anyone else curious of this franchise or hasn’t been exposed to much of Suda 51 before, I’d say wait for a rather decent sale.