Friday, March 8, 2019

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (NSW) Review

SuperPhillip Central kicks off March's month of reviews with Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, a side chapter in Travis Touchdown's continuing saga by Suda51. His games are generally a love 'em or hate 'em type deal, so let's see which end of the spectrum Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes sits on with the SPC review.

A lot of style and a little substance make for Travis Touchdown's long awaited return

It's been almost a decade now since No More Heroes' Travis Touchdown last graced us with his otaku presence. Now, the wait is over, and he's back in a brand new game. But, don't think Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a full fledged sequel. No, instead it's more of a side game that further expands the No More Heroes universe.

After eliminating scores of assassins, Travis has settled for a more subdued life, hiding out in a trailer in Texas, playing video games, and just keeping on the D.L. However, when a revenge-seeking Badman discovers the location of Travis, the assassin who murdered his daughter Bad Girl, the two enter into an impromptu scuffle to the death right there in Travis' Texan trailer. Suddenly, the Death Drive MK II, a never-released prototype virtual reality gaming console, lights up and sends the pair of sparring assassins inside it. Drawing up a temporary truce to play through the Death Ball games, survive, and escape with Death Drive with their lives, thus our story begins in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes.

He may not have a construction job, but Travis Touchdown is putting in work anyway.
The six Death Ball games of the Death Drive MK II, the launch titles for the prototype gaming console, are the levels within Travis Strikes Again. The scenarios are varied for each and you might partake in a different type of gameplay style here and there--such as Life is Destroy's puzzle-like neighborhood maps or Golden Dragon GP's drag races--the majority of the general gameplay in Travis Strikes Again is an overhead hack and slash.

Life is Destroy takes a puzzle approach to its map design.
Travis or Badman has a light attack and heavy attack to them--the former is great for crowd control while the latter is best suited for stronger enemies. Like in the standard No More Heroes games, using your weapon too much causes it to lose power, requiring you to power it up through shaking Travis or Badman's weapon. This is performed by pressing down the left stick and either shaking the controller or wiggling the right stick back and forth. As Travis and Badman attack foes, a circular gauge fills. Once full, you can unleash a destructive combo with a series of taps of the R button, perfect for taking down more sizable opponents in battle.

The Bugstreet Boys are here with referential names like Spielbug and Zuckerbug.
Along the way, an assortment of skill chips are acquired, able to be mapped to each of the four face buttons in conjunction with holding down the L button. Skills range from shooting a band of ball of ice to temporarily stun enemies to a gigantic beam from a satellite that wipes out foes with ease--though this requires a significant charging period. Speaking of charging periods, once a chip has been used, it takes a little while for it to charge and have the ability to be used again. The more powerful and beneficial skill chips take the longest to charge, understandably enough.

Battles themselves aren't too deep, favoring style over complexity, which can result in a repetitive experience. This is especially so due to the rather limited enemy variety considering the 10-15 hour length of the game. Those that are well versed in the hack and slash style of gameplay will find Travis Strikes Again to be a fairly breezy game even on the Mild difficult, but the addition of harder difficulties ensures that there's a bit of fun to be had for everyone. The bosses are relatively easy to battle and beat, offering occasional flashes of clever design here and there as well. Still, it's quite the pleasure to discover their patterns and take them down with a skillful "A" rank.

Travis is ready to tackle this boss in his fresh Hollow Knight T-shirt.
All of this combines together for an assortment of battle encounters interspersed between light bits of platforming and the occasional ability to explore a little in levels. Make no mistake, though--Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a mostly linear experience. Invisible walls block progress from interesting sights, and there is but an occasional side path here and there to venture to in order to discover one of the game's token collectibles. Additionally, the fixed camera results in some unwanted hits from enemies off screen, which can be quite vexing.

Travis Strikes Again has a good deal of replay value to it. From finding all of the collectibles in levels to dabbling in the various difficulties and New Game+ mode, the game lasted me about just shy of 18 hours total. The additional DLC, such as the recently added Shinobu, make for even more longevity to the title. That's not even mentioning the drop-in, drop-out co-op play, available with two players and just two Joy-Con controllers.

Travis Strikes Again is a game littered with references about the video game industry, such as fourth-wall-breaking jokes about localization, budget constraints, memory limits and more. Travis Strikes Again wears its references and humor proudly like a badge of honor on its chest, and while it heads into juvenile territory a lot of the time, this eccentric blend of bizarre comedy makes for an entertaining and surreal ride from beginning to end.

A meta joke about Metacritic. How meta!
The ride is further enhanced by the visual style of the game, completing going all in on the classic CRT video game aesthetic. Things like the loading of games features buzzing and static, archives feature GamePro and Nintendo Power magazine-like tips, tricks and reviews on the Death Ball games featured, and even one game is unfinished and in development, literally in the form of an in-progress Unreal Engine project, complete with texture-less checkerboard floors and cones for where characters are placed--these things all make Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes express its love of video games in a superb fashion.

These odes to gaming magazines of the '90s could be mistaken for the real things--that's how good they are.
This further exemplifies itself in all of the video game-related shirts that you can unlock for Travis and Badman to wear throughout the game using currency earned from levels. There are the blatant advertisements for the Unreal Engine--the engine Travis Strikes Again was made in, but there is also a vast assortment of indie game designs, too, such as Hotline Miami, Undertale, Hollow Knight, Brawlout, SteamWorld Dig 2, and many, many more. It's great to represent your favorite indie game out of the 40 or so featured in the game by having Travis or Badman wear them--though since the game is in a faraway overhead perspective, you seldom get to see the shirts up close when the action is going on.

Golden Dragon GP is quite the drag--literally! Pieces of the gameplay here are drag races.
While not a meaty experience and more of a side course to the No More Heroes series, Travis Strikes Again is a worthy entry in the series that is bound to be a cult classic in the Switch's growing library. There are plenty of problems with the game--such as troublesome blind spots thanks to the fixed camera, a lack of polish, repetitive combat, and rather ho-hum level design--many of these can almost be forgiven due to just how creative, stylish, quirky, and so obviously full of heart Travis Strikes Again is. Note that I did say "almost". As is, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a reference-filled love letter to video games that has a multitude of small issues to it that do add up, but none that truly ruin the overall experience.

[SPC Says: C+]

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