No More Heroes, like its protagonist Travis Touchdown, is a bit of an odd duck nearly 12 years removed from its original Wii launch.
His creator Goichi Suda (Suda 51) marches to the beat of his own drum, as does his company, Grasshopper Manufacture. Very few games at the time (and to date, actually) allow players to engage in high-octane anime battles with assassins and mow their lawn in the same beat. Against all expectations it managed to spawn a franchise, leading up to the Switch-bound Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes.
It’s still as irreverent as ever.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch)
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture / Nintendo
Released: January 18, 2019
MSRP: $29.99 (digital), $39.99 (physical)
You’ll get plenty of fourth wall breaking, “what the shit,” and “nice work, dickhead” dialogue in the first few minutes, just in case you weren’t 100% positive that you were playing a Suda game.
Travis Strikes Again eschews most of its story in favor of a Turtles in Time vibe, throwing our hero Travis and his rival Bad Man (who serves as the basis for co-op with some unique moves) into various video game worlds fueled by action and occasionally backed up with puzzles. It does have a story. There’s this weird retro visual novel storytelling element that moves the adventure along between the action, and it’s required to unlock each subsequent world. Again, Suda hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to unconventional narratives.
I was thrilled that I was able to experience the No More Heroes madhouse once again. In-game magazine review pages with cheat codes and a full rundown of each world is the best little touch, sidestepping cutscenes in favor of a more nostalgic approach. While some may call it cost-cutting (Suda will probably be the first to admit this), I’d call it clever, as it works for this series. The same goes for the strange real-life grindhouse-esque video that sets up one of the game’s major serial-killer villains. It’s bizarre in all the right ways and you never know what you’re going to see next.
There’s plenty of self-deprecating humor sprinkled within, the vast majority of which works. But there are also moments that only accentuate some of Travis Strikes Again‘s shortcomings. Without giving away too much, there’s at least one section that’s “unfinished,” a source of a series of jokes that tie into the Unreal Engine. The camera angles are also frequently a pain, sometimes zooming out so far that you can barely make out what’s going on.
Travis’ kit is deep enough, as he’s equipped with light and heavy attacks and four abilities (you gain more as you continue on) that mix things up. I’m talking everything from offensive single target/area of effect to defensive (healing) powers, with a convenient “save a build” feature so you can swap and experiment. With that simple addition, Grasshopper manages to elevate the proceedings above the level of a rote mindless beat-’em-up (a fact that’s even more evident with the unlockable “spicy” difficulty setting after completion).
But it’s not the fundamentals that fall apart: it’s the environments. One of them focuses heavily on puzzles in a suburban environment, which start off simple then slowly edge into “figure out this maze while a giant instant-game-over skull is chasing you” territory. One universe is basically a string of (overly simplistic) drag races. Another has a weird Sinistar homage that awkwardly isn’t a twin-stick shooter (the joke is that this world is unfinished, but would have stuck the landing much better if the minigames were nearly as good as the ones in No More Heroes 2). Then Suda wows us with a few major cameos and a big finish. What an uneven ride!
Throughout my journey I found Travis Strikes Again to be semi-challenging for both the right and wrong reasons. While a swift dodge roll will take care of most of your problems, the odd camera angles can conceal errant shots, some of which chunk your health nicely. Several abilities are also often canceled before they trigger, and it’s not clear why. And though I didn’t encounter any major bugs like crashes, little issues popped up every now and then. I don’t think a lot of that is intentional Grasshopper mojo, but rather, a series of oversights.
Travis Strikes Again has some undeniable lows but the No More Heroes charm and the prospect of co-op lifts it up. Whether it’s learning the intricacies of individual types of ramen or watching Travis curse at a talking cat, this is something that could only be born out of the mind of Suda 51 and his team at Grasshopper.
Go in with an open mind and possibly a co-op partner.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher]