Action-adventure hack and slash allows cult-classic to return

“Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes”
Genre: Action, Multiplayer
Publisher/Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Rating: Mature

By Gieson Cacho | The Mercury News (TNS)

Auteur Goichi Suda, better known as Suda51, has worked on several cult classics, but his most popular work has been “No More Heroes.” The series starring Travis Touchdown began on the Wii and was notable for its style and innovative touches. It was good enough to spawn another title.

“Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes” returns to Travis Touchdown’s world, but the director doesn’t consider it a direct sequel. It’s more of a side story that explores Suda51’s work and it introduces Badman, a character that the second player controls in a co-op mode. The campaign revolves around a console called the Death Drive Mark II, a rare and dangerous piece of technology made by the mysterious Dr. Juvenile. Think of the machine as a next-gen virtual reality machine with some weird features.

Over the course of the story, Travis will search for seven titles on cartridges called Death Balls. Each game represents a level and offers new gameplay mechanics and twists to level design. “Golden Dragon GP” features drag racing while “Life is Destroy” has puzzle elements. Because each Death Ball is treated like its own game, each has its own plot and mythology that Travis interacts with.

Although each level has its own wrinkles, the core hack-and-slash gameplay remains the same. Travis will swing his beam katana with light and heavy attacks. Pressing buttons repeatedly initiates a combo. He can jump over obstacles and dodge away from attacks. His sword runs out of energy and Travis will occasionally have to shake it to power it up. That’s fairly standard for the genre.

Where “Travis Strikes Again” gets interesting is in its Skill Chips, which introduces special moves that help Travis and Badman handle the relentless waves of enemies. Some skill chips offer a healing area while others toss foes with a telekinetic force. Players have to come up with the right mix of powers for each scenario. Add in character exclusive Skill Chips for Badman and Travis and there’s some depth, especially in the cooperative experience.

The combat, especially in the more difficult levels, has a “Hotline Miami” or “Diablo” feel. Button mashing through foes works for a while, but players have to begin herding and managing swarms of adversaries. Players need to find the right combination of skills that lets them slaughter adversaries while offering the right defensive moves so that Travis can power up his beam katana and recover meter for the Skill Chips.

While the gameplay is serviceable, the narrative is pure Suda, which can have its drawbacks depending on how one feels about the auteur. “Travis Strikes Again” is extremely meta with characters breaking the fourth wall and plotlines that meander beyond the edges of logic and coherence. A lot of times it sounds like nonsense, much like the movie “The Lobster.”

But there’s a distinct thread running through the narrative, one involving the Death Drive and its murky purpose and history. It brings up the idea of drones and remote warfare. All those points are buried beneath the usual Suda side plots and non-sequiturs. One of the more interesting elements is the reference to a previous work and his relationship with the former head of a major video game publisher.

Suda’s games are an acquired taste. Fans of the “No More Heroes” franchise unfortunately won’t be getting the open-world game they’re expecting, but they will have an evolution of the combat system introduced in the past two games. It’s one that requires a certain amount of skill, but beyond that, the game doesn’t offer too much aside from a lot of style and decent substance.