Travis Touchdown is pretty much a gaming legend at this point; starting as an immature otaku punk with a bad temper and thankfully having no growth since then. It has been a while since we checked in with him, so thank you SUDA 51 for Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. Got your beam katana? Good.
The story is utter chaos in the best way possible. It opens with Badman on his way to avenge his daughter (the conveniently named Bad Girl – remember her?) by killing our beloved protagonist Travis Touchdown. Obviously Travis is a couple of steps ahead and avoids a head cleaving, leading to a fight that comically plays out across the whole of Travis’ trailer as the characters exchange aggressively friendly banter.
This inexplicably awakens the Death Drive Mk. II, a demonic sentient games console, and drags both Badman and Travis into the game loaded within; Electric Thunder Tiger II. At this point, the characters have to contend with this game world, it’s narrative, and – inevitably – its boss, complete with some (actually quite funny) fourth wall-breaking dialogue thrown in for good measure.
This makes it so that the game has multiple smaller narratives for each game along with the core narrative of the game itself, which can be initially confusing until you get set in your head that the individual stories of the Death Balls are essentially standalone stories that affect Travis throughout, taking him on somewhat of an introspective journey of redemption in his post-retirement.
Finally, on the narrative strings running through the game, is the standalone tale that takes place in Travis Strikes Back, a retro styled visual novel that follows Travis in his various journeys to acquire the various Death Balls that are the new games for the Death Drive Mk II. This story seems to take place both entirely separate from the main plot whilst being inexorably tied to it and its progress.
Gameplay wise, the player will be mostly hacking up the increasingly difficult bugs of the various Death Balls. This is actually quite solid, with light and heavy attacks being the main bread and butter of your moveset. These can be combined with the jump to become a dive attack or an slam downwards with a small area of effect around Travis respectively, but that is the primary core of the combat along with the special attack you build while fighting (see the screenshot below).
These basic attacks all drain the meter of the beam katana, which can be recharged at any point by pressing in the left stick and then either flicking the right stick or, you guessed it, shaking the Joy-Con or controller in simulated masterbation. So, with awkward sexual conduct in place, everything SUDA 51 is here. The combat of Travis Strikes Again isn’t quite that simple, however, with the introduction of levelling up (pretty self-explanatory) and Skills.
Skills are found throughout the game in the form of chips (that look suspiciously like Switch carts), and give Travis and Badman new abilities that can be used in the game. These allow the player to change up their playstyle, giving new moves like repelling enemies or electrocuting them, buffs to attacks, or even healing. These add to the basic combat to make a moment-to-moment gameplay that is incredibly simple but also engaging.
There’s some great fun to be had with these Skills, especially when playing in 2-player co-op, where the players take control of Travis and Badman. In this mode, you share resources to level up each character and can set different Skills for each of them. This means you can combine together your individual load outs for Skills if you’re clever with your choices and make yourselves incredibly overpowered very easily.
It won’t just be fighting you’re doing, as you have to contest with the various gameplay quirks of each of the Death Balls too. Whether is being the drag races of Golden Dragon GP, or the oddly unsettling puzzle-solving of Life is Destroy, you never quite know what genre of game you will be up against next. Each of these are solid little gameplay experiences in their own right and only supplement the game overall, adding to the fractured feeling throughout.
Then there’s the unlockables in Travis Strikes Again, with plenty of hidden things to find in every Death Ball, all of which will be useful or entertaining to the player in some way. You can find different ramen stands to revive your health and new Skills too if you comb each level well enough but the Azteca Stones and Unreal tokens were the most sought after for me personally, being the items that unlock tshirts.
Speaking of which, there’s a pretty large amount of different tshirts to dress up Travis and Badman, most of which are referencing an excellent array of great indie titles (and some not-so-great ones). Although these have no real impact on the game itself, and can’t really be seen much in game anyway, they’re a neat little unlockable that was the reason for a lot of stupid grins playing the game. NOTE: These should exist in real life, thank you.
Visually the game feels a little all over the place, once again owing to the breadth of genres that the various Death Balls cover. All of it is gorgeously rendered in the Unreal Engine, which makes the whole thing beautifully crystal clear, but the mix of art styles can make for a slightly jarring experience that takes some surprising turns (one of which I really want to talk about but quite sincerely do not want to ruin).
After all, the game jumps between linear corridors, a racer that looks inspired by 80s movie Tron, and a two-tone visual novel (to name a few), all tied together by a B-Movie focus for the console itself. It feels inconsistent, but not in an overly bad way, like if you were to own a retro games console and only six wildly different games. As such, I can’t help but think that all of this was done entirely on purpose.
This is only let down in the soundtrack, which is mostly made up of generic retro-sounding chip-tune tracks. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, after all Shovel Knight had a fantastic score with retro sensibilities. However, OST of Travis Strikes Again is mostly entirely forgettable. This can’t be said for the sound effects though, especially those for the Death Drive console itself, but this still means that the game overall doesn’t sound too great.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is not No More Heroes 3, it’s not trying to be either, but it marks a moment of introspection from SUDA 51 as he looks back over the franchise. Even the Travis in this game is a more sombre and gritty version of the character that we know and love. That doesn’t mean that this a bad game by any stretch, in fact, it serves to humanise the character and the struggles that he has already been through to get this far.
Travis Strikes Again is not the perfect game, with bugs a plenty sometimes hampering the way the game plays and a jarring feeling between the different narratives and playstyles of the Death Drive Mk II, but even these issues kind of feed into the whole idea of the game being a sequence of uncompleted retro video games. It’s remarkably fitting for a SUDA 51 title that even the shortcomings of it feed into the whole.
I want to be clear though, this game will not be for everyone, but those that play it will find a clever, streamlined, and funny experience (if one that’s a little too short), and one that has me dying to know what’s next for the assassin.