Videogame quality can be measured in a lot of arbitrary ways. Graphics, gameplay, content, and length can all be judged objectively, but what if a game can deliver all these without being fun to play? Is it still a good game? There’s something else, and while trying to describe to myself and others why I like Travis Strikes Again so much, I’ve pinpointed one of my favourite aspects of videogames; their personality.
Travis Strikes Again is a mediocre game by many measurements and made with a low budget, but it is absolutely exploding with charm and wit. The gameplay or graphics aren’t bad by any means but this game is carried hard by great direction and writing. The structure propels the serviceable gameplay to a new exciting level, while the art direction excites the imagination. I was unsure I would like this game, or even the aesthetic because it’s been so long since the first two No More Heroes games came out. I forgot what a game like this felt like. The moment I sat at the title screen it all came flooding back. The immense attitude of No More Heroes with a brand new setting and story. To be clear, this is not No More Heroes 3 but still bares the soul of the series in a big way.
The crackling of the fire invites you to sit down. The trailer has a comfortable chair, a gaming console, a TV, books, a desk and a toilet. Everything you need. Insects chirp with peaceful indifference to make all of this feel natural. This game is full of swearing, violence and very heavy themes about life and death, yet still manages to coat all that in a comfy exterior. That in a nutshell, is the No More Heroes “atmosphere” and could also describe many of director Suda and Grasshopper’s other works. Travis is relaxed and funny, the scenarios are unbelievable and exaggerated, the music is chill and the gameplay is not too serious. Yet it still touches on a LOT of themes and goes into some very dark places.
Travis Strikes Again takes the combat from the previous games and simplifies it into a more beat-em-up style, with a fixed-camera view that changes slightly with each scenario. You have a fast attack and a slow attack that does more damage, with more abilities and moves slowly added. Pretty basic stuff with lots of enemy hordes to fight, and satisfying sound effects to top it off. It feels a bit like a budget Warriors game to me, repetitive but also cathartic. The scenarios change up every time Travis gets a new “game” to put into his Death Drive MK II. The core gameplay stays the same, but some parts might have more platforming than others, with a bit of puzzle solving and surprises thrown in the mix.
Each gameplay chapter is then broken up by a visual novel that continues the story. This is quite a bold and ambitious part of the game with no gameplay whatsoever, you just read and press A to scroll the text for 10 minutes. The music changes as the conversation evolves, a lot of events happen, and the writing is absolutely on point. Travis drives off in his motorcycle and you can feel the wind on his face. He stops at a takeout place and you can almost feel the atmosphere, from the size of the tables to the smell of the food. This game does a great job of projecting the attitude of something without describing things plainly. Travis will just tell someone to fuck off if he doesn’t want to do something. Then he’ll go back to his burger like it’s the most holy thing on earth. There’s a good mix of serious story telling with a lot of random small details thrown in, it makes it feel engaging and easy to follow. Having a large amount of the game just being text is a risky design choice, but it ends up being a comfy and enjoyable experience. This is something you need a bit of patience for and maybe the wrong mindset would take you out of it, but I enjoyed it immensely and was always excited to finish a chapter for the next installment.
The first DLC has been released now too, and adds a whole story about Badman (the other playable character) that lasts about 30 minutes. I never cared or really thought about him as a character too much, but this story really brings him to life and after going through his text adventure I think he’s really cool. The 2nd DLC comes out late April I believe and should expand on Shinobu a bit more which I am excited for. She was added as a playable character but we don’t know much about her yet in this game.
Did I mention Travis is an assassin and kills people for a living? He is definitely still the same Travis, but that is often a small background detail in this game. We’re too busy drinking tea and reading videogame magazines. That leads me to talk more about the writing in this game, it’s more than just the text adventures. The magazine articles you can read in Travis’s home are surreal and very convincing. They detail all the games for the Death Drive MK II as if they were just being released, with all the enthusiasm of a 90s gaming mag and similar wordplay. You also get faxes to read from a cat and an unknown goverment agent. During gameplay itself you can find NPCs with words of wisdom and just generally great cutscene direction. It’s a highly expressive game from start to finish. There’s also some clear references to Suda’s other work if you’re into that. I won’t spoil any of the finer details.
Travis has a lust for blood but is also mesmerised by good food and intrigued by videogame trivia. He doesn’t just use the ramen stalls to refill energy, he writes a full review of each one in his ramen blog. There are so many “human” elements scattered through this game that bring the extremely ridiculous plot back down to earth and contrast with each other for insightful moments. All the facts of this game are completely batshit off-the-wall, but the attitudes and feelings are relatable.
While this isn’t exactly No More Heroes 3, it is still an extremely well-made videogame in its own right. It has obvious graphical and budget downfalls but you don’t always need light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you just need to go to the toilet. This game will relieve any aches and pains you might have from grimacing through stale videogame writing. It also has extremely good music and quite a big variety of tunes and styles. Not every song is a winner but there are some brand new gems here like the Trailer Theme blues guitar and the bangin’ Coffee & Doughnuts theme.
Not many game reviewers would agree with me but I’d give Travis Strikes Again a 10 out of 10, just for how it made me feel. It was an extremely fun experience that brought me back to the Wii days where it felt like there was no limit to what a game could be. This game does not make me want to be a killer. It does make me want to write more stories. Makes me want to compose more little music samples. Makes me want to draw what’s in my head. Makes me glad to be human. It’s the most refreshing game I’ve played in a while and it feels like Suda has finally rediscovered his mojo after jumping back into the Director seat. Just a warning though, it doesn’t come with a beer. So I have to take off 3 points and give it a 7 out of 10. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have important business to attend to.