Ah, nostalgia. A dangerous, intoxicating thing that drew me to the latest entry in the No More Heroes series, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, and what seems to have been the driving force behind the game itself, and just as dangerous for the creators.
Travis Strikes Again follows the main character Travis Touchdown, a short time after the events of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. He’s hiding in a trailer in the woods accompanied by Bad Man, and both of them are attempting to collect and beat all the cursed video games for a possessed console that never made it to market. Each game is a specifically styled set of levels that Travis or Bad Man can teleport into at will. It is said that whoever can collect and beat all the games will be able to have one wish granted.
This story isn’t bad—it’s the right level of weirdness established by the previous No More Heroes games. All of the games are kind of built on wacky premises.
The game diverges noticeably from previous entries in the series from the get-go, for many reasons. For me, the most glaring difference wasn’t even the visuals: it was the controls. Obviously, there are some things that couldn’t be helped: the Switch controllers just aren’t as comfortable as Wiimotes, though they work much better. But the controls for this game struck me as lacking. You can’t remap the basic controls, you can only customize these buttons to decide which charge moves go with which of the four buttons. It just isn’t ideal. Motion controls have been completely toned down except for finishing moves, but they seem responsive enough and still use on-screen arrows, so there’s no learning curve there.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes’ controls can play out awkwardly in the game as well. Travis is plenty strong, and it was pretty easy to overpower him. He usually autofocuses on enemies while fighting, which is convenient. But when you have to use combat moves when there isn’t an enemy in sight (when activating switches, say), it can be hard to figure out where the proper place to hit is. Travis isn’t automatically drawn to buttons like he is enemies, and it’s oddly hard to suss out the depth of stages, even when Travis isn’t so small on the screen you can barely track him. There’s an overall lack of precision.
Travis’s default “heavy” move also always attacks twice, and if there isn’t an enemy to draw his movements with the second stroke, he just goes wherever. Good luck if you’re fighting on narrow platforms!
At the beginning of this review, I mentioned the dangers of nostalgia. For me, it got me excited about this game because the first No More Heroes is probably my favorite game for the Wii. (I liked the second game too, but I honestly remember nothing about the sequel now.) This also set very high standards and expectations. Nostalgia, for the creators of this latest No More Heroes game, directed the gameplay: each of the levels, game and story levels alike, take cues from retro gaming trends. Text adventures/visual novels, platformers, and levels that seem to take direct cues from certain games like Sim City for the SNES or the first couple Resident Evils all crop up.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. It starts as a fun nod and a wink at the games that probably influenced the creators and the games that a good portion of the players probably grew up with. A particular standout comes before a platformer-style section, where the in-game cutscenes ape the sheer ugliness of N64/PS1 graphics. As John Cougar Mellencamp would say, “It hurts so good.”
The problem with these homages—and any homages of this nature—is that they stop being cute when you don’t improve upon the originals. Although the homages will make the longtime gamer smile initially, in this game it often serves to highlight the faults of those games, genres, and trends of yesteryear as the levels go on and on. What I played of this game often went “Oh, it looks like [game]! …Oh, it plays just like [game] too… Hm.”
For the most part, this was just a dampening factor, not a game killer. Until I got to the “Coffee and Donuts” section of the game, that is. It’s a 3D sidescrolling platformer style level, and I actually was impressed by the first two-thirds of the section, because it played very smoothly for the style (it takes a lot to sell me on sidescrolling platformers). This section has Travis traveling through a mansion and entering short sidescrolling levels by passing through different doors in the mansion.
Then, in one of the levels close to the end of the section, I hit an impassable wall—Travis began clipping through moving doughnut platforms and getting stuck in other doughnut platforms. He had started doing this a level or two before, but then I hit one doughnut that he would clip through or get stuck in every single time he interacted with it. The times I managed to get off of the doughnut before Travis got stuck Travis would dive bomb in mid-air—I mean, he would just do a downward slash into oblivion, regardless of what buttons I was pressing, if any. This happened after restarts, reboots, trying out another file…
You don’t get more old school N64 than that. My brother’s number one hobby back then was purposefully trying to make platformers like Banjo-Kazooie clip to see how badly the game would bug out. Heck, at one point I got so frustrated I actually shouted, “I can just play Crash Bandicoot for this!” Bugs happen, but if games made in 1998 could cut game-breaking clipping to a minimum…
I’ve seen others online complain about similar glitchiness in this game, but nothing as severe as the random dive-bombing. I’m just lucky, I guess. I gave the game a fair chance and kept on trying to get past the part over and over—like I said, I restarted a few times and even tried another file. And the game even had a patch download the day it was released. What it affected, I don’t know.
The game also shoots itself in the foot in other ways. Like I said until I hit that weird, impassable wall, the homages were only dampening. “Story” parts of the game seem to mostly come in the form of old-school visual novel/text-adventure-styled sections. Again, it’s a cute wink—many games on the market used to play like that! But I found myself longing for something I couldn’t put my finger on. Fortunately, this game loves breaking the fourth wall and Travis’s cat, who is reinvented as a sassy anime cat for these sections, made things click when she pointed out that this game is supposed to be an adventure game. Oh, yeah. That was a big part of the original games. To not have that opportunity to wander around freely does make the game feel a little empty.
I can give it credit, though. Visually, the game looks fine; the graphics and basic mechanics of the parts of the game that paid homage to retro games were updated—thank God. Even the part I mentioned earlier that looks like N64/PS1 cutscenes is improved graphically—it resembles, but it still looked and played better to the point where I was unable to advance in the game. The sense of humor matches the older games and seems to have aged well. The collectibles in the form of t-shirts and ramen are fun as well (I like wearing clothes and I love to eat).
Ultimately, this game, even before the game-breakingness, was an okay game. It didn’t exactly do anything that was new or game-shaking: it was more like an hors d’oeuvre course compared to the Scooby Doo sandwich that was other games. Maybe it isn’t fair to hold it against the prior No More Heroes games, but even for a first-time player, I can’t see this satisfying on its own. Oh, and, again, the game was so broken it wouldn’t let me progress at all after multiple attempts. If you’ve really got to play this title, proceed with caution.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes was released on January 18 for the Nintendo Switch.