Suda51 and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture are known for creating some of the weirdest and most wonderful titles of recent years. Killer 7, Shadows of the Damned and No More Heroes have earned well-deserved cult classic status with their striking visuals, inventive gameplay, and quirky offbeat characters, and even the less enjoyable entries in Grasshopper's oeuvre (let's say Lollipop Chainsaw) usually contain enough weird and wonderful moments to make them worth playing. Since the game was first revealed back in January 2017, fans have been hoping that Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes would live up to its predecessors' reputations, but - and it kills us to say this - unfortunately, it doesn't...
Travis Touchdown - star of the undeniably great No More Heroes series, making his first appearance since 2011 - is visited by a masked man who quickly reveals himself to be Bad Man, the father of Bad Girl, an assassin killed by Travis in 2007's original No More Heroes. A fight ensues, and Travis and Bad Man are sucked into the mysterious Death Drive Mk II, a prototype games console which now the pair must escape from by fighting their way through a series of games.
Playing through a series of games should be the perfect reason for TSA to take in a wide variety of crazy gameplay mechanics, but this doesn't quite turn out to be the case. The first game is a top-down hack and slasher that overstays its welcome rather quickly, and when the second and third games follow the same formula you quickly realise that there really isn't a whole lot going on. The viewpoint might change from top-down to side-on, but the lifeless and repetitive gameplay stays the same throughout. A few levels do feature slight differences - there's a Tron-style light cycle minigame, and an Asteroids knockoff, for example - but these are few and far between, and are nothing more than brief interludes before the relentless hacking and slashing continues.
Travis has a standard light and strong attack, and can equip up to four “skill chips” (special moves) which are found throughout the game. When you've found four that you like though, it's unlikely that you'll even consider using any of the others. There are also a couple of light RPG elements, but again they're not up to much. Travis can upgrade his level to automatically deal a little bit more damage (and we really do mean “a little bit”), and the inclusion of unlockable T-shirts had the potential to include stat buffs or new abilities - really anything would do - but they're completely cosmetic and have no bearing on the game whatsoever. Considering the only time you even see these shirts is when Travis sits on the toilet (yep, save points are still in bathrooms), it feels like a wasted opportunity. It's just all a bit basic, and doesn't give you any sense of progression or motivation to continue.
The cutscenes that introduce each “game” are a highlight, with some really eye-catching character designs and clever dialogue, and boss fights that require slightly different tactics do thankfully break things up a little. Apart from these though, TSA unfortunately doesn't stand out from the crowd. It's rare for Grasshopper to miss the mark, and you could argue that it was bound to happen eventually, but it's such a shame that it happened with a game that so many people had such high hopes for. Here's hoping that a fully-fledged No More Heroes 3 could right the balance at some point in the future.
TRAVIS STRIKES AGAIN: NO MORE HEROES / DEVELOPER: GRASSHOPPER MANUFACTURE / PUBLISHER: NINTENDO / PLATFORM: SWITCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW