Travis Strikes Again is hot garbage and a besmirchment on the No More Heroes series, Grasshopper Manufacture, and Suda 51 himself. It does nothing to connect itself to the series it was spun from, save for remembering that its humour is somewhere around the “crude” mark and the most essential cosmetic hallmarks of Travis himself. Because it’s Switch exclusive, it also has to censor itself for its edgy crudeness as well. The narrative that’s present is derivative of the prior series entries at best and dribbling nonsense at worst. The gameplay is nothing like what the series is known for, and the new direction sucks for anyone interested in having fun. I certainly hope there’s no merit to the rumours of the series’ future hinging on what players think of this game, because if that’s the case, someone needs to call the coroner to mark its time of death.
Everything else I write in this article aside, however, this will never not be funny.
I have a strong suspicion that whoever wrote the story for Travis Strikes Again huffed so much glue beforehand that they ended up having to dictate it by screaming at a frightened intern. Things start out with Bad Man, father of Bad Girl (an antagonist from the first game), attempting to kill Travis and avenge his daughter, because Grasshoppers’ creativity with this series apparently ended with Desperate Struggle. Their fight is cut short, however, when a haunted and/or cursed video game console forces its Powerglove rip-offs onto each character’s hands, sucking them into the console’s Virtual Reality… Seriously? Okay.
The rest of the game is split between running through different “video games” on the console, listening to Travis wax on introspectively, and a truly awful visual novel that’s endured in parts. As in, there are several parts to it, it can’t be skipped, and it’s one of the worst design decisions I’ve ever seen in my life. The visual novel serves as an explanation of where Travis is finding these games because letting player’s do that themselves is too much fun, I suppose. It even acknowledges that it’s the polar opposite of what players would want via its wacky 4th-wall breaking dialogue that it uses as the punchline for every single “joke.” I’ll get back to that though because this is the game that doesn’t stop giving.
Doesn’t stop depressing me, that is. See what I did there? ….. it’s because I HATE THIS GA–
Gameplay consists of straight up just whacking things, and you could make the same argument about No More Heroes as a series, but Travis Strikes Again takes it to all new levels of mundanity. There are different abilities you can equip in the form of “chips,” and while they add some visual variety over the standard attacks, the strategy that surrounds their use is almost nil. Enemies are just as easily defeated by beating on them repeatedly as using any combination of abilities and is about as fun. If you’re playing co-op then you’re also effectively immortal, with a short respawn countdown while the surviving player does whatever they want for a moment. I imagine that if you both died at once, then it would be game over, but the game is never challenging or difficult enough to find out.
What baffles me is how this banal, under-designed, cookie-cutter, top-down hack-and-slash was seen as a suitable replacement for the gameplay of the first two games. The joy-cons are absolutely capable of replicating the Wii-mote movement that lent itself to both Travis’ beam katana swings and ridiculous wrestling move. There is none of that here in Travis Strikes Again. In the other games, their missions and levels were broken up like Travis Strikes Again’s are, but with several small mini-games just like small versions of Travis Strikes Again. Only they served a larger purpose to the rest of the game and were enjoyable, whereas you’ll be scrambling for anything even close to purpose while playing this digital waste.
It was around here that I finally lost the will to live.
On paper, you’d think that the overall design for the game would be great. Travis Strikes Again has you going back to a trailer – Travis’ home – which serves as a kind of hub world for accessing everything from missions to game settings. It’s kitschy, a neat way of organising your game content for players, and would be an excellent idea if it weren’t being used in Travis Strikes Again, in the way Travis Strikes Again wants to use it. Travis, of course, handles as atrociously as he does in-game, which is exactly what you want when you’re just trying to navigate the game’s features. It also serves as the pretext for the aforementioned worst part of the entire game: The “visual novel” sections.
Being a sub-par arcade hack-and-slasher would be one thing, but you can still get into a groove with those sorts of games, pushing through out of sheer determination. Travis Strikes Again doesn’t even give you that satisfaction, and I’m not talking about the “so insane we might need to check if Suda’s okay” cinematics that bookend each level. Those are at least mildly entertaining to watch. To access the next Death Ball, you have to sit through an excruciatingly long visual novel section. You have to do this every time, and just the thought of having to sit through one was enough to make me put the game down for the night a few times. This isn’t fun, Grasshopper, and you’re not Hideo Kojima – you don’t get to hold up the gameplay with your pretentious bullshit when it’s this poorly written.
And then, of course – the wackiness!
On some level, they obviously cared because this game is wrapped in the bizarre visual and thematic trappings that both No More Heroes and Grasshopper Manufacture are known for. In places, it gets really out there, and while I absolutely loathed the visual novel sections, even I’ll admit it would have been great if they didn’t make me cringe so hard. Every “joke” in those awful sections is written with heaping doses of “LOLRANDOM,” like the series never left the year it was created in. So hard.
But it’s all there: Travis’ post-level “interview tapes;” the recurring, wise old man NPC that spouts Confucian one-liners; the fact that the whole thing is several games inside a game, with exposition from a separate “game” that’s still a part of the whole package. It’s trying to carry the sort of reference overload humour that can become quickly dated even when done well, but still feels so good to experience in the moment. It just doesn’t do it anywhere near as successfully as its series predecessors, or even at all if I’m honest. If it weren’t for the fact that the design and gameplay are utter trash, and apparently written by a time-travelling teenager from 2007, this would totally be my jam. As it is, it’s just so much virtual navel-gazing layered over something I would never voluntarily play again.
I don’t know why Travis Strikes Again exists, but it does, and that’s what I’d call “unfortunate” within the broader context of the series. No More Heroes was a great-but-crude product of its time, and with clever writing, its style of humour can be brought into the modern era. There’s so much to draw from for a new game in the series, and Grasshopper just didn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many series staples were removed in favour of bland gameplay, frustrating and boring design, and some visual and thematic hints that this game might have actually been good had the vision been there. As it exists now, however, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, not even longtime fans. You lose nothing from not playing this… Well, except perhaps the hope of another title in the series.