This week, Yahtzee reviews Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes.
If my review of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes was one word long, it would be "Self-indulgent." Also, I'd have a lot more free time this week, and my editor would probably think I'd gone mad. And it might be just the cry for help I need to get someone to intervene in my suffering. Hmm... Nah, better not. "Self-indulgent" on the part of Suda51, the Japanese post-punk developer who named himself after his Wi-Fi password. As one of the few true auteurs still working in high-level game development, I'm obviously in favor of him. If he and I pulled two Christmas crackers and I got the big end both times, I'd still let him have one of the paper hats and little toys; that's how much I like him.
It has occasionally been difficult to tell how much of Suda51 actually is in the games that have been sold to us as "Suda51 games", but I think it's fair to say he was pretty invested in Travis Strikes Again, what with it being about 90% references to previous Suda51 properties and 10% fun and engaging video game. It's not so much another installment of the No More Heroes series as an intermediary episode; it's the quick game of Trivial Pursuit held early in the evening to gauge interest in the full-on sex orgy you've penciled in for 9:00.
So if there isn't sufficient interest in No More Heroes 3, then Suda's going to find himself in a roomful of confused friends and a spotlessly clean gimp suit, and Travis Strikes Again is going to fall pretty fucking flat, since it culminates in a teaser for No More Heroes 3; but then, it also contains a teaser for a sequel to Shadows of the Damned, so at least Suda's hedging his bets. I think I'd definitely play a sequel to Shadows of the Damned; I mean, if you heard that someone you knew had died from attempting to swallow an entire set of snooker balls and the cues, then you'd probably want to see the corpse for yourself. Oh, but I kid.
Travis Strikes Again is about Travis Touchdown - misanthropic nerd assassin with a hairdo that has made him an enemy of the ceiling fan industry - living in a trailer in the woods in order to get away from the world of assassinations and sword-fighting and everything else that would make for an interesting video game. Oh, I see; it's that sort of strike! Shortly, the father of one of Travis's previous victims shows up and forces him to cross the picket line, but the two of them then get sucked into a magic games console which will grant them a wish if they can beat all six of its games. Only six games? What is it, an enchanted 32X?
Anyway, while I wouldn't have classified this as a "full" No More Heroes game, this does raise the awkward question of what exactly constitutes a No More Heroes game. I guess it's a hack-and-slash, but the hacking and slashing is always the least interesting part of it, since spawning 400 identical dudes to fight is the No More Heroes solution for absolutely fucking everything, from padding out the gameplay length to building up tension before a boss fight to getting a second opinion as to whether or not your milk has gone off. The rest of the No More Heroes experience lies in boss fights with colorful characters (a good percentage of which will have their tits hanging out), a bunch of silly minigames, a string of references to things close to Suda51's heart but you need to be Suda51's mum to fully understand, and a perplexingly large array of t-shirts to wear.
All of these features are present in Travis Strikes Again, but in low-key and slightly disappointing ways, like a "free sample" version of it that was given away in a cereal box. Very few new t-shirts unlock over the course of the game, and one might reasonably wonder why we should care what t-shirt Travis is wearing when a large percentage of the game is a top-down or isometric Gauntlet-esque hack-and-slash where he's as big onscreen as an extremely important piece of information is in an average end-user license agreement. But from the way the game keeps giving you money for beating challenges and finding prize boxes, we're apparently supposed to care, since we can only spend that money on new t-shirts, and not on anything useful like extra lives or herpes medication or-- Ooh, here's a brainwave: an upgrade to the beam saber so I don't have to keep wanking it back to life!
Yes, remember how hilarious it was in the first No More Heroes when you had to wank the controller to recharge your sword? You'll have plenty of opportunities to relive that classic comedy moment, because your weapon in Travis Strikes Again has the battery life of a fucking six-year-old iPhone, and it's not so much "wanking" as a complex act of stimulation upon a very uptight and picky clitoris. I'm growing to hate the standard Switch controller analog sticks; you need to press one of them in to do the recharge move, and there seems to be a difference of millimeters between pressing it "in" and pressing it "up", so I'll be trying to recharge my weapon in the heat of battle and Travis will suddenly realize he's late for smashing his face into the nearest wall.
Now, you might have thought from the premise of playing through six video games that there'd be some changes in the gameplay mechanics from game to game, and if you did, congratulations on retaining your childlike, hopeful demeanor in this increasingly cynical age, but you're wrong, you big fat idiot! All six games are basically just different venues for more Gauntlet-y hacking up roomfuls of identical dudes, slight changes in scenery, camera angle, and framing device. It might be intended as a joke; one of the games is ostensibly a racing game, but your car isn't fast enough to win, so you have to go find an upgrade by, guess what, hacking up roomfuls of identical dudes. Very funny joke, but in the "52 pickup" style of joke where the punchline is you wasting ten minutes of your life, and it's hard to keep a good-natured chuckle going that long.
While a few mechanics do change from game to game, all of them repeat themselves just enough times to make you thoroughly sick of the bastards. And then you get the boss fight with central whacky character du jour, nary a one of which has their tits hanging out, and the elaborate character-building cutscenes are replaced with tepid visual novel-style back-and-forth dialogues against a black background. Then there's an unmemorable fight, and Travis finishes them off with a token wrestling move, hoisting their knee-pits over his shoulder with a bored business-like look on his face, like a veteran plasterer getting another bucket down from the van.
Travis Strikes Again has enough of the No More Heroes post-punk quirk and plot service to give the hardcore Suda fans something to be smug about when talking to people who've only played the main games, but the endless frustrating core combat and its constant jilling off the analog sticks to recharge kill any recommendation I could make to non-Suda51 completionists. And the line between Travis Touchdown and his creator has gotten blurry; he's all "Mary Sue" invincibility and omniscient fourth-wall breaking and not so much being credibly pathetic around women. I don't think there's any evidence in Travis Strikes Again that Travis likes anime; now he only likes indie games, like what Suda51 likes, and he really likes Shadows of the Damned! Oh boy, can't wait for the sequel to that, can we, viewers?! So yes, "self-indulgent" is the word. Worth a look if you like Suda51 or are putting his profile together for a murder investigation, but you might get a sense that the comfy-looking sleeping bag we willingly entered is actually the creator's wank sock; you know, the Freedom Planet problem.
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