“There’s a whole new generation of gamers out there. Lemme at least introduce myself,” says Travis right in the opening cutscene of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. That’s right Travis, it’s been eight years, and you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know who you are. Go on, impress me.
The thing about Travis Strikes Again is that it’s a really weird game to try and write about, as someone who missed the boat on the Wii and PS3, and never got to play the games. Nor am I familiar with director Suda51’s work, although I always read about Suda’s games in magazines, with him being portrayed as the kooky ‘out-there’ game director with a knack for the unpredictable.
I’m likely not the only one who’s jumping into Suda’s body of work with what is touted as Grasshopper Manufacture’s 25th anniversary title, and a spinoff of the main No More Heroes games that takes place after a timeskip. Fortunately, the premise of the story is easy enough to follow. Long before Deadpool became a large pop culture icon, there was a fourth wall-breaking otaku assassin who killed the female assassin Bad Girl, and now the past has crept up to him, with the assassin’s father Badman coming to avenge her by killing Travis. However, as the battle ensues, Travis and Badman are sent into the Death Drive Mk-II, a phantom game console that never released, and rumored to be able to grant wishes. From then on, the two make a truce to complete the Death Drive Mk-II’s six games, and bring back Badman’s daughter.
Of course, nothing is that simple. Early on, you find out that the Death Drive somehow connects to the nervous system of its players by the creator, Dr. Juvenile, and I also got to learn a lot more about Juvenile and the Death Drive Mk-II’s botched creation as I beat the games, and earned more faxes in the real world sent by her lover, K.
The creator of the Death Drive aside, the reoccurring NPCs give some serious dialogue as wisdom that tipped me off that this wasn’t going to just be a silly romp in adventure land. Furthermore, Travis ends nearly every game he completes with a self-introspection scene that also discusses his thoughts on Dr. Juvenile, letting this game act as a deep dive into the mind of Travis Touchdown and making you care for the guy. Despite his dorky sayings and actions, he is a serious person who’s chosen to run away from his responsibilities by living in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Finding more about Travis became a personal motivation for me to continue on and complete the game, and by the end I felt like I understood why Travis was so popular and beloved.
That said, Travis isn’t the only emotional core of Travis Strikes Again. There are many instances in the story which made me go, ‘Huh…’, such as the themes of regret and moving on, as well as the many specific scenarios of game development shown where you could feel the frustration seeping out of the PS4 itself. There was no sense of parody anywhere, and the game plays it completely straight.
It wasn’t until the fifth game-within-a-game, Serious Moonlight, that some things began to click. This wasn’t just a fictional game creator venting her frustration, but Dr. Juvenile acting as an author avatar for Suda himself to vent with his history with game development. Thrust into the spotlight on the world stage after games like killer7 and the first No More Heroes, Suda struggled with compromising his vision on game creation with what was expected from conventional games, and also was pigeonholed into the ‘weird Japanese funny thing’ stereotype to the point of once again compromising vision.
There was no way I could have picked up on this second layer hiding beneath the surface, being someone with no history with his work. But reading more into the themes led me to understand more about, and gain respect for Suda51’s sense of aesthetics and core as not an ‘auteur’ game creator, but just a game creator.
When you see this game as a celebration game for Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51’s reflection on his game developer life, it starts to become even more endearing. There are throwbacks everywhere in Travis Strikes Again to other works by Grasshopper, such as cameos from killer7, Shadows of the Damned, Killer is Dead, and more. Even if I wasn’t able to recognize these characters the first time I saw them, I appreciate what they have done with this game.
Overall, from a story standpoint, I’d say that Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is worth playing, even if you’re not familiar with Suda51’s work. Travis’ introspective journey, and the serious approach to the themes of the game work wonders in providing an experience that shows off Travis’ appeal while not being pretentious. If you are a Suda fan however, I imagine you’d get a lot more out of the game, and I’d also recommend first-time players like me to check out the creator’s history if you have time. I’m definitely looking forward to where Suda and Grasshopper go from here.
Food for Thought:
- The music in this game is so good. Not only do the themes shift tones to reflect the game currently being played in the Death Drive Mk-II, they are wonderful to listen to on their own, and some of them feature lyrics and rap. The music was done by newcomer Kazuhiro Abo, and I’d say he knocked it out of the park. You can find his Twitter here.
- I’ll talk about the gameplay in a second playtest alongside the extra content, as I feel these deserve their own post.
Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes – Complete Edition is available for PlayStation 4 and PC via Steam. The original Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is available on Nintendo Switch.