Otaku assassin, Travis Touchdown is back with a badass Suda51 spin-off. The gateway to No More Heroes 3? Perhaps sheathe your Beam Katana and let’s enjoy what we have. Some more official Suda-brand crazy nights.
What Fourth Wall?
We’re back with the man himself, kicking back after his Santa Destroy rampage, though not for long. Travis Strikes Again’s timeline falls after the events of the Wii original and its successor. The goal’s not to work your katana through the ranks of the UAA, no, this time it’s a sucked-through-the-TV-type escapade in a journey through a dangerous ‘phantom’ video game console dubbed the ‘Death Drive Mark II’. An attempt on your life by the father of your former adversary, Bad Girl, the aptly named Bad Man, begins with a scuffle that results in Travis and Bad Man getting pulled into the gaming world, literally.
The premise widens from here, with both vying for the rumoured prize of anything for those who can beat all six games. Expect lavishly (and purposefully) disjointed storytelling and witty writing, as you slash your way through six separate games, all with their own unique style and the odd gimmick. Plenty of NMH story nods, movie parodies and gaming in-jokes land almost every time, giving the devil-may-care vibe a stable footing.
When it Comes to Cheddar Cheese it’s ‘aged two years’ or Nothing
Core gameplay then is a fairly simplistic hack and slash take; the button mashing sort, to be sure, offering little by way of variety, even considering the relative difference in the in-game games. Perspective and visuals are dramatically revamped between levels, though the underlying movement and combat is identical scene-to-scene.
Fortunately, movement, dodging, flailing your weapon and winding up a heavy attack all feel smooth and satisfying with fluid animation and a rock solid 60FPS performance. There’s a mindlessness akin to a Warriors/Musou title as you slash wave after wave of bugs, which, depending on your preferences, could be a good or bad thing. However, there is nothing resembling combos here, with every individual move feeling very detached.
You can stop to chow down on some ramen by finding carts scattered throughout the game, allowing you to replenish your health and treat yourself to a lovely written summary of the dish. These mouth-watering bowls of noodley goodness are immortalised in polaroid form for you to take on your travels. Frequent toilet trips act as save points which also serve to replenish your health. These are all the best kind of quirky in execution but are not enough to distract you from the minimalism around you.
Levels are sparely populated, to a fault, with the boxed room-layout extending to most sections. There are some environmental puzzles, generally involving a rotating platform/panel when standing on a switch, but it feels like they appear only to break up the monotony. There are some other mini-games of sorts to cushion the blow, including racing and exploration in a mansion, but they’re not particularly interesting.
Wear your Inspiration on your Shirt
The clean, stylised look is atypical of a Suda51 game, once again setting itself aside from the crowd. Picture your average cinematic AAA game as a Hollywood action seen-it-all-before blockbuster, whereas Travis Strikes Again is that same genre of movie but shot by the unpredictable tendencies of Takashi Miike. It can be polished and extraordinary in many respects, but you can see it’s not got the same resources behind it.
Again, this being a Switch exclusive, there’s the insta-draw of local co-op with player 1 taking control of Travis and the second player driving Bad Man. There is no discernible difference between controlling the two. Both share skill chips and the same levelling method and statistics so the choice is one of cosmetics only. There does feel like a bit of a missed opportunity in not dropping four-player into the mix, alas, such is the quarry of a limited budget. The added enemy numbers and perhaps even friendly fire-off could have driven a competitive-cooperative blend of multiplayer to add a bit more moment-to-moment chaos.
There is voiced dialogue but only in small doses. The rest is dealt with by way of gibberish in the style of Steamworld Dig. For the type of game, it’s not necessary in any event. You won’t care when you hear the soundtrack, regardless, and the track for the second game is an awesome, obtuse piano-led piece. It’s high energy during action scenes, with chill-out moments getting the same level of thematic treatment. Sound design on the whole is well realised with the Beam Katana swing and the electronic synth twisting and turning though a distorted selection of enemy grunts and computer beeps, all meshing spectacularly well.
Once you’ve completed a level you’re back to your trailer, which acts as the hub area. From here you get a chance to buy and rock some killer indie game t-shirts, check your snaps of the awesome looking ramen bowls you’ve come across and go to the bog (save), before hopping on your motorbike to take a ride into the Grasshopper-grade insanity. These between-level segments are effectively stylised shorts, ‘adventure scenarios’, if you will, acting as a tie-in between the main levels and the other different gameplay and visual styles.
Those Who Say They’re Your Allies are Usually Badmouthing you in Secret
Grasshopper Manufacture has utilised a tight budget to do some characteristically stylish trickery, in messing with your expectations, although it’s often a little too much teasing, as opposed to pleasing. The self-deprecating humour, as funny as it is, fails to pull its punches enough, making you drearily aware of the minimalism deployed throughout the enemy patterns and level design.
There’s often a case of love vs ‘meh’ for Suda51’s work in gaming circles. I’m of the former camp and I say, with confidence, that though this might not be their best work, Grasshopper Manufacture Inc. have yet again set another benchmark for experimentation and creativity. The industry needs oddities like these. Granted, none of this can be attributed to the gameplay in the slightest, though the overall package does deliver something different, as long as you’re prepared to accept what’s always been made clear; this isn’t No More Heroes 3.
Overall Score: 7/10
Travis Strikes Again isn’t going to knock your socks off, but if you don’t mind the button-mash, for start/stop sleep-mode driven playthroughs and drop in/drop out multiplayer, you could do a lot worse.
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture Inc
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 18/01/2019 (Nintendo eShop)
Review copy provided by publisher