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Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes - Complete Edition (PlayStation 4) artwork

With 2019's release of Travis Strikes Again, it has been nearly a decade since Travis Touchdown mainlined a video game. The last we left off with 2010's No More Heroes 2, Travis slayed his way through the ranks to becoming the number one assassin; what's he up to lately? Been hiding in a trailer in the woods where, true to his character, he's been enamored with video games. This actually relates to the main plot as a guy named Badman bursts into his trailer, exacting revenge for his daughter who was slain in the first No More Heroes. Badman also just happens to carry a Death Ball, a rare "cartridge" for a console that was never released. Luckily, Travis owns a prototype console! Both then get sucked into a 4:3 ratio video game world where the Bugstreet Boys await, main enemy types who're given their name due to every Death Ball being unstable and buggy.

From there begins TSA's first stage and, if you've played the first two No More Heroes, you'll notice things don't look exactly the same. Instead of fighting in a third-person perspective, you are slaying enemies with your auction-bought beam saber in an overhead viewpoint, occasionally switching to a zoomed-in or side angle. But the core combat system has survived the transition with light and heavy attacks, a special attack that causes more damage, and especially the need to shake the controller to recharge your weapon. Some modifications have been made, with the most notable being less emphasis on performing motion attacks with the controller, an element that was common with its predecessors originally appearing on the Nintendo Wii.

However, some things have stubbornly stayed the same... and that's not exactly a great thing. In a series where going around and slashing countless opponents is the primary means of making progress, can you believe it's usually pulled off with such blandness? Between NMH, NMH2, and this game, TSA has the honor of making the worst first impression from a gameplay perspective. After passing the tutorial area where you have either Travis, Badman, or both in co-op perform a rundown of their move sets, you'd think the action would pick up, right? For the remainder of the stage, you're just slicing and smashing through Bugs with next to no effort, as if they're literally paperweight.

The biggest problem with the opening stage is that, for what it's presenting with the aforementioned, it goes on for way too long. You go through several environments, such as a factory and neon-lit city, with jumping over simple sets of electrified floors counting as diversity, but for the most part you're just mindlessly waling on foes. Unfortunately, this design flow continues for several stages. In the second stage, for instance, the goal is to wander through a neighborhood, visiting crime scenes within several mansions. Sounds intriguing! Sadly, it amounts to more slashing of the one-hit kill variety with the main gimmick being ridiculously boring: the entire neighborhood is sectioned into rotating puzzle pieces. And since there's nine mansions... well, there's just too many damn puzzles in this stage.

If this were any other game from another company, you would likely given up right then and there. But because this is a game spearheaded by Suda51, known for his eccentric directing style, you might stick it out for the wacky stuff. That's not to say this absolves the gameplay's quality, but the quirkiness Suda51 and company injects into their games have an endearing charm to them, such as entering each stage naked ala the Terminator or victoriously holding up an item to the camera like Link. There's so many references, from wrestling to other Grasshopper Manufacture games getting mentioned in surprising ways, that it's hard to keep track. Breaking the fourth wall is a constant as well, beginning with the first major cutscene where Travis is basically advertising himself and Unreal Engine 4 to players while battling Badman.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of TSA is its approach to dialogue and storytelling, most of it confined to segments prior to each Death Ball stage. The interesting thing about this is that they're portrayed in oldschool DOS-style adventure text screens with limited green pixelated visuals and chiptune music. In spite of these "limitations," the writing crew do an excellent job conveying the settings, character personalities, and overall atmosphere, likely due to the veteran staff's roots with adventure titles. Whether it be sitting and talking at an American diner serving hamburgers with Kobe beef, or a crew having a conversation in a car driving down a mountain road on a dreary, ominous night, you can easily imagine these scenarios in your head due to such vivid descriptions. If there's one thing Grasshopper Manufacture excels at, it's effortlessly bringing you into their worlds with narration.

All these non-action components help make getting through the dull hack and slash segments a... a little less insufferable for the first few stages. But then something peculiar happens... TSA becomes a bit enjoyable in its repetition. The reason for this is actually hilarious: natural escalation of difficulty. To the game's credit, it introduces more than three enemy types to handle, something the prior games never bothered with. And with that comes enemy types with bigger health, stronger attacks, and actual attack patterns. The more progress you make, the more these threatening Bugs become the norm, actually forcing you to use tactics when picking off foes, as a few simple mistakes will drastically drain your health. It also helps that the game stops using intrusive, time-wasting gimmicks and instead embraces the challenge of surviving legitimately tough hordes.

Travis Strikes Again is an oddball of a title... and part of that isn't for good reasons. Everything surrounding the action is good, whether it's story presentation, character development, music, or tributes. But the action-oriented gameplay sadly drags down the entire product, even if there's a salvage attempt later on. It has nothing to do with it being a simple action title, too; basic action games for decades have proven time and again that they can entertain players if done right. The fumbling comes from the fact that the action fails to engage players coming out the gate, forcing them to lug Travis Touchdown and company through monotony before things get a bit better and entertaining. This is perfectly encapsulated with the final stage of this Complete Edition, which happens to be the pinball-themed Killer Marathon DLC; it ends up being the best stage in the entire game.

Have fun getting through all of Travis Strikes Again just to experience it.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (July 07, 2022)

Rules of nature.

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