Review: Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): January 18, 2019
- Release Date (EU): January 18, 2019
- Release Date (JP): January 18, 2019
- Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture
- Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
- Genres: Beat'em-up
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
What do Retired Assassins do All Day?
Travis was enjoying his retirement in his secluded trailer when an unexpected visitor crossed his threshold. Badman, a former baseball superstar and a very current drunkard, had a score to settle with our hero - the kind of score that requires blood to be spilled. Bat in his hands, Badman was ready to cave Travis' skull in. There's a road to becoming a champion assassin, a road that's paved with bodies. Unfortunately, one of those bodies happened to be Badman's daughter, and a grieving father is a dangerous force to be reckoned with. The two fighters clashed, both unleashing violent flurries of blows, only to be interrupted by a sentient technological relict. The Death Drive MK.2, a console combining both state-of-the-art gameplay and what I can only assume is forbidden Aztec magicks, sucked both into the game world filled with deadly bugs. The two now must form a shaky alliance, destroy the bugs and fulfill a plan much bigger than either of them. Will they succeed? Well, that depends on how hard you can rock, player!
The Art of The Assassin
The opening of this crazy punk adventure is about as surreal as you might imagine if you've ever played a Suda51 game, and it's certainly a big part of its charm. From the very moment you start TSA: NMH you know exactly what the author was going for - an acid trip of a brawler. Now, by Suda51's own admission, TSA: NMH is not a sequel to NMH 2 - it's something that you need to keep in mind while reading the review. To paraphrase the director, he wanted to create a smaller "indie" project with a smaller team before he involves himself with another full-blown, large project like NMH 3. This is important, because if you're looking for a NMH sequel, TSA isn't it. It's a completely different game that plays completely differently, but stars the same protagonist and similar aesthetics, and boy, is it aesthetic.
The presentation of the game is very distinctive and has that Suda51 "touch" to it that's both well-known and loved by his fans - if you've played a Suda51 game before, you'll feel right at home. The game mixes various environments, camera positions and colours to create a very different experience in each stage. While all of the stages play out as classic Beat'em-ups, they are very distinctive from each other. In true Suda51 fashion, he throws the player into a top-down arena-based fighting game just to pull you into a side-scroller a few moments later. If there's one way to describe this cyberspace adventure, it's "trippy" - it's very bright, colourful and stands out in a crowd.
TSA: NMH is one large nod to the "indie" scene - it was specifically made with a small team of developers, it's self-published, it's smaller scale and boils down NMH to its core components - mature humour and relenetless action. The nod doesn't end there, however - Suda51 also pays homage to the indie classics by including references to many popular titles via T-shirts which Travis can buy and wear during gameplay. I can see the reasoning here - "less is more" was the guiding principle behind the title.
Hack 'n Slash
The way the gameplay plays out is fairly simple - you pick your hero, either Travis or Badman, and make your way through the levels while slashing bugs into bits. Similarly to old style Beat'em-ups, the camera is fixed and boundaries pop up occasionally, preventing you from proceeding until you destroy all the bugs. Killing bugs rewards you with two things - experience and money. Experience is collected in a shared pool and can be spent by either character to level up and increase their base statistics while money can be spent in the online T-shirt store back at the trailer to get your hands on the latest threads from the indie scene. Our two heroes can jump, dodge and perform four basic attacks - light melee, heavy melee, light air attacks and heavy air attacks. In addition to these basic moves the characters can also equip special Skill Chips which grant them additional abilities. Skill Chips cannot be shared, they can only be equipped by one character at a time, which is important for players who want to debug the Death Drive games in co-op mode. Some Skill Chips can be used exclusively by Travis or Badman, making the character choice slightly more important than you might initially assume by just looking at the base moveset. All in all, the Skill Chips mechanic forces each player to play with a unique set of moves which keeps things interesting, but I can see how it could create some potential for arguments over who gets to pick the brand-new chip you just found - keep the fighting in-game, players!
The Chips are mostly acquired as pick-ups in hard-to-reach areas of the levels, but some of the most powerful chips can only be collected from defeated Bosses who await you at the end of each level. As such, you will have ample reason to revisit stages you've completed before, either to finish them on a higher level of difficulty, collect pick-ups you've missed or to simply challenge yourself to finish them much faster using your newly-acquired skills. This introduces a level of replayability, which is welcome considering the fact that TSA: NMH is not a particularly long game. Most of the fun springs de facto from replaying the levels. Each stage is a self-contained little experience, often with very different rules that govern it, which makes sense - they're supposed to be different games on the Death Drive.
Once you defeat the level boss with one of NMH's iconic wrestling moves, the Death Drive MK.2 spits our two heroes out into the real world, so in order to get back in the fray, Travis must venture out on a real-life adventure to collect the next video game the two could play. These mini adventures are presented as non-interactive text adventure segments. They're quite long and... to be honest, their charm wears off quite quickly. To put it bluntly, it's the part of the game where you mash a button for the dialogue to progress until the exposition is over and you're allowed to play again. It's not great, and the game itself says so in its self-referential fashion. It's quite funny when you think about it and I understand that a separate real life adventure or cut scenes weren't feasible, but perhaps even a small mini game would've been more enjoyable. You can skip the dialogue if you want, but if you do, you're willingly quitting on the plot, and that's not a choice a player should make.
Rumble or Fumble?
I'm not going to lie, I was pumped for Travis' big comeback on Nintendo's brand-new system. The Switch has two Joycons, analogous to the Wii Remotes, equipped with similar motion control technology. That alone had my imagination going. I specifically avoided all material about Travis Strikes Again prior to receiving a copy because I wanted it to amaze me, just like the two previous titles have... and I regret doing that. TSA: NMH is a spin-off title, and I had to keep repeating that to myself throughout the game in order to give it a fair shake - it's just not what I expected, and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. TSA: NMH, while fun, is far from perfect. The Bug enemies are quite generic - each and every one of them is some kind of permutation of a skeleton or skull, and it gets old quick. After a while you stop paying attention to the enemies, they just become blurbs on the screen that you hit with your weapon, and while there are some unique enemies in the mix, the bestiary could've been addressed much better. Travis and Badman are literally travelling through the world of video games and the only time they encounter characters from said games is in the boss fights which are extremely enjoyable - I was always longing for the next boss fight, in no small part due to how unique the bosses were. Despite the developer's earnest attempts to keep things interesting, combat gets dull quickly, which is a shame.
I don't want my conclusion to be misconstrued, TSA: NMH is a fun little Beat'em-up, but that's about it. It features one of my favourite game characters, it has all the hallmarks of a game made by Suda51, it's an acid trip of a video game, but... it's ultimately a small morsel. I can understand the director's desire to return to his roots and create a small game as an homage to the growing indie scene. I respect that, but he's simply not an indie director anymore and NMH is not an indie franchise - there is a certain level of expectations connected to the title alone and I'm not sure TSA addresses that desire. The self-referential nature of the game, while initially charming, can get old quick - you can only repeat a joke so many times. TSA: NMH tries to remind the player at every corner that it's a small indie project and lots of things were "cut due to budgetary reasons", to the point of nagging. I get it, Suda51 - you were taking a break from your big name projects and making something smaller, and that's fine. Unfortunately, TSA: NMH has an air of a lunch break project, and I'm sure that wasn't the intention.
Long story short, TSA: NMH is a competently-made beat'em-up with some very appealing visuals and an interesting way to switch things up using simple techniques like changing camera angles or introducing a mini activity, but in my eyes it fails to rise to the name of its predecessors. I remain optimistic regarding the NMH franchise, but I can't help but treat TSA as an entrée before the main course. I had the snack, it was okay, now I'm waiting for the grand, true NMH sequel - here's for hoping I won't have to wait long.
+ Iconic punk presentation
+ The game pays homage to the indie scene with references to many popular titles
+ Interesting implementations of camera angles in gameplay
+ Local co-op, a rare and always welcome inclusion in modern games
+ Funky music score
- Repetitive combat
- Generic enemies
- Short total play time
TSA: NMH is an indie title and as such, expectations have to be curbed in terms of eye candy. With that said, the area where it shines the most are the iconic comic book-like aesthetics. The game is very pleasant to look at - the game worlds you visit are varied and very colourful. The visual aspects of the game, coupled with the funky music score, create a unique and pleasing atmosphere. The only shortcoming in terms of the presentation are the somewhat generic enemies which hold an otherwise interesting-looking game back.
The gameplay of TSA: NMH is definitely fun, and the game keeps throwing twists at you to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, with its repetitive combat, it can get a little exhausting after a while. It's certainly one of those titles that's more than the sum of its parts in co-op - in the single player mode it comes across as an average Beat'em up.
The game features a couple distinctive game worlds, each with its own secrets for the player to uncover and a number of difficulty settings. I myself backtracked a couple of times to collect pick ups that I missed or to replay the level as a different character, but overall I don't see myself coming back to the title unless it is to replay it in co-op mode.
out of 10
(not an average)
TSA: NMH is a game I was looking forward to and, in all honesty, I can't say that it fully satisfied my longing for some Travis Touchdown action. As I've mentioned earlier, the game feels like a fun appetizer before the main course comes along. Thing is, we've been waiting for the main course for quite some time and I'm afraid that many of the fans might get up and choose a different venue.