Travis Strikes Again : No More Heroes Review – When good games go bad

Platform:
Nintendo Switch
Released:
January 18, 2019
Publisher:
Nintendo
Developer:
Grasshopper Manufacture

Review

Travis Strikes Again : No More Heroes had me at its E3 debut and gameplay trailer hello. That cinematic where Badman arrives at the trailer to seek revenge. Travis Touchdown is playing videogames and the fight is gritty and awesome. It was all pulp fiction cool. The concept of getting dragged into a retro game console just heightened my anticipation for this game. It had hype and kitsch appeal. I had no idea who Travis Touchdown was if I’m honest. But I was excited.

The premise is a post-modern 4th-wall breaking narrative that references games that if I were cool, I would know. It features many licensed T-shirts plus various ramen (to confirm its credentials) and  it features toilets as save points as if Conkers Bad Fur Day didn’t happen 20 years ago. The concept is fabulous, but as we all know, concepts are one thing, but does it live up to its hype?

When it comes to Travis Strikes Again : No More Heroes, the answer is definitely a yes and no. Presentation wise it definitely gets full points. Picture Peach’s N64 castle translated into a trailer with a fax machine, a PC and a shelf of video game magazines. They nail the Death Drive II hype by featuring articles about the system (before it came out) and previews about the games, complete with cheat codes on your shelf. As you progress through the game more articles are available, usually before you play them.

The introduction to the games you play on the system itself are absolutely a highlight. That animation of being sucked into a game, the Death Drive II splash screen is one of the grooviest sequences I’ve experienced in a while. All of the games have their teaser screens satirising key games from the last 30 years from point vector racing games to new-gen RPGs and 16 bit shooters. There is even one that is throwing shade on old school FMV based interactive movies. Adore.

Travis Strikes Again : No More Heroes even has a “between games” narrative that takes the form of a text based DOS RPG complete with self depreciating comments about the fact, no doubt referencing games I don’t know and a talking cat. Detailing the search for the six launch games prepared for a console that didn’t make it to launch. So, you couple fabulous art style, great narrative direction. In jokes and all. All of the things I love. So why am I not sold on this game?

Well, bells and whistles aside – and Travis Strikes Again : No more Heroes has many bells and whistles that are absolutely brilliant, be it the intros, the backstory, the games and the humour – it is honestly the gameplay that lets this title down. To be fair it could just be a huge in joke; even Travis himself berates a particular game within the game for being crap. But as gamers we all know that jokes aside, when it comes down to it, gameplay isn’t to be joked with – it’s what you pay for.

The big problem with Travis Strikes Again is that at the end of the day, when you strip out the brilliant presentation, actually playing the games that it “features”, you end up with standard or even sub standard hack and slash. The highlight becomes not the game you are playing, but what game you will be unlocking to play next and you push yourself through it to get the next one. To be honest, distractions aside, the actual game itself would not have rated 25 years ago, let alone today.

The action is frantic at times yes; you collect computer chips to allocate special moves, they are named after Gundam craft, again very cool and for those “in the know” particularly tasty. But ultimately, other than a couple that are useful the rest are novelties. Despite the premise that you will be playing different types of games, the setting changes but ultimately they all play the same, with the same enemies (plus a new one every level). Then in the next one you fight the old ones and various mixes of the new ones. They joke about palate swaps as sub boss fights. But ultimately, in 2019 it’s not a joke that’s funny. It’s just lazy.

There are lots of average games that dress themselves up in shiny clothes. There have been games in the past that have claimed they’re sheer trash to be a complex joke also. But Travis Strikes Again is different because of the effort that has gone into making those shiny clothes. More effort than went into the game itself. As a package, the presentation covers enough ground and is strong enough that it counters the atrocious grind of the gameplay and when you balance it out, it makes a horrible game into an average one. A bright spark may say “well, maybe you should play the previous games.” My answer is, I shouldn’t have to. Purchase only with caution. I can’t recommend this game, but than maybe I just don’t get the joke.

Explore the fabled death drive II

The concept is very attractive: Badman tracks down Travis Touchdown for revenge and they get sucked into a fabled never made it to release console and go on a quest to track down the aborted launch games. Beating those launch games allows the player to be granted a wish. It is supported by faxes, retro inspired video game mags with previews of the games you will be playing. A DOS  text based RPG carrying the story and chronicling Travis’ quest to collect these rare games. But, get into the games themselves and as with many cancelled consoles, there are reasons why those games never saw the light of day.

Did the developer intentionally make those games as bad as they are? If so, it may be twisted genius perhaps. Or it could just be they are really bad. The sad thing is that the quality of everything BUT the games themselves is stellar, this could have been a really fantastic game if the sum of its parts actually added up. But as it is what we have here is a zero sum game, the positive is the presentation and the negative is the game itself and unfortunately when you add it up you end up back at zero.