Goichi Suda, or Suda51 as he's affectionately known in the industry, has a long and decorated history in gaming, and one of the biggest names in his portfolio is No More Heroes. The original game released on the Wii back in 2008, introducing us to anime-loving eccentric Travis Touchdown for the very first time, but we were recently invited eight years after we last saw him to a London event to get our hands on the return of Mr Touchdown in Travis Strike Again: No More Heroes, coming on January 18 to Nintendo Switch.
It's safe to say that No More Heroes and Travis himself have a lot of... personality, shall we say. The series has always been zany and wacky and colourful, and fans will be pleased to hear that this has most certainly been retained by Travis Strikes Again (TSA, as we'll call it from here on in). Right from the offset, there's so much noise and colour, and you know you've stepped into Suda51's world instantly.
Within the 30 or so minutes that we played it was as if someone got a dumptruck of pop culture and indie game references and dumped them in there, from Terminator's naked Arnie scene to Sega's classic intro and everything in between. It's so in-your-face and stylised that it feels a little like games such as Hotline Miami, and the fact that you're in a video game as part of the plot also makes everything that bit more weird and wonderful, breaking the fourth wall regularly as the devs constantly nod to the audience.
As a result this rides the line very finely between ironic, eye-rolling, self-awareness and unironic and genuinely cringeworthy. Travis and co. often witticise about being great gamers and that you'd have to be a true gamer to really beat the levels on offer, and while there's a bit of bad language and toilet humour (the save station is quite literally a portaloo), it sometimes felt a bit much.
It's hard to pin down exactly what the plot is about, since it all flashed before our eyes like a near-death experience, but basically, this is Travis's triumphant return and he's landed inside a video game. The game master talks to you and guides you through the tutorial at the beginning, and pretty much all you need to do is keep moving forward and doing what you're told; it's as simple as that.
It's your usual mix of heavy attacks and light attacks, and you can combine the two with jumps and running for more devastating combos. Of course, there are some enemies that need a heavy beating, and while some grunts can be dispatched with light flurries, you also have a special attack with R that you can use for a more devastating blow. Skills can be unlocked too, activated by holding L and selecting a button, and we experienced two. One of them saw you push an enemy back for high damage, while another threw projectiles in a wide area in front of you to hit multiple foes. Even the Joy-Cons are brought into play, as we needed to shake the controller to recharge our sword regularly.
The format we played was top-down as we walked through various corridors, sealed off at regular intervals for us to fight a load of baddies, with some light puzzles such as revolving walkways to navigate through, but we get the impression it won't stay the same the whole way through. Maybe it's Suda51's reputation or the fact that this is based on a wide array of games, but we imagine we'll see various ways of playing emerge throughout, along with many levels, locations, and of course enemies. Even in our brief session we saw various enemy types with their own unique dangers, like ones exploding on you for instance.
The most enjoyable thing about all this top-down carnage was how weighty all the attacks felt. Using our lightsabre-esque sword it was a lot of fun to carve and bash our way through various kinds of adversaries, and this all looked the part too. Everything has a neon glow to it, and it all contributes to this feeling of playing through classic and indie arcade titles, albeit with a bit of quirky flavour to proceedings.
All in all what we saw of Travis Strikes Again was a lot of fun, even if we did only see the opening tutorial section. Nevertheless, we were impressed by what Suda51 seems to have achieved here; it's packed with tons of insanity and colour and could impress even those who aren't used to the No More Heroes style. We're looking forward to seeing whether the intensity can be maintained over a full game, and the good news is that we only have just over a month to wait.