Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes" Review

Back in the heyday of the Wii, developers bubbled with wild ideas in an effort to steal the console's massive, largely casual audience toward more eclectic fare. Visionary developer Suda51 and his Grasshopper Manufacture led the charge with the subversive action extravaganza "No More Heroes" (2007) and its follow-up, subtitled "Desperate Struggle," released three years later.

And for the next decade, crickets.

It took similar innovation and hot sales numbers to revive Suda51's bizarro dream for a Nintendo console. Here comes the third game in the series, "Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes," seemingly out of nowhere, with the devastating force of a hurricane and every bit as much vigor. Somehow, the nine years that have passed between the last game and the new one seem like nothing at all.

The "No More Heroes" games tie together the oddly parallel phenomena of the Wii and Switch. Like the previous games, and nearly all of Grasshopper Manufacture's oeuvre, a wicked sense of humor permeates every pixel. Self-aware, sardonic and sassy, the narrative abounds with pop culture, film, music and gaming references, never missing an opportunity to wink and nod, down to the title font that echoes "Stranger Things."

There are countless strange, stranger and strangest things to encounter in Travis Touchdown's latest adventure. Unspooling via a retro-tinged, top-down view rather than the slick yet somewhat forced and disorienting over-the-shoulder view of the original games, "Travis Strikes Again" steps back and lets its light saber-fueled combat speak for itself.

Zipping along with a sense of forward momentum that the previous games tended to lose in awkward bottlenecks, "Travis Strikes Again" hardly pauses for breath, ever surging ahead with an invigorating sense of wacky, iconoclastic glee.

With the villainous Badman out to get revenge on Travis for the murder of his psychotic daughter, he's sucked into a 1990s-style video game realm. Long since having gone into a depressive, gaming-fueled hermetic exile, Travis's obsession pays off well. As he romps through the gaming world -- which stands as a funhouse mirror reflection of the highs and lows of gaming culture over the past two decades -- his skills pay off well.

Beloved aspects from the previous games come back into play. The pump-action act of maintaining the charge on your weapon has a nagging yet distinguishing feel, helping you stay on edge for battle. Enemies barrage you with the relentless swarm of a bullet hell space dock, and it's on you to orchestrate your offensive and defensive skills to slash them into bits and unlock the next checkpoint.

More linear in nature than previous "No More Heroes" games, Suda51's latest maintains the series' rich history while also writing its new chapters in irreverent freehand. You never quite know where the story's twists will take you next, and the unpredictability makes for a fascinating, endlessly engaging ride.

Travis Touchdown re-emerges as the quintessential -- if not essential -- antihero Switch players deserve, even if they may not quite need him.
Publisher provided review code.

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