Tag Archives: Suda51

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Review

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Ah, No More Heroes. It quickly became a cult classic on the Nintendo Wii. At the time, some didn’t think M rated romps were a good fit for Nintendo’s EDTV console. Not when most of them were coming out in HDTV resolutions on its competition. But a few games tried to prove that line of thinking wrong. Some were very successful. Some were spectacular failures. But others, like No More Heroes would be successful enough to make due, but not successful enough to be the next big thing either. Still for those who gave it a shot, there was little else like it. Suda 51’s action game had his trademark art style, dark sense of humor, and even a bit of self-depreciating charm. Backed by a surprisingly deep, if twisted storyline with some art house, and anime trappings.

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The action in it was a lot of fun, made proper use of Nintendo’s motion controls in its gestures, and had variety. It had fun mini games too. It was a fun game bogged down by an uninteresting sandbox that tied the stages together. The game still did well enough to warrant a sequel which streamlined things for the better. It also expanded the storyline, involved new characters, and enhanced the combat. Around this time the original game even saw a PS3 port that utilized the Move controller. No More Heroes became a series known for its cult film trappings, and solid action. The two games followed the exploits of Travis Touchdown, an assassin tasked with a number of hit jobs that would also uncover some deep, dark secrets of his own life.

PROS: Retains the mainline games’ style, humor, and storytelling. Shout outs to indies.

CONS: The combat can feel threadbare.

DLC: Will hopefully fill out the gaps.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes should not be approached as a No More Heroes game however. Admittedly, leading up to the release the developers had said as much. But even so, this game sadly doesn’t live up to the bar set by the two major releases back on the Nintendo Wii. This one is a mixed bag. It absolutely does have some entertaining things about it. It retains a bunch of the humor the series is known for. You’ll be laughing at some of Travis’ wisecracks. You’ll enjoy a bunch of the reference jokes the game throws in too.

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You’ll also enjoy an entertaining story. In this adventure, Travis Touchdown has had a break, and run away. He’s left everyone behind, except for his cat, and gone into hiding. Unfortunately for our assassin, he has been tracked down by the parent of one of his numerous victims. In the ensuing fight for revenge, the rivals get sucked into our hero’s Death Drive MK-II console. A demonic version of the Sega SG-1000 (Sega Mark II), where they find at the end of the game cartridge, an epic boss fight of sorts. The story then leads them to track down other cartridges to get to the bottom of the mystery.

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After the initial stages, and ensuing boss fight you’re taken to a hub in the vein of a standard No More Heroes title. You can save your game by going to the bathroom. But you can also do some other things. Hopping on your desktop computer, you can shop for T-shirts. You can buy them using the coins, and tokens you find in the various stages, and then go to the bathroom to change into them. One thing I will commend the game for here is that it gives a lot of independent small business studios some credit by including many shirts tied to their indie games. There are shirts for The Messenger, Hotline Miami, and Hatoful Boyfriend to name a few. Beyond that there are name drops throughout the campaign. This is a game that celebrates the creativity of smaller studios.

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Between cartridge games you’ll return to the real world where you’ll go back to the hub area where you’ll have to get on your motorcycle to further the story. These sections generally don’t have much of any interaction, but they do use the opportunity to reference the old days of text adventures, and early CRPGs. You’ll get to see 8-bit era cinema screens in a familiar two-tone green. At least it will be familiar if you grew up in a time when most Elementary school libraries had an Apple II where you would play MECC’s The Oregon Trail, and Infocom’s ZORK. These sections do continue the narrative nicely, and again, do include a lot of terrific, and funny dialogue. If you’ve been invested in either of the mainline No More Heroes games, you’ll find a lot to like here.

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At the end of these sections you’ll get the next cartridge for your Death Drive MK-II, and continue on. The general flow of the game will involve you playing through a cartridge level, saving your progress, reading a text adventure section, and then playing the next cartridge level. And that would all be fine. As I’ve said, the game has a great sense of humor, an interesting story, and Suda 51’s trademark art style. The game looks cool. The game sounds cool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t play as cool.

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The problem with Travis Strikes Again, is that it can feel monotonous. Since Hack n’ Slash games, and Beat ’em ups are mainly about slamming around bad guys, or cutting them into confetti they have to do something to stand out. Travis Strikes Again may look like a No More Heroes game, and it even retains the fact you have to recharge your beam katana battery. But it doesn’t have the variety in combat that No More Heroes had. You can jump. You can dodge. You can do a couple of fancy air moves. You still have a light, and heavy swing. But the game feels slower. You don’t get the wide variety of combat animations. You don’t get a rewarding combo system. Yes, you can see you’ve hit enemies so many times without getting hit. But it doesn’t feel right. There’s just something a little bit off. It’s also shorter than the mainline games. Which in this case is probably for the best.

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In its defense, it does offer an upgrade system that allows you to add some special power moves to the repertoire. As you take down enemies you can go into a sub menu after pausing the game. Here you can add these moves to the A,B,X,Y buttons. You can then hold the L button while pressing them, and you’ll fire it off in whatever direction you’re facing. And there are a number of them that you’ll discover over the course of the game. You can even save different load outs, and then swap them out. Which admittedly is handy for certain bosses or middle tier enemies. You can also use your experience to level up, which lets your basic attacks do a little bit more damage.

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The thing is, that due to the sluggish combat, a lot of your super attacks will count as a miss when you get hit trying to use them. They also have a massive cool down period. So there will be times when you’re just getting trampled, unable to fire them off. They also don’t chain with your regular moves very easily. When you do get them to work they are pretty effective though, and they look really cool. When things go your way you can clear a mob of enemies or at least buy yourself a bit of time. There are a lot of power ups for you to choose from. There are some that work as a Star Wars Force Push. You can knock back an opponent or a few low-level enemies. Another one summons a giant laser blast from the heavens. Another one will daze your opponents so you can get in a few hits.

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It’s very unlikely you’ll get to use all of them in an initial play through. But you’ll have to be good at keeping just enough distance away from your enemies to use them effectively. It leads to a lot of simply mashing X. And while many hack n’ slashers may indeed involve mashing X, the fluid animation, and combos hide that fact well. Unfortunately this game doesn’t quite pull it off.

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As a result, this one isn’t something you’ll want to spend every waking hour playing until the very end. Which is sad, because the other stuff surrounding the game is pretty interesting. One thing this game does do that is nice is it allows a second player to play as Travis’ rival Bad Man. And so you can have a friend join in which makes up for some of the average combat. The game does try to break things up a little bit by putting in a few different genre missions. For instance one stage sees you playing a drag racer with Vectrex styled graphics in between brawler sections. Another one looks, and plays like a fancier version of Mine Storm. All of these moments are incredibly fun, and look great. But it doesn’t make up for the ho-hum fights. Where this one does excel in gameplay are the boss encounters. All of the boss fights are really well put together, with multiple forms, and involve mastering some intricate attack patterns. And they feel satisfying when you do finish them off.

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Of course if you buy the game on cartridge it includes download keys for the season pass which will get you the DLC for the game. The DLC gets you new campaigns starring other characters from the No More Heroes franchise. Hopefully these additions will have the interesting combat features the base game lacks. However you should know that the downloadable version is ten dollars less, and doesn’t include the DLC. Buying the pass is ten dollars. So when taking that into account there really isn’t any difference other than the physical release is basically forcing you to buy the Season pass by bundling it with a key. I normally don’t talk about pricing in my articles because I don’t always get games in their release window. But in this case I have, and it seems a little disingenuous for them not to point this out on the box. You’re not getting the key for free, you’re paying the same. If you’re a collector, and want your Switch games on cartridge that’s something to be aware of here. If you’re more a wait, and see type when it comes to digital expansions, you may just want to get this digitally.

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Overall, I wouldn’t call this one a bad game. It plays fine, doesn’t seem to have much in the way of technical faults or major bugs hobbling performance. And again, it does have a pretty surreal, and interesting storyline. It’s funny. It has a great style. It’s just too bad the combat doesn’t keep pace with everything else because it takes up most of what you’ll be doing outside of the text adventure story sections. Die-Hard fans will want to jump in on this one. But if you’re a newcomer to this franchise, and you have a Wii knocking around, check out the mainline games before getting into this side game. I really wanted to love this one. The original two games were some of my favorite hack n’ slash titles. But as much as I love those cult classics this one simply isn’t as much fun.

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Hopefully, a third mainline No More Heroes game will learn from this side outing’s missteps, and return the franchise to its former glory. Travis Strikes Again isn’t a bad game by any means. But it isn’t a great game. It’s average. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are better games of its ilk to choose from. If you eat, sleep, and breathe anything Suda 51 does, you probably own this already. But if you’ve been on the fence, you might want to wait before jumping in. They did recently update the game with an opening cinematic tying the series to Killer 7. There are also ties to Shadows Of The Damned in the campaign. So perhaps in time they’ll improve the combat. With two upcoming episodes there is the possibility that DLC will do that. But that also rides on the number of people who will want to return to this one after playing the base game.

Final Score: 6.5 out of 10 (Better luck next time!)

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Killer Is Dead Review

Suda51 has become one of those popular, yet niche developers over the years. His games have a unique art direction to them. All blending the cel shaded look of an anime with the gritty, dreary look of 1940’s film noir. At the same time his stories are filled with bizarre moments, weird plot points, and over the top characters. Yet somehow he manages to keep many people invested long enough to see the end. He also seems to really love dark humor. Many of his stories, and characters feature jokes that revolve around themes that would otherwise be depressing. There’s also off-color humor thrown into his games.

PROS: Really cool art direction. Responsive controls. Boss fights!

CONS: Terrible, horrible, stupid, insulting, dating simulators.

REALLY?: KFC was founded by an extraterrestrial being.

Killer Is Dead is no exception to this. The first of his games to see release on PC, Killer Is Dead plays almost exactly like No More Heroes, No More Heroes 2, and Lollipop Chainsaw. Stages are linear hack n’ slash fare. You will be taking upon waves, and waves of crazy looking enemies. Slaughtering them by the hundreds as you try to get to the end of the level to face a boss. But Killer Is Dead doesn’t simply end there. It follows the trend set by Suda51’s earlier games by implementing some over the top finishers.

Performing the finishers gives you more currency you can use to upgrade your weapons, and more. You can also find items by smashing crates throughout the stages. The game also gives you two meters to keep tabs on during game play. One is a meter made of diamonds which is essentially your health. The other is a blood meter. This is signified by roses. Killing bad guys keeps this up, which you will need to do. You can sacrifice some of your blood to restore health. The meter also determines how much firepower your arm cannon can use.

Some of the aforementioned finishers also let you determine what rewards you will receive. Based on the Xbox 360 pad layout, you can choose X,Y,B, or A. Each of the four results in a different bonus. Some of the stages also break up the hack n’ slash action with some on-rails moments or turret gun sections. In these sections your character’s allies show up with heavy back up. One of them is a motorcycle chase section, while the others are turret horde mode sections. They aren’t as varied as they could be. But they do work for what they are.

Stages also do give you a pretty nice range of locales. Army bases. Castles. Dungeons. Inner city streets. A mansion. All of them with a really nice aesthetic that fits the game very, very well.  The soundtrack, and audio effects go along with them fairly well. While there aren’t any songs that will thump around in your head, they fit the theme of the stages. Interestingly enough the art style does change during certain cinema screens. These panels are very well done, and look beautiful. Sadly, they seem to clash with the rest of the game’s aesthetic. But that is only a minor nitpick.

Bosses are one of the biggest reasons to play a Suda51 game, and Killer is Dead is no exception. Bosses are as over the top, as ever featuring an American McGee’s Alice inspired monster. A giant monster inspired by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, along with several others I won’t really ruin for you here. Character designs are decidedly Suda51. Featuring some really cool concepts that are twists on androids, vampires, and even mercenaries. Then there are the hyper-sexualized characters.

This is where I have to address the elephant in the room. The dating games. Running alongside the main game’s quests are dating mini games. Along the storyline you will meet some female characters. In the main game they have character. They have a modicum of personality. In these dating simulators (If you can even call them simulators) all of that is thrown out the window. The object of the gigolo missions is to get the various women to go home with you. There are a number of problems with these missions. First off, the way you win these missions involves using X-ray specs to look at their underwear when they look away from you. Yes, you read that right. You put on X-ray vision sunglasses so that you can look at your date’s underwear. If you can consistently do this you can fill up a meter. If you manage to fill that meter before time runs out you can give your date a present. Give them enough presents before time runs out, and you win.

Now the women don’t just hop into bed with you if you win. You actually have to win several times for that to happen. And while it never gets to the level of a pornographic movie or even an R rated movie, the entire thing feels out of place. Moreover, it ends up sending out a message that women can be bribed into dating or sleeping with somebody.  I am not saying people who play this game, are going to be vapid enough to believe that. But it isn’t a theme many people will be comfortable with. Regardless of their political or ethical leanings.

It also, feels out of place because it doesn’t tie into the storyline at all, save for the rare cell phone voice mail you might hear in a mission. Some might bring up  Travis Touchdown’s attitude in No More Heroes. In that game the attitude made more sense because we were laughing at him. The joke was that Travis was immature, and didn’t have a grasp on reality.  Here, Mondo (Yes that’s the name of the main character) ends up looking like an unfunny jerk who juggles people around.

Not much, if any, of the rest of the game sets this up. In fact, a lot of it tries to make him more of a sympathetic loner. He rescues a kidnapped girl named Mika. He fights a crazed disc jockey because the DJ cut off a woman’s ears. He has flashbacks to witnessing someone drowning, and being unable to save them. There is a moment near the beginning where Mondo has to leave a night with his girlfriend early. But there is little to lead into the gigolo missions.

Fortunately, if you don’t want to play the gigolo missions you don’t have to. They are optional. You can clear the entire main game without playing it a single time. Unfortunately, it makes the game harder because the rewards for winning the mini games enough times are major upgrades for your arm cannon. And while you don’t need them to win the game, there are secrets in stages requiring their use.

Some of those secrets are another character named Scarlett. Dressed in a pin-up nurse costume, finding her unlocks training missions. Again, you don’t need to do these to win the game, but things are easier on you if you do. Completing these missions will give you items, and currency as well.

That isn’t to say I think it should be censored or banned. Games, like everything else should be able to say pretty much what they want. But I also needed to bring this up.  For many people it’s going to be off-putting. Which is a shame because everything else in Killer Is Dead is honestly pretty good. The combat is flashy, play control feels fast, responsive, and fun.

The story while not as memorable as the ones in Suda51’s other games, will likely hold your interest. At least long enough to see it through. Mondo is part of a government agency that works almost like a Private Assassination firm. Clients come to the firm asking them to go after dangerous criminals. Some of these are revenge missions. Some of these are pleas to save a city or town. As the firm sends Mondo on these quests, over time he begins to ponder why he lost his arm, and tries  to remember his past.  Many of the answers are entwined between the different missions. Clues are uncovered. Rivalries answer questions while bringing up new ones. Mondo has to figure out how to beat the threats, and what the moon has to do with all of it. All with the odd stuff you would expect.

 

There are also a few genuinely funny moments that do show up from time to time. They don’t happen as often as they did in Lollipop Chainsaw or No More Heroes. But when they do happen they tend to hit their target. I did find myself chuckling at a few of these gags. I only wish there could have been a few more effective ones.

Missions are set up in an almost Mega Man fashion. Sometimes the game will let you pick the order of stages as you progress. It also gives you the opportunity to do the aforementioned gigolo missions, training missions, or other bonus sections. You can also exit out of the mission map screen to buy gifts for the gigolo missions (should you decide to play them), put unlockable skins on NPC’s, and upgrade your arsenal. Completing the game also gives you the option to replay missions, and getting whatever you weren’t able to buy or unlock before.

The PC version of Killer Is Dead is branded as a director’s cut called Nightmare Edition. It’s essentially the exact same game that appeared on the PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The difference is that PC gamers get an extra difficulty mode that allows for only a miniscule number of attacks to take down enemies. It also makes boss fights harder. On top of the extra difficulty level, The Windows release has a couple of PC features included. Do note that they are pretty bare bone though. You can change the resolution of the graphics. You can change your key binds. There is a very limited quality selector for graphics too. But it won’t go into many deep options. Those are about the only additions. It runs on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. But unfortunately blocks access to the console. So you really can’t do much else to the game for performance. That said, if you meet the requirements for the game it will run fairly brisk, and smooth. It isn’t a very demanding title for most machines built over the last 5 years.

Overall, I would say that Killer Is Dead is certainly worth looking into if you enjoyed previous Suda51 games. It has all of the same hallmarks, and tropes his games generally have. It’s a well made game, and has some of the coolest art direction yet. It’s unfortunate then, that a bad, and out of place dating sim has to bring the package down.  It is also fairly shorter than previous games made by his studio. Hopefully future titles will remedy these issues.

Final Score: 6 out of 10