So now that I’ve interviewed Suda51, it’s time to confess — I haven’t actually played one of his games before. I’m ashamed to admit it, and it certainly puts my blurry selfie I took with him in a more negative light. While I’m well aware of his status and prestige, I simply hadn’t touched his work before I got my hands on the Travis Strikes Again demo. But now, more than ever, I feel the need to go back and check out his other stuff, because this game is rockin’.
The TSA demo sets the mood immediately by featuring Travis, newly arrived in the game world, butt naked in the Terminator pose. Quickly donning street clothes (including a Hyper Light Drifter shirt, which was demoing two feet away,) Travis is then assailed by Death, who would kill him, but lacks Karma to do so… Also, they acknowledge it’s a demo and that it would be lame to have happen.
The basic gameplay in the demo could best be described as a top-down beat ‘em up. I and another player (who was in control of Badman) took down hordes of foes, mostly chump mooks, in a fairly linear pathway. We could use both light and heavy attacks in simple combos, alongside an assortment of special moves. With a couple exceptions, most enemies didn’t take much to take down.
On paper that might sound a little simplistic, but this is where the game’s aesthetic becomes the star of the show. Foes are glitchy abominations whose pixels bleed off of them, and defeating them causes them to melt into the pixelated ether. The game’s lighting feels very ’80s, full of neon accents and retro flair that meshes well with the cel-shading of the art style. Special moves are flashy, in both senses of the word — being both stylish and show-offy and blaringly impactful.
The various special moves all added their own dimension of explosivity to the game, especially since (to my surprise) they diverged quite a bit between character. Travis has an ability to add sword beams to his beam katanas, an energy wave, a black hole effect, and a powerful bomb that went off after a few seconds, each of which operated on a cooldown and was particularly useful in almost every situation. He also had a super — alone, it became a simple lunge that dealt a great amount of damage, but he could also pair up with Badman to unleash a giant AOE attack that buzzsawed a potion of the screen. It was a bit tricky to execute in the middle of combat, but boy was it fun to watch.
What stuck out far more to me than the combat, however, was the game’s personality, which even in a short demo was oozing from every pore. Halfway through was a ramen stand where Travis and Badman took a minute to indulge in some noodles, complete with a little card detailing the specific kind they ordered. The save point towards the end was a bathroom, with the “Now Saving…” placard covering up Travis’s lower body. And the dialogue was so winky and meta that it felt like a parody of itself. (Travis says at the beginning during his lengthy conversation with Death: “That’s the problem with games these days. They take too damn long to start.”)
All of this culminated in the boss fight against Electro Triple Star, the once-protagonist of the game Travis ended up stuck in. Not only do they lampshade the multiple phases of the boss fight, they call direct attention to the fact that the demo was at PAX, and that it was longer than the version at Gamescom. After defeating him, Travis tells Triple Star to rest in peace “here in Seattle,” and they strike up a conversation about how nice the city skyline is. It’s not so much breaking the fourth wall as it is bludgeoning it to death with a rusty bat. And it becomes hilariously endearing as a result.
There are a couple other particulars I found interesting — like the motion controls to recharge the beam katana — but overall the demo for Travis Strikes Again was unlike any other I’d played at the show. While plenty had the “This is a demo! We can’t go any farther!” wink to the audience, Suda goes beyond that territory into something unapologetically strange and hilarious. And now I can’t wait for the full title, especially considering the gameplay variations promised within.
While I was a bit young to play No More Heroes as a kid, I’m definitely looking to check out the former games in the series now in anticipation for this new one. It can be difficult to show off everything you’ve got in the span of 15 minutes, but Travis Strikes Again did so with a great balance of poise, personality, and humor. Catch me and a buddy playing this game when it comes out in January, because I’ve been sold on it.
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