Last week, in a basement in central London, I got to sit down and chat with No More Heroes director Suda51, as well as play a lengthy batch of his upcoming project Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. As somewhat of a recently convert to the game, unimpressed by its tutorial-heavy Gamescom demo but won over by getting more time with a more complete version of the game, I was curious to dig into why the change of direction for this entry occurred, what work on this different type of entry has been like, and most importantly what there is for fans of the original two games to get excited about with this side story adventure.
To put it simply, this side story is pretty vital if we ever want to see a true No More Heroes 3 released.
Starting at the beginning, we spoke a little about Suda51's initial experience with the Switch, and how the form factor and design of the device were integral in prompting him to make a co-op spin off.
"About a year before the Switch came out, while it was still known as the NX, Nintendo showed me the hardware, and they showed it to me again around the time that it became the Switch," Suda explained. "When it was first shown to me, the first thing that really stuck out was the Joy-Cons that you can take off and play with. When we were thinking about what to do with Travis Strikes Again, I thought I really wanted to do some two player co-op action with those two Joy-Cons, that's an idea that was there from the start."
It's an interesting idea, and one I don't really think too often about. The idea of a home console shipping out the box with two controllers has been rare in the modern age, and affords a knowledge to developers that if they add local co-op support to a game, financial access to extra controllers won't be a barrier to accessing that content.
While all of the No More Heroes games of the past have come to Nintendo consoles first and foremost, the original game did later come to PS3, suggesting that the No More Heroes series is not contractually locked to Nintendo's hardware. I asked Suda a little more about that relationship with Nintendo.
"It is of course a good relationship," he said. "The very first No More Heroes obviously came out for the Wii before any other platforms and it stood out as quite unique among titles at that time on the system, as well as being quite a success sales wise. With that in mind, I always felt like the games were a good fit for Nintendo hardware, and Nintendo has always given us a lot of backup. Because of that backup and support, I want to continue that and always make sure the series comes out on Nintendo platforms."
"It's not like Nintendo has always given us tonnes of backup all of the time, but for example with Travis Strikes Again it's the first time an entry in the series has been featured heavily at a Nintendo booth. Three times at different PAX events, but also at events all across the world. That has been a first, but it has been because of those kinds of things that the relationship continues."
With the knowledge that Nintendo and No More Heroes as a series are very much on strong terms, and the Switch does feature motion controls, I had to ask if there was any chance of rereleases of No More Heroes or its numbered sequel coming to the switch. The answer was vague: "It's possible, I can say that." I'll take that as not a total shut-down.
One major misunderstanding I had when Travis Strikes Again was initially revealed was the role that indie developer collaboration had in the creation of the game. And based on Twitter comments, it seems to have been a widespread misunderstanding, too. With the game's focus on a number of smaller gameplay styles, and with marketing that suggested indie developers were including their creations in the game, my initial understanding was that the seven different game worlds in Travis Strikes Again were going to be developed alongside different indie developers who knew those genres particularly well. I asked Suda about this, who clarified for me.
"The collaborations are the t-shirt designs only," he explained. "So most of the time we would just have the indie developer send over a design for a t-shirt for the game. Every once in a while I would request a design myself, and the developer would work with that. There was only really one standard when approaching developers, and it was that it should be a game that Travis would like, because he's a gamer. Whenever I was at an event, and I saw an indie game I thought Travis might like, I would go and talk to that developer directly. Most of the time they were excited about collaborating."
As for how many different t-shirt designs there'll be in Travis Strikes Back? "Initially I was aiming for 51 different designs," he said, "but now it's closer to 60."
With the last of our time together, I shifted our focus a little towards the future. I wanted to know how Suda planned to win fans over to the game who might be nervous about the change in mechanics, but also what would come after Travis Strikes Back for the series. "If Travis Strikes Again is a success, it could lead to another numbered instalment in the series, so, I'm hoping that everyone will support this spin off entry in the series," Suda said.
"I already have a composed outline for No More Heroes 3 in my head, and I want it to be way more epic than previous numbered instalments in the series, with regards to Travis and his battle towards the new assassins. Because of that, I felt like Travis needed a kind of sidestep, to sort of add to his growth, giving him a chance to grow a bit before his next big battle in a numbered game. I feel like Travis Strikes Again is really integral to the series, and I want it to connect those numbered instalments together, so I hope people will support it because of that.
It might not be a mainline entry to the series, but it's just as important to Suda. I asked him to clarify if he saw the story of Travis Strikes Again as being important to get Travis where he needs to be for No More Heroes 3. "Yes, that's how I am imagining it," he responded. That led me to ask the all-important question: if Travis Strikes Again doesn't sell well, does that mean we probably won't ever get No More Heroes 3?
"Yes, and this is why I must make sure that Travis Strikes Again definitely does not fail."
As we wrapped up our conversation, a few things really started to make sense to me about the game that hadn't really clicked before. Travis Strikes Again is a side story, but one born out of love for a system shipping with two controllers right out the box. It's fast paced, it's a bit different to what's expected, but it's a step on a road towards the sequel fans want, rather than a long-term departure. Suda51 clearly feels this experimental little game is important to the series, and cares about how it's perceived. It's clear from just a short chat with the man that he really does care about keeping Travis alive and well.