As one of the more unusual and mature games on the Nintendo Wii, Grasshopper Manufacturer’s No More Heroes became a cult favorite, with many admiring its bizarre and unorthodox style of action. With the series focusing on the exploits of mega-nerd Travis Touchdown and his encounters with killers and other weirdos, the series is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, along with the upcoming sequel Travis Strikes Again coming to Nintendo Switch.
With the game’s creator Goichi Suda–known as Suda51–returning to direct, he plans to continue channeling the weirdness, while also taking some cues from the recent surge of indies like Hotline Miami, and other games that push the boundaries. During Pax West 2017, we got the chance to sit down and chat with Suda51 about his work on Travis Strikes Again, his admiration for the independent games movement of the last ten years, and where he sees the series going from here.
GameSpot: What’s interesting about Travis Strikes Again is that it feels more like a continuation of the original game, as opposed to the second one–while also doing something a bit different from the others. Was that a conscious choice on your part to make this feel more stand alone?
Suda51: While this is obviously a part of the “No More Heroes” series, the reason it’s called Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes instead of like something numbered like No More Heroes 3 or whatever–I don’t want people to think of it as a direct sequel. While it’s clearly part of the same world and story, as it takes place seven years after the events of No More Heroes 2, I still want people to consider as the beginning of a new adventure, and possibly the beginning of a new series for Travis altogether. But yeah, it’s definitely related to the previous titles, not necessarily a direct sequel. It’s in the same timeline, same world and everything, but it’s sort of in between like a sequel and a spin-off type thing. That’s how I’d like people to think of it.
We’re actually approaching the tenth anniversary for the game, and even though we’ve only had two games, along with some ports on PS3 and Xbox 360, there’s still a lot of excitement and interest in the series to make a comeback. So what’s it like to finally return to this series?
Suda51: It’s been really great. Like every time Nintendo puts out a new piece of hardware, and every time I go to an event or something, everyone’s always asking “when are you going to put out the next No More Heroes?”. Personally, I’ve been wanting for years to put out another installment in the series. When we were finally able to announce the game recently, everyone at Grasshopper was really surprised. We got a much more huge reaction than we expected to get, and I’m both surprised and really excited. I really kind of hyped myself up. I’m really looking forward to giving the game to everyone, and having everyone play it–it feels really great to know that everyone seems to love this character so much. I’m just ridiculously happy to know that everyone’s looking forward to the game so much.
Even though the games have made some appearances on other consoles, it’s always felt like a game that, in a weird way, felt most at home on a Nintendo platform. Mostly on account of the motion controls, which made some rather odd and humorous design choices–particularly on having to make some purposely obscene gestures to recharge the beam katana. The Switch is a bit different than the Nintendo Wii, so what made you interested in bringing No More Heroes to this console?
Suda51: Well last year, before it was even called the Switch–when it was still just being called the NX–I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to check out the console before most people even heard of it. I had guys from Nintendo show me the console, you could detach the controllers and put it back together, and here’s like the vibrations and all that stuff. I was sitting there like, you know, watching these guys explain the console, and then after getting to touch and feel it for myself, kind of holding it in my hand and just checking out again with the vibrations–everything kind of fit together. I’ve been wanting to bring Travis back for a while, and I’m sitting here, you know, looking at this new console and checking out the hardware, and it just kind of felt like a fate type thing.
I’ve just been waiting for the right time. We’ve been really busy with stuff like Let It Die, and a bunch of other games. But finally–as the director–I’ve gotten a bit more freedom to do the stuff I wanted to do because work on Let It Die had kind of calmed down a bit. So as I was sitting there like, you know, watching these guys explain this thing called the NX, I decided I’m going to bring Travis back on this. Like this–the Switch–is what Travis needs to come back on. Everything just really sort of fit. The timing, the console, everything. It was like a bunch of puzzle pieces came together and made the full picture. That’s when I knew I had to bring Travis back on this console called the NX–now called the Nintendo Switch.
The Switch has gotten like a really big fan base built up. There’s a lot of really great games for it, and for one, it’s got Zelda–which is an amazing game. It’s kind of like the pinnacle of Nintendo games, we also got the new Mario game coming up, which I’m also sure is going to be amazing. The lineup of Switch games is just gradually raising the bar for the standards of video games. So while Travis Strikes Again clearly isn’t going to be a huge triple-A title, I definitely want to be able to make the game is going to be able to fit well with the other games in the Switch library. I want to make sure that it’s not going to be the kind of game that’s gonna let people down. Also, to kind of like give you an idea of how much I love the Switch and Zelda, I managed to collect all 900 seeds in Breath of the Wild.
This is also the first time No More Heroes will be playable as a portable game, given what the Switch is capable of. Considering the series’ penchant for doing some strange stuff with motion controls, will it be similar to how it played with previous entries, and will fans have to be cautious about playing this in public?
Suda51: Yeah, I can’t really get into a lot of detail about most of the control related stuff, but one thing that I can say is that this is something that I decided way at the beginning of the whole development phase–is that the game is going to be completely playable with just one Joycon. The controls are going to be what you expect, using the controller to move him around and slash things up. Using like the L and R buttons to do slightly more complicated combos and actions, and maybe even some kind of different abilities, and stuff like that. But there are variations that happen in the six different game worlds in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. So yeah, without saying too much, there’s a lot of parts similar to the previous games, but there’s also going to be a whole lot of really new stuff as well. But one thing you can be rest assured of is that charging the beam katana–in that particular way–is still going to be a part of this game. Honestly, the only thing I’m a bit worried about is the fact that the size has kind of shrunk a bit, but you still got this though [makes jerking-off gesture].
These characters are being sucked into video games, some of which reference other real games like Hotline Miami. Can you talk about what the collaboration has been like with other devs, and if we’ll see portions of their games in this one?
Suda51: As far as collaborations with other games and stuff goes, well you saw Hotline Miami in the trailer, but basically we’re calling it the t-shirt collaboration. Travis is going to be wearing t-shirts of different indie games. There is of course multiple reasons for revealing this game at PAX, but one of the biggest reasons I was looking forward to coming this year is to meet lots of different indie creators. Not only people who I already know, and games that I’m already aware of, but also new creators and new games to try. You know, cool indie games I’d like to collaborate with. I’ve been going around the convention, talking to lots of different indie creators, checking out their games, and finding people to collaborate with the t-shirt thing. But that’s pretty much all I can comment on as far as the collaboration goes.
But another thing I’d like to make clear is that in the trailer, Travis gets sucked into this console with BadMan. The story behind that is you’ve got this character named Dr. Juvenile, and she’s like a game creator, designer, and developer. She created a handful of games that go on this console, which is the one he gets sucked into. It’s called the Death Drive Mark II, which was a console that Dr. Juvenile designed and created and announced, but never actually put on sale. At this point there’s six games that go with this console that Travis will get sucked into and fight his way through these different game worlds, but they’re not actually other real indie games. They’re pretty much original games each created for this game specifically. David Cronenberg’s Existenz comes to mind as something that sort of had similar concepts–going from a game into another game–which I really enjoyed.
Speaking of independent games, the indie scene has expanded a lot over the years. With PAX, this convention has given developers a lot of room to show off their games. In a lot of ways, the original No More Heroes game had a similar spirit to an indie game, which often tell more risky and subversive stories. What are your feelings on seeing the success of these types of games–like Hotline Miami–which are experimental and odd, have gained so much popularity over the years?
Suda51: I’m really happy to see that the whole indie thing has really been kind of kicking off, and a lot of people are getting really successful at this stuff. I feel kind of a personal connection to them as well, because when Grasshopper was just starting out we were much more of like an indie type company ourselves.We’ve made some bigger titles with bigger teams over the years, but specifically for this game we’ve really kind of scaled back the size of the team. This team is about 20 people, it’s a relatively small development team, but there’s a lot of indie developers out there who don’t even have that many people.
For example, Hotline Miami was mostly like two dudes. I’m really close friends with Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin. I like all the other indie creators out there, and not only do I like what they do, but I really respect what they represent. It’s really impressive. Like they don’t just make cool, fun games–to me these guys are like rock stars. They’re out there doing their own thing, and you know, being really creative, putting out all this really cool stuff. And um, yeah, it’s something I think is really respectable. I love it.