No More Heroes director Suda51 talks Badman, punk politicians, and Travis Touchdown's favorite porn

I never thought I'd ask a game creator about the porn preferences of their most beloved character. But for reasons that may already be apparent, I feel comfortable enough to do so with Goichi 'SUDA51' Suda. A hardened (but never jaded) veteran of the industry, Suda and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture have a knack for crafting games that are practically guaranteed to achieve cult status, full of outlandish characters, bizarre worlds, funky flavor, and deceptively nuanced symbolism. So it's to the delight of longtime Suda fans that he's returning to the director's chair for the Nintendo Switch exclusive Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, a comeback for the series that gave us the stylish, sideburned super-assassin Travis Touchdown and his murderous, subtly existential escapades.

Even if you never played the previous two No More Heroes games (with the series currently celebrating its 10-year anniversary), you probably know them as the third-person slash-'em-ups that make players vigorously jerk the controller up and down to recharge Travis' Beam Katana. Both the lovable loser and his signature energy sword are back in this eccentric Switch spin-off, set seven years after the events of No More Heroes 2. Travis and a thuggish assailant named Badman are sucked into the fictitious Death Drive MK-2 game console, causing them to cross over from their reality into a host of indie games - including the legendary acid-soaked rampage that is Hotline Miami.

"I want people to think of it as the beginning of a new adventure..."

Though much of Travis Strike Again is still under wraps - the closest thing we've seen to gameplay is the snazzy cinematic reveal trailer above - I had a blast getting to pick Suda's brain about the upcoming project at PAX West 2017, courtesy of translator James Mountain. And Suda's persona (not to be confused with mysterious game deals guru Wario64) is just as larger-than-life as you've heard. He's brimming with charisma, happy to chat about wrestling, modern punk, and anything even remotely related to his games (including what an unabashed pervert like Travis Touchdown prizes most in his personal pornography collection).

Not just any baseball bat 

First off, you should know that Travis Strikes Again isn't meant to be No More Heroes 3. Though the first two games both follow Travis as he kills his way to the top of an assassin hierarchy in the small California-esque city of Santa Destroy, they're fairly different in tone - and Travis Strikes Again could take on its own vibe distinct from its predecessors. "It is, obviously, part of the No More Heroes series - [but] it's not actually any kind of direct sequel, which is why we haven't numbered it," says Suda. "I want people to think of it as the beginning of a new adventure, possibly even a new series for Travis. It's something kind of different from both of the original titles, actually." 

"I cut off heads"

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle ranks highly among the best Wii games of all time.

There is one clear connection to the events of the first No More Heroes: the grungy, baseball-bat-wielding antagonist Badman, who's dead-set on avenging his twisted daughter Bad Girl after Travis impaled the infantilized masochist in the original game. "There's a few assassins that I've got fond memories of, but the number one would probably have to be Bad Girl," muses Suda. "I kind of wish she hadn't been killed off." Bringing Badman (a character designed by accomplished underground artist Boneface) into the picture is Suda's way of paying homage to his favorite slain assassin.

And if you're wondering how Badman's baseball bat could possibly clash with Travis' Beam Katana and not shatter to pieces or burst into flames, Suda's already got a perfectly logical explanation lined up. "On the surface it's wood, but inside, it's made with special materials," he explains. "It's filled with diamonds. He's a former major league baseball player; I'm pretty sure that he used to play for the Cardinals. He had this special diamond-core bat made, with all the money that he made back when he was a major leaguer." 

There's a similar level of unexpected backstory behind the sinister-looking Death Drive MK-2 console, right down to its hardware specs. Suda didn't have the RAM or processor details handy, but he did explain that the skull-faced VR system was developed by Doctor Juvenile (a stylish scientist on par with No More Heroes' Dr. Naomi) and produced by a company called Hazure. Astute Grasshopper Manufacture aficionados will recognize that this machine is actually a predecessor to the Death Drive 128, the console that Uncle Death plugs you into for the brutal tower ascension of Let It Die. "One of the main themes of the game was that this was a console that was announced, but never actually put on sale, because it's really dangerous," says Suda. "The player gets sucked into the world of the game and can actually get hurt and die and stuff. So it was announced, but never actually put on the market." For anyone looking to buy their own despite the dangers, the suggested retail price of this virtual console is $999, and it requires that you own the costly Death Glove peripheral. Truly, Suda and his staff thought of everything.

Doing some development over drinks 

Grasshopper's games often feel like the product of Suda's love and admiration for the spirit of punk rock: a raucous, carefree way for the everyman to resist and rebel against the establishment, sometimes with aggressive tendencies. No More Heroes could be thought of as the epitome of those punk undertones, as it's a much rowdier affair than something like the freakish nightmare worlds of Killer7 and Shadows of the Damned or the methodical contemplation of The Silver Case.  

Goichi 'SUDA51' Suda (left) with Hidetaka 'SWERY' Suehiro.

You could also say that the teeming indie scene is the punk counterculture to the multimillion-dollar productions being developed by gaming's AAA giants - so infusing the indie essence of beloved games like Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight into Travis Strikes Again makes perfect sense. But the actual crossover elements come in varying degrees; for instance, the inclusion of Shovel Knight is currently limited to the dig-happy hero adorning one of the many shirts that Travis can wear in-game (if you didn't know, No More Heroes has always been a bastion of customizable punk fashion). 

"Once we have a chance to have a sit down and get a couple of beers together... who knows what could come out of that."

Suda's the one personally scoping out which indie games he'd like to shoutout - or invade - in Travis Strikes Again. "One of the most important points is whether or not Travis would be a fan of this game, you know?" says Suda. "When I find a game that I think, 'Okay, knowing Travis, he'd probably like this game,' I go and talk to [the developers] and see if I can get them to collaborate with me." There's also varying degrees of input from the developers of these games; for instance, Suda seems to still be getting to know the makers of Shovel Knight and its many expansions. When I mention Yacht Club Games, Suda grins with amusement. "Actually, I became aware for the first time, just now, that the Shovel Knight guys were called Yacht Club Games," laughs Suda. "That's actually a really cool company name. I've been thinking of them as just 'the Shovel Knight guys' the whole time."

Of course, anything could happen between now and Travis Strikes Again's 2018 release window. "I haven't had the chance to have beers with the Yacht Club guys yet," explains Suda. "So once we have a chance to have a sit down and get a couple of beers together, and really start getting to discuss things, there's always a chance that we might come up with something a lot more concrete, a lot more extensive, as far as what kind of collaboration we're going to do. At this point, it's just the T-shirt thing, but who knows what could come out of that." As for Dennaton Games, the two-man team behind Hotline Miami and its sequel, Suda had already built up that collaborative rapport. "I'm really close with Dennis [Wedin] and Jonathan [Söderström]," says Suda. "So for the Hotline Miami part, I worked really closely with them and let them know exactly what's going on. They're really happy to have their game incorporated, so there's no problem there."

"You bald bastard!" 

Another element of punk culture that fuels Grasshopper's games is the idea of tenacious nonconformity. The sheer diversity of the studio's development history borders on absurd, from the Kinect-exclusive baseball lightgun action of Diabolical Pitch, to the touchscreen shmup aerial battles of Liberation Maiden on 3DS, or the experimental endless runner/anime trip that is Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day. That propensity for the punk philosophy puts Grasshopper's games in an odd space, where cult classic fame doesn't necessarily translate to huge sales. No More Heroes even exists somewhere between cultures, with Travis channeling the American-made, devil-may-care tomfoolery of Johnny Knoxville mixed with the obsessive fandom that defines Japan's hardcore otaku. 

Can't find the exit

Travis Touchdown's humble beginnings and the making of No More Heroes.

"One thing that I can say is that America and Europe definitely had a much more positive reaction to [No More Heroes]," says Suda. "It's not that the reaction was bad in Japan, necessarily. But one thing that happened with No More Heroes - that happens with many of Grasshopper's games - is that they tend to do a lot better overseas. In Japan, games like No More Heroes, they've got a bit of a dirty, naughty side to them, you know? At the same time, they tend to be really bloody. A lot of Japanese gamers don't really accept that kind of game as much as Western gamers do. In North America and Europe, people tend to not only be able to accept that, but they laugh at that kind of thing. Whereas in Japan, a lot of people are kind of like, 'Oh, I can't really deal with that.'"  

"You've never heard a person treat another human being like this before."

Suda and co. continue to fight the good fight for punk's presence in the modern world, and they can't be the only ones. So who personifies punk in 2017? When I ask Suda this question, the outspoken punk proponent goes deep into thought. "Probably the two guys from Dennaton," Suda ponders. "As creators, I really respect them; I think they're doing some really great stuff. They really do their own thing. They do it with freedom and everything." He settles back into puckish contemplation for a few moments. Then his face lights up, as he zeroes in on the true herald of contemporary punk.

"Mayuko Toyota. Basically, she's a Japanese politician. She has a secretary. A couple of tapes got leaked earlier this year, where she is just losing her shit at this secretary." Suda starts excitedly pantomiming her outbursts. "He's driving the car, and she's behind him, slapping the guy, going 'You bald bastard!' It was all over the news for a while. She's calling this guy a piece of shit, saying, 'I'm Mayuko Toyota, you do not fuck with me. You do not make me mad. Who the fuck do you think you are?' Just completely going crazy on this dude. You've never heard a person treat another human being like this before. Right now, Japan's got enough problems with North Korea and stuff. Everyone's really scared - but for a little while, everyone totally forgot about North Korea, because this was the only thing on the news. This lady losing her shit, over and over and over. Yeah - she's real punk." 

Pervert alert 

The original No More Heroes on the Wii was so much more than its motion controls, but the Beam Katana recharge mechanic is perhaps its most infamous feature - the kind of frenzied, repetitive waggling that could easily give onlookers the wrong idea. Back in 2007, Suda didn't have any direct contacts at Nintendo, so he can only imagine what their first reaction was. "I'm pretty sure that there were people at Nintendo who thought, 'Wow, these are some really dirty motions used in this game. What the hell is this?'" laughs Suda. "I definitely want to incorporate it in the new game too, but it's really unfortunate that the size [of the controller] has kind of shrunk a bit." I can only imagine what's possible with the Joy-Con's HD Rumble capabilities.

That mechanic isn't just crass for crassness' sake, mind you - a vulgar attitude and ineffectual lust are central to Travis' character, which feels wonderfully contrary for a series that got its start as a Nintendo exclusive and will continue that loyalty with Travis Strike Again. Rampant horniness is what kept Travis going through the tough times and ethical crises that come with being a paid killer: the promise of having sex with the seductive Sylvia Christel (an esteemed agent of the United Assassins Association) was Travis' carrot-on-a-stick. True to the otaku stereotype, Suda confirms that Travis was indeed a virgin until Sylvia took pity on him in No More Heroes 2 - and it sounds like she has a part to play in Travis Strike Again. "Of all the information we've put out so far, there's hasn't been anything about Sylvia released yet," says Suda. "I can't say anything right now, but when we release the next batch of information, there should be more pertaining to Sylvia there, so look forward to that."

"I'm pretty much able to do what I want, and it seems like people really dig it now."

Travis' brash, clownish, often pervy mannerisms are all a parody - or at the very least, a commentary - on your average mega-nerd. He loves video games and wrestling, collects cards, and has a display case full of figures based on his favorite magical girl anime, Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly (the in-universe parody of shows like Pretty Cure and Sailor Moon, which inspired Travis' unforgettable "MOE~" line). And, like so many lonely, socially inept nerds, Travis adores porn, be it stashed under his bed or on an overdue rental from the local video store. Perhaps it's rude of me to pry into Travis' private matters, but curiosity got the better of me, and I had to know: just what is Travis' favorite kind of porn, anyway?

Suda doesn't even need to think about it: "Travis loves bukkake." Upon seeing that I have some modicum of understanding for the Japanese word (please don't Google that one, kids), Suda's eyes widen with an accusatory, 'You know about this?!' look as we all burst into sheepish laughter. Suda's trusty translator Mountain explains: "He didn't realize that the word bukkake was so well-known in the States. He's glad that's how he answered the question." I ask Suda how the magical girls of Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly might react to their devotee Travis and his lewd habits. "They'd probably think 'Wow, we've got some fans that are a real hassle to deal with,'" Suda laughs. "They'd probably find him pretty troublesome."

Call it shameless or audacious - that's just how Travis Touchdown and the No More Heroes series roll. And that's part of the inherent charm to the works of Suda and Grasshopper Manufacture: they're creations that are just going for it, with the kind of self-confidence that makes popular opinion all but irrelevant. They're wild, satirical, and above all, expressive - the gaming equivalent of punk rock. "I've been fortunate enough to be invited to a lot of things, [like working with Nintendo again]. I'm pretty much able to do what I want, and it seems like people really dig it now," says Suda. "So it looks like I've made it through ok. A lot of people are probably thinking, 'Wow, nice job there, Grasshopper!'"