Point After Touchdown
HIGH There’s a move called the “Screw****er Death Kick”
LOW The open world traversal is downright awful
WTF Could we maybe get just one woman in a Suda game that isn’t a sexual fetish come to life?
One of the nice things about writing for a site with some history is that we already have opinions on weird games from fifteen years ago, and our editor pretty much nailed it when he called the original No More Heroes “Equal parts inspired genius and wretched inadequacy” back in 2007.
It is without question one of the most fascinating games of its era — No More Heroes was a brilliant satire which lampooned the very audience who loved it, but from a production standpoint it was let down by uninteresting combat and poor technical performance. The sequel, 2010’s No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, was able to fix gameplay and streamline the experience, but it lost a bit of the original’s self-reflective edge and was ultimately a less-memorable experience.
Outside of the very unexpected (and quite weird) offshoot Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes in 2019, I was rather sure franchise writer/director Suda 51 had said what he wanted to say with this franchise. Instead, he’s popped up again with much to say on how we consume media, the sterility of modern life, and the film catalog of Takashi Miike. The No More Heroes franchise serves as the rawest channel imaginable for Suda’s hot takes on the culture and industry he works in, and he makes the most of the opportunity provided to him with No More Heroes III.
When it begins, No More Heroes III acts like it’s 2012 and we all just played NMH2 eighteen months ago. It is a sequel that references the events of the first two installments and does practically nothing to catch newcomers up or to explain who protagonist Travis Touchdown and his ragtag band of misfits are. It’s not exactly a complicated tale, though — a group of aliens have invaded Earth and longtime-conqueror-of-top-10-assassin-lists Travis is tasked with climbing the Galactic Assassin Rankings to save the planet.
What follows is fifteen (or so) hours of nonstop, in-your-face, pure, crystallized Suda 51. This is the most self-indulgent game he’s ever made, and I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult.
This insane pop art mishmash of styles with a devout affinity for 80’s anime and retro videogame nostalgia has been done to absolute death, but rarely has it been done with such precision. Seeing something look like a 30-year-old VHS recording is fantastic (A notoriously difficult effect to emulate), and when a brilliant homage to bad Sega Genesis beat-’em-ups is made, the devs create some legit Sega-Genesis-ass sounding Sega Genesis music to go along with it. In fact, all of the music (in general) is fabulous, and that includes what is perhaps the best rap song ever made for a videogame and/or about sushi. The presentation in all aspects is stellar.
Presentation aside, at its core No More Heroes III is a character action game, and the melee combat here is the best the series has ever had. It doesn’t have the combo list of something like Devil May Cry, but it does a good job of making every move in Travis’s arsenal useful while providing a good amount of enemy variety.
As a sequel to a franchise that was first popularized on Wii, it recommends playing with the joy-con based motion controls, and I agree. As was the case with its predecessors, it’s not 1-to-1 motion controls, as players will use the face buttons and triggers to execute combos and unleash special attacks. The motion is limited to special moments like slashing in a direction for a finishing blow or heaving both joy-cons up to execute a pro-wrestling style DDT. It plays fine with a controller, but the motion controls are satisfying, functional, and… I admit I was a tad nostalgic playing something so reminiscent of the Wii in 2021.
The calling card of the franchise has always been incredible boss fights featuring an insane ensemble of psychopaths, and No More Heroes III does not disappoint. In fact, it does not disappoint so hard that the publishers provided me with a spreadsheet of spoilers I wasn’t allowed to discuss, and it essentially says “don’t talk about the bosses or how to fight them”. What I can say is that the bosses are imaginative, well-designed, challenging, hilarious, and take place in ridiculous situations.
Unfortunately, a longstanding complaint of the franchise was how it asked players to spend time between those amazing boss fights, and it’s also the one downfall of NMHIII. Travis has a big, open city to explore, and in that city are mundane part-time jobs and assassination missions to make money. Access to each of the main bosses requires a large entry fee that must be deposited into an ATM along with three gems acquired from designated combat arenas, so Travis has to mow lawns and murder space aliens to climb up the ranks. It’s streamlined a bit by the boss levels cutting out that whole level part of it and almost exclusively focusing on the fight itself, which is a good change to the formula.
One could argue that the mundane open world and the laborious tasks between missions was kinda the point in the original No More Heroes, as it represented a mid-20’s otaku toiling away at low-end jobs during the week to afford to play videogames before jerking off to their own power fantasy, falling asleep, and doing it again the next day (side note: gamers are really bad at knowing when they’re being made fun of). However, that metaphor doesn’t change the fact that Travis’s motorcycle controlled like garbage and the world was super empty. In No More Heroes III, 15 years later, Travis’s motorcycle controls like garbage and the open world is super empty. The combat is great, but getting to this good content is as frustrating and annoying as it ever was.
Furthermore, while NMHIII generally looks great and runs smoothly in combat and minigames, the performance while driving around is shockingly bad to the point where the framerate nears single-digit territory. With that said, it’s a much better structured experience than the first and there is a fast travel option, so while it’s disappointing many of the same problems from 15 years ago still exist, it’s all a bit easier to manage.
It’s got some rough edges — crappy driving mechanics, bad performance, and a lifeless open world tops among them. However, when this game connects, it knocks it of the park. The combat is dramatically improved over previous entries, and there are countless moments (that I can’t spoil!) that had me slack-jawed with befuddled joy at the outrageous spectacle on display. No More Heroes III is a dizzying, introspective, macabre celebration and roast of nerd culture that has some of the deepest cuts ever put into a game. It doesn’t quite have the same satirical bite as the original, but it’s down for a good time. Fans of the franchise will be absolutely thrilled, and anyone looking for the polar opposite of ‘cookie cutter’ will find it here.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Marvelous Interactive. The game is available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to playing the game, and the campaign was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and features Blood & Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, and Suggestive Themes. The descriptions for this game’s ratings should tell parents what they need to know. It is both bloody and gory, the violence is intense, the language is strong, and the themes are rather suggestive. No More Heroes III is a hard “M”, and any parent worried about the content their children consume should just keep on truckin’ and not even consider it.
Colorblind Modes: The game features no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features voiced cutscenes, and the dialogue is presented in white font. The text is not able to be changed or resized. All dialogue and instructions are provided in text, and there are no necessary audio cues. I’d say it’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not remappable, and there are no control diagrams, either in-game or in the options, but there are archived tutorials that explain the controls. In combat, players move with the left analog stick, attack with the X and Y buttons, jump with the B button, and dodge with the A button. The shoulder buttons are also used for combat elements, as are the directional buttons on the left joy-con, which brings up the sushi menu. The developers (and the reviewer) recommend playing with the joy-cons and motion controls, but a pro controller can be used as well. Depending on the controller used, the controls are different. Motion based controls where players are asked to swing a joy-con in a direction are replaced by tilting the right analog stick.