It’s been a minute since we had a proper No More Heroes game. People have been begging Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture to deliver for years, and it was something they happily, yet coyly teased along the way. It makes sense. When you have a following like No More Heroes and Suda51 have, you want to make sure things come out right. No More Heroes 3 is finally here. Is it good? Yes, but mostly at the boss battles where everything gets buck wild. The problem? An overworld returns alongside fight fees, and despite a galactic menagerie of alien combatants this time, the fluff between the big showdowns leaves a lot to be desired.
Twenty years and a promise
Twenty years before the events of No More Heroes 3, a child named Damon was riding his bike through the woods when he found a crashed alien named FU. After helping FU escape authorities and survive, FU embues Damon with cosmic power and they build a rocket ship so FU can leave Earth and go back to his planet. However, he promises Damon he will return in 20 years. Flash forward 20 years: An adult Damon has used the power FU gave him to become a corporate CEO with a ton of financial power and influence. At the same time, he has been waiting for FU, who returns as a striking and mighty figure alongside nine friends. Turns out FU went back home, got bored, blew up a neighboring planet and went to prison, then broke out with the nine aliens accompanying him. Now he’s come back to not only fulfill his promise to Damon, but also take over the Earth, offering a game of conquest to the planet in which anyone who kills their way through his nine fellow alien breakouts will stop him and the takeover.
Meanwhile, the game takes place two years after Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. Travis Touchdown has returned to Santa Destroy where he lives in a motel with previous series survivors Shinobu, Bad Man, and the resurrected Bad Girl. As aliens start to take over their city, FU’s number 10, Mr. Blackhole, has the misfortune of running into Travis and company. Travis takes up his beam sword and kills Blackhole, after which his estranged wife Sylvia informs him that the conquest game has been sanctioned by the United Assassins Association and Travis just became the number 10 assassin in the galaxy. That’s the kickoff to the climb up another ladder of assassins, fight FU, and save the Earth.
No More Heroes 3 is as absolutely bat poop wild as I expected it to be for such a premise. Every march towards the next alien boss in the leaderboard comes in episodic style with both gameplay and visuals featuring all sorts of stylistic reference to pop culture, Japanese media, and video games throughout. For instance, Travis now has the Death Drive from Travis Strikes Again as a device that allows him to transform in to a mecha “Full Armor” mode and fly up into space to do laser and beam sword battles with massive monsters. Also, if luck is on your side in a fight, Travis can use the Full Armor there too, more on that in a bit. The point is there’s a ton of reference to other popular media in No More Heroes 3 and it’s generally used to give fun effects to the narrative or gameplay throughout this game.
You gotta pay if you want to play
As is often the case with No More Heroes games, No More Heroes 3 is at its best when you get to the boss fights. Every major battle in the game features a multitude of variety from normal duels, to the aforementioned Full Armor segments, to even a rhythm game that leads to a deadly race of musical chairs. I’m not joking. And each of the bosses has the most ridiculous over-the-top nature I’ve come to expect from a Suda51 game. Heck, the whole game feels like a grindhouse movie with an injection of anime. The only exception to the fun for me was Gold Joe, a robot you fight that uses magnetism to repel and suck you into his attacks in an electrified ring. His design, gimmick, and fight are actually pretty cool. However, for some reason, they gave him a very stereotypical lispy gay voice, which was… distracting. There’s nothing gay about the character. I wouldn’t even call them any more flamboyant than some of the other characters, so it’s a choice that I wouldn’t even call offensive as I would call annoying and cringy.
That character aside, there are twists and turns all over the place in the rise up the ranks and most of them round out with Travis Touchdown taking on a boss in a duel full of lightsaber combos and wrestling moves where applicable. No More Heroes 3’s combat is feeling very smooth compared to the previous games. Lightsaber combos feel sparky and satisfying, finishing cuts have you messily slicing foes in twain with delightfully bloody results, and Travis has a suite of powerful wrestling moves you can employ if you stun enemies. I have to say, suplexing the bejeezus out of a hostile space beast is dang fun. Motion controls also return, but you don't even have to use them if you don't want. You can just do the motions you would be doing with the sticks, which is also nice.
I think one of my favorite gimmicks in the combat is a roulette bar that activates when you perform an execution. It’s completely random, but getting three symbols in a row can grant you bonus money, temporary invincibility, the ability to throw enemies with or without stunning them, a rapid-fire melee “Mustang Mode”, and Full Armor Mode if you get lucky 7s, which allows you to go mecha, fire missiles at enemies, and obliterate them to end the fight. Like I said, this is all random, but occasionally, it worked delightfully in my favor, allowing me to murder the heck out of even bosses occasionally and end fights very quickly.
I’m glad that the boss fights, regular combat, and zany story are pretty fun in No More Heroes 3. Unfortunately, the space between them is really not. You see, the overworld and registration money requirements make a return from the first game in No More Heroes 3. You ride Travis’s bike around various regions of the game including Santa Destroy, fight required try-out matches, and then do increasing amounts of sidequests, side jobs, and chores to raise enough money to do the next boss fight.
First off, the regions feel half-baked and sterile. There’s very little life roaming around outside of very sparse city service workers and seldom seen cars that can be bumped off the road and phase out of existence. The game also struggles to keep a steady frame rate when you go too fast on Travis’s bike. The overworld is just a drag to explore. Also, to save the game you have to use the restroom and to save in new regions, you have to unclog public toilets to use them. Whether saving or cleaning toilets, Travis Touchdown never washes his hands. I can deal with a rude anime nerd, but he’s also gross, so I’m holding that against him.
Then there’s the minigames. Building up money means doing everything from mowing lawns, taking on defense fights against varied groups of aliens, mining precious ore in volcanic caves, collecting trash amid alligator-infested waters, and racing against gangs to destroy their vehicles, to name a few odd jobs. You might think the mining and racing sound fun. They are not. The mining has you platforming and trying to avoid lava and this game is not built for proper platforming. The racing is… just a mess of bad physics as you try to destroy an enemy vehicle. The alien fights (obviously), lawnmowing, and trash pickup games are okay, but each boss requires you to get more and more money for the registration, turning the stretch between them into a series of chores.
A lopsided battle for galactic assassin superiority
No More Heroes 3 is an interesting game when you cut out all the padding. I really enjoyed watching the cutscenes, taking in the weird humor and referential flair, and taking on the myriad of strange and fun combat associated with each boss, even if a certain one felt needlessly obnoxious. It’s the stuff between that drags down the experience. This game’s open world just isn’t fun, and the activities you need to do to get back to the good stuff are increasingly stretched and dull. I can appreciate the flashy action and grindhouse exploitation nature of No More Heroes 3 for what it is, but it kept the camera on the boring parts a little long for my liking. Still, if you’re looking to continue the weird assassin adventures of Travis Touchdown, then the chores are also probably worth doing to see how the escapade unfolds.
This review is based on a digital Nintendo Switch copy provided by the publisher. No More Heroes 3 comes out on Nintendo Switch on August 27, 2021.
No More Heroes 3
- Combat is more fluid and stylish than ever
- Boss fights are a cornucopia of gameplay, fighting, and fun
- A constant flow of references to pop culture, film, and anime
- Visuals and art style are really good in the main beats
- An option to not use motion controls if you don't want
- The overworld is lifeless and boring
- The minigames and odd jobs run from mediocre to horrible
- Increasing amounts of time in overworld between boss fights
- Gold Joe's voice is needlessly annoying
- Travis never washes his hands after using the toilet. Gross.