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No More Heroes III

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2021


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Switch Review - 'No More Heroes III'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 27, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Taking place ten years after the original, No More Heroes III follows Travis Touchdown as he returns to his former home of Santa Destroy.

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No More Heroes was an obscure title that was in the right place at the right time. It's sometimes considered to be the first "grown-up" game on the uber-popular Nintendo Wii system. In this case, it meant tons of cursing, tons of violence, and the sort of M-rated things that aren't usually associated with Mario and Zelda. That gave this little game a big push, and it became a cult classic. It's been a while since we've seen a new entry in the main series, though. The sequel came out over a decade ago, and the spin-off Travis Strikes Again felt like a different beast even though it was set in the same universe. No More Heroes III has been a long time coming, and it certainly lives up to its predecessors. It's weird, it's janky, it's confusing, and it's interesting enough to keep your attention from start to finish.

In No More Heroes III, a group of aliens is invading Earth, and they're led by Fu, a maniacal superbeing. The only way to fight Fu is to challenge and defeat his subordinates on the Galactic Superhero Rankings. Fortunately, the world has Travis Touchdown, a lazy, lackadaisical, extremely violent nerd who bought a lightsaber off eBay and became the world's best assassin. Perhaps he's not the hero the world would want, but in the world of No More Heroes, you're not going to get a hero out of the story. However, you will get a lot of violence, absurdity, and unanswered questions.

NMH3 revels in its absurdity and meta-commentary. Nobody takes the plot seriously, and the characters are various degrees of insane. This is exactly what No More Heroes made its name on, and it stands out here. The game jumps from scene to scene and joke to joke, and it doesn't care if the audience is keeping up, just if they're amused. It also revels in false starts, anticlimaxes, and meta jokes that sometimes work with the audience and sometimes work against them.

There isn't another game like NMH3 on the market, and it absolutely resonates with Suda 51's quirky style. It's a funny and weird game, but you need to be in the right mindset for such a thing. It's confusing, doesn't explain things, makes fun of itself and the players, and has things happen for seemingly no reason. It doesn't matter if characters are going over the filmography of Takashi Miike or complaining that modern gamers won't like waiting so long for a fight to start.

While NMH3 still has tons of gamer jokes, it also leans heavily on references to Japanese Tokusatsu properties like Kamen Rider, Power Rangers, and mecha anime. Somewhat obscure series like Baldios, Layzner and VOTOMs are namedropped regularly, and there are a handful of jokes that only land if you understand why it's funny that characters suddenly jump into a rock quarry. A couple of segments will make sense if you're the kind of person who has already preordered Super Robot Wars 30.

While NMH3 has the same irreverent meta tone as the original games, it also has quite a lot of callbacks to them. This isn't significant in most cases, but that there is a lot of time spent calling back to Travis Strikes Again. You don't need to understand the backstory to enjoy the absurdity of NMH3's plot, but prepare to be a little confused if you didn't play Travis Strikes Again.

In terms of basic combat, NMH3 hasn't changed overly much from the original two games. Travis is armed exclusively with his beam katana and can perform fast and heavy attacks with the touch of a button, and he can also guard and dodge. Everything that Travis does takes up some of his katana's charge, so occasionally, he'll need to back off and shake the hilt of the sword to recharge it. Dodging at the right moment lets him go into a slow-time mode where he can attack wildly or grab an enemy and perform a suplex.

The combat isn't super complex, but it's focused on managing enemy attacks to defeat them as quickly and safely as possible. You can play slow and steady, but the combat is a lot more fun if you remain in the enemy's face, constantly attacking, blocking, and dodging to assure you can stun them and get off a sweet powerbomb. If you can perform a wrestling move on a stunned enemy, it instantly recharges your katana, further rewarding aggression.

One of the best new features in combat is the Death abilities, which are four cooldown-based skills that Travis can use. One is an instant forward-leaping attack, one sends enemies flying with a gravity-powered push, one creates an AoE rain of damaging abilities, and one slows time in a certain area. You can effortlessly chain these together with Travis' regular abilities, and in doing so, you can gain an advantage over even the strongest foes.

I like the Death abilities because they are powerful in an interesting way. If you use them wisely, you can wreck most of the bosses in a matter of moments, but to do so, you need to make sure you're managing your cooldowns properly so an ability is available when you need it. It makes the combat feel more dynamic, since Travis can close in on enemies and control crowds in a way he can't with his normal combat abilities. When you combine the Death abilities with his normal skills, Travis becomes a devastating force on the battlefield.

I'm less fond of the Death Chips, which are special equippable items that you can get by collecting material from defeated foes and side-quests. Once equipped, they change Travis' stats or unlock bonuses. It's standard equipment stuff, but it takes an extremely long time to get to the abilities that feel relevantly cool instead of a "5% increase to damage for one attack, 5% decrease for another." I used the chips that boosted the amount of time things were slowed down after a dodge for the entire game because I didn't find anything that was worth swapping them out. A lot of the interesting abilities can't be used until the very end of the game or in a New Game+ run.

Also new to the game is Travis' Full Armor mode. A cross between a Kamen Rider and a Gundam, Full Armor allows Travis to temporarily transform into a powered armor form. In regular fights, this can only be activated by getting a good roll on the semi-random Slots bar. (Once it's unlocked, it remains unlocked until you use it.) Some fights involve going into space and taking on enemies while piloting an amped-up version that veers more toward Gundam than Kamen Rider.

Outside of combat, you can explore Travis' home of Santa Destroy and several neighboring areas. As you ride around on an Akira-inspired motorcycle, you'll find markers on the minimap that represent minigames, side-quests, or other diversions. There's even a variation on the "Ubisoft Tower" mechanic, but in NMH3, this takes the form of unclogging toilets. Pretty much everything on the map is optional except for a series of minifights that you need to engage in before each boss battle, so you can collect as much or as little as you like.

At its heart, NMH3's problem is roughly the same one that plagued the first two games. The boss battles and insane story are the highlight, and everything in between is kind of "eh." The average skirmish is helped by framing it like minibosses instead of random trash, but everything that isn't combat just sort of exists. They brought back the ability to explore the town freely, but there's still not much to do besides collect a few items, and the side missions are back, but money is such a non-issue that there's little reason to do them. If you enjoyed the first two games, you'll almost certainly enjoy this one, warts and all, but it remains the same game that it was a decade ago.

No More Heroes has never been a franchise to rely on top-of-the-line graphics, but NMH3 is rough. The character models are mostly fine in that charming, lower-budget way, but some of the texture work is extremely rough, occasionally approaching the same as the Wii original. There's a ton of graphical flickering and occasional vanishing textures when traveling around the open world. The smaller duel areas look fine but occasionally have their down moments. This stands out significantly more on handheld mode, where the problems are exacerbated. If you have a choice, I'd recommend playing the game in docked mode. The art design is solid and helps push past the lackluster visuals to keep the game looking interesting. Thankfully, both the voice acting and music are excellent, which goes a long way toward carrying the so-so graphics.

No More Heroes III feels like a sequel to the first two games in every way, for all the good and bad that entails. It's creative, clever, charming, and delightfully weird. The combat system is simple but fun, and it doesn't overstay its welcome thanks to a wide variety of creative boss fights. However, everything outside of those elements feels a bit dull. Thankfully, like the first two games, No More Heroes III has enough interesting stuff going on to overshadow the flaws. Newcomers would probably be better off trying the cheaper No More Heroes titles on the Switch to see if Suda 51's specific eccentricities are to your taste.

Score: 8.0/10

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