August 27, 2021
No More Heroes is one of those odd franchises. It never gained the mainstream popularity that necessitates constant follow up sequels, but the utter wackiness of the titles did earn the series a cult following from fans. No More Heroes III is the latest entry, coming 2 years after the latest Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, and a whopping 11 years after the last mainline entry No More Heroes II. But has this gap between entries resulted in something worth rushing out for?
Here come the aliens
For those not familiar with the series, you play as Travis Touchdown, a loudmouthed, bombastic professional assassin with this entry tasking Travis to take down a host of aliens led by Fu, all hell-bent on taking over the world. Fu returns to earth 20 years after his human friend Damon helped him to escape the planet, now a Prince with his only wish to cause destruction and harm to other worlds. I honestly really enjoyed this character, his delivery and the way he spoke reminded me of a 90’s Keanu Reeves, coming across as more of a dude-bro than a villainous evil that you should be frightened of. Not to say that he isn’t a formidable foe, as he certainly kills a lot of people and is more than capable of destroying worlds, but he is quite a unique character that I looked forward to seeing each and every time, as were many of the bosses that are all equally hilarious and terrifying in their own right.
The story is likewise told in a zany fashion, with the intro focusing on an old-school 8-bit game called Deathman, before then shifting to a really gorgeous hand-drawn animated cutscene detailing Damon and his alien friend Fu, which forms the basis of this story. I honestly had no idea what was going on, and truth be told I still didn’t after a few more hours, but the pieces do fall into place eventually, though I do not think the story is going for a particularly cohesive approach anyway.
Strike, dodge, strike, fireworks!
No More Heroes III is an action-adventure title with hack-n-slash elements, so the usual light attack, heavy attack, dodge, and block mechanics are all here, coupled with some special moves and finishers. The gameplay is pretty solid, with the action sections providing an engaging and challenging time that never tired. A few other elements come into play such as having to charge your ‘beam katana’ by holding R and either waggling the Joycon or the right thumbstick (which looks as ridiculous as it sounds), along with earning some unique attacks or buffs after performing a finisher.
The action and controls are fairly basic when you first encounter them, but they open up as you progress and it all meshes into a really great time. You have your basic moves, a few special moves, and after dealing enough damage to an enemy you can initiate a ‘Killer Slash’ which requires you to either swing the Joycon or flick the right thumbstick in the direction indicated on-screen, providing a stylish finishing move to your enemy coupled with an explosion of blood and colour. Combat is by far the best experience in this game, followed closely by the dialogue and character interactions. Attacking enemies, timing a perfect dodge, then unleashing a gory and beautiful finisher never got old, with all the added elements of special attacks, buffs after performing a finisher, along with the extremely wide range of enemies makes the combat a real treat.
One thing that works against the combat is the camera, which seems to be placed just a bit too close to Travis. This often results in times when you are fighting a group of enemies and the camera is stuck in a position that makes it easy to be struck from behind as you are focused on the enemy in front of you.
Variety is the spice of life
Visually, things are pretty solid, you can definitely tell that the Switch is being pushed to its limits at times as I often heard the fan kick into overdrive. The art style is impressive which is the reason this game looks as good as it does, with each character having their own unique design, traits, and personality. Some graphical issues present a few oddities such as some low-res textures, a weird outline effect on some characters, and occasional screen tearing. This doesn’t detract too much from the title though, and I found myself hardly noticing this the longer I played.
No More Heroes III utilises an insane amount of wacky, colourful, and dazzling effects, with a multitude on screen at any one time; not only are your attacks coupled with flashes and bursts of colours and crunching sound effects but every menu and every interaction is layered with multiple different effects and insane transitions. Even just the pause menu has so much going on it can be distracting, with other menus all having their own unique look and feel. It can at times be a little too much if I am being honest, but I do have a soft spot for titles that set themselves apart with a unique aesthetic, and it always provides something new to feast your eyes on.
Likewise, the enemies are all extremely varied with their own designs and attack patterns, it was a while before I fell into the groove of what to expect, but I still had new things being thrown at me including a completely different gameplay section that puts Travis in a Gundam-style armour and has you fight in space against an enemy blasting them with missiles whilst dodging their attacks.
“Combat is by far the best experience in this game, followed closely by the dialogue and character interactions.“
Getting into the audio side of things, this is an area that the game also excels in, with varied backing tracks ranging from rock to electro, retro sound effects, and anime inspired musical pieces. Every part of the audio was a delight to listen to, and I often looked forward to the intro and outro sections that accompany the beginning and ending of each chapter.
More open-world, more problems
The open-world aspect is something that I think could have been tackled differently or left out entirely. The Switch is no stranger to open-world titles, but due to the limited power of the console (in comparison to other platforms), the end result doesn’t necessarily equal a positive experience. Just like with Deadly Premonition 2, which also had a semi-open world, the game and console do not seem to be able to cope with rendering a massive open setting in real-time. The open-world aspect is made up of a few different sub-areas interconnected by fast travel highways, so don’t go expecting a GTA level of open-world tomfoolery. In truth, the open world is very empty. There are a host of various side missions, interactable NPC’s, and other activities, but there is barely any NPC’s populating the space as you traverse the various areas, and overall the world just feels dead and barren most times.
Your main objective during the open world segments is to complete side missions and participate in designated battles, all of which provide currency for Travis and after completing a set number of battles and accruing enough coins you can then enter the tournament where you will face one of the 10 bosses, effectively knocking them off their position on an arcade-style leaderboard, progressing you further towards the big bad sitting at number 1.
I was having an absolute blast for the first hour or so, which essentially is a guided tutorial as the cutscenes and interwoven combat sections were amazing, moving swiftly between each other and having me constantly guessing what was going to happen next. Then I got to the section where the game plops you into the open world, hands you a bike to traverse its landscape and says “on your way”.
This really is where the game slows to a crawl in more ways than one. Firstly, the bike itself is sloppy to handle, turning corners and navigating the map just proved to be frustrating, with me constantly getting snagged on objects or hitting a piece of the scenery that would send me flying. There was even an area with a sizeable alleyway (enough for me to fit through) but as I sped up into the alleyway I hit an invisible wall and was thrown from my bike left scratching my head as to why I couldn’t pass through. Secondly, the framerate absolutely tanks in the open world, resulting in sub 30fps and making it a chore to have to navigate to my next quest, along with frequent pop-ins and fairly shallow draw distances. I think this open-world section could have either been pulled back to a smaller section or removed entirely, it really went against the non-stop zaniness and fast-moving action and plot I had experienced before. But again, I eventually became used to these areas with the navigation of the world becoming something I knew I had to do to get to some more battles which are really where the game shines.
Don’t forget to power up.
Progress in No More Heroes III is completed after defeating enemies in battle sections, with each fight rewarding you with ‘Utopicoins’, ‘WESN’, and junk. Your mainstay is within Travis’ motel room, which houses a basement level where you will spend your time upgrading and purchasing useful items. Spending WESN at the Power Up arcade cabinet will let you improve your basic stats and purchase some new attacks, complete with arcade buttons assigned to each category. Using collected junk which ranges in forms of rarity will allow you to create and implement ‘Death Chips’ which will provide Travis with various effects, mostly consisting of chips that will provide a positive and negative trait to your stats, so juggling which ones you use is a game in itself.
The power-ups don’t even come in a typical fashion, with Travis having to purchase varieties of sushi to use before or during a battle, each providing the expected buffs such as increased health or attack, revival from death, health replenishment and more.
Everything in this basement section is videogame themed, which I thought was a nice touch, leaning more into the self-aware nature of this title, and it can be quite exciting seeing what new menu or interaction you will find on your adventure. The Death Chip machine for example has menus that would look right at home on any NES game, complete with retro sound effects.
What is going on?
The battles remain my favourite aspect, but the story and dialogue are a close second providing a thoroughly entertaining and engaging experience, being along the lines of a bad B-movie in terms of delivery and context, though this is certainly on purpose. Every conversation and interaction had me glued to my screen as honestly, I never knew what to expect, with self-referencing jokes about being in a video game, odd jokes that both land and miss as often as they are told, and a lot of characters yelling at each other.
If you have ever played a Suda 51 game then you will know what to expect here, but for the uninitiated be prepared for a lot of low-brow humour, pop-culture references, and over-the-top dialogue between characters, but I do need to stress that this shouldn’t put you off as it really is entertaining never knowing how anything will play out or what the characters will say. One scene had two of the evil aliens discussing their plans whilst also commenting on how they now enjoy drinking bubble tea. Another had two characters discussing real-world influential Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, and why he should helm an MCU movie. Truly off the wall conversations that will keep you entertained.
The entire story takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions. With soaring peaks and devastating lows, every moment of this story will have you surprised, shocked, laughing, crying. I cannot spoil certain story beats, but all I will say is that this is a story worth experiencing all the way through to the end.
Wacky, Zany, over-the-top.
I have mentioned terms like wackiness, zany, and over-the-top a few times in this review, and that’s with good reason. Every aspect of this game can be described using these adjectives, and I do mean every aspect. To save the game, Travis must utilise a toilet to relieve himself, you have a host of wacky characters including a cat named Jeane that has a silky smooth radio announcer voice, the on-screen UI is made up of pixels that constantly move and shift with the camera, coupled with all of the on-screen effects and dazzling colours. Playing this game is akin to playing through somebody’s acid trip, albeit a very entertaining acid trip.
- Engaging story full of twists and turns, varied set pieces, dialogue and characters
- Bosses that are equal parts terrifying, quirky, humorous, and downright entertaining
- Superb action mechanics that never tire
- Gorgeous art style and presentation
- Open-world sections are a drag
- Sometimes there is too much going on with effects and action
I had a great time with No More Heroes III. The story, wacky characters, and stylish action all had me begging for more, but the open-world sections, graphical and performance issues and the constant on-screen effects do wear thin after lengthy play sessions and let the otherwise fantastic experience down. The game is an incredibly unique experience that is jam-packed with funny, strange moments that make it truly stand out from the crowd, and the solid combat and zany narrative elevates it to an adventure that is well worth playing. If you like your action games with a healthy dose of balls-to-the-wall weirdness, this one’s for you.