After eleven years, No More Heroes 3 finally arrives. Japanese superstar developer Suda51 finally continues the story of Travis Touchdown and his anarchic punk-inspired attitude both on video game design and interactive storytelling. In a lot of ways, this long-awaited sequel is the most polished experience to date and packed with the most chaotic setpieces to date. But it also manages to tackle the paradox of what to do when you're expected to be so unpredictable.
Start The Game
No More Heroes 3 starts off with an elaborate Ghibli-style anime cutscene. This sets up the entire backstory for the game's new villain: an alien tyrant named Jess-Baptiste VI ( his friends call him FU), and his entire army of galactic tyrants. After fully taking over the United Assassin's Association, FU begins taking over the planet, only to be stopped by Earth's top assassin, Travis Touchdown. This kicks off an odyssey of carnage and bloodshed as Travis fights through the alien invaders one-by-one, gaining help and allies as he defends the planet.
Admittedly, I was tilting my head at these changes. In fact, on paper, it felt like No More Heroes 3 had somehow become more conventional with this generic “save the earth from aliens” plot. In many ways, it seemed antithetical to what made this series stand out so much.
The biggest change centers around Travis himself. The first No More Heroes framed Travis as a bloodcrazed sociopath; a walking condemnation of otaku-obsessed fanboys. He lived out of a hotel like a spoiled child actor, was actively manipulated by everyone around him due to his one-track mind, and every single battle he got involved in was a dark satire on his single-minded “be the best” gamer mentality. It let you revel in Travis' bloodlust, all while showing the dangers of his lifestyle.
Now in the third installment, Travis Touchdown is framed as a hero. The hotel he's staying in is long-abandoned: repurposed into his own personal headquarters. He even has his own laboratory in the basement. Finally, his weeb-centric pastimes of anime and Japanese film aren't just accepted, they're embraced. A power-up he constantly makes use of is a knock-off Gundam suit, and story chapters are intercut with him talking at length with his buddy about Takashi Miike films. Put another way, Travis has fully shifted from being a rebellious cultural finger in the eye to a nerdy action icon.
But as No More Heroes 3 continued, things began to shift in a different direction. Characters and organizations from other Suda51 games began to appear. Worse still they became more active in the story as things continued. A few of these appearances are genuine surprises – no spoilers here – but it did illustrate that while Travis himself has changed to reflect the times, the world around him has become more nonsensical and weird. I actually had to consult some wikis just to follow the plot turns due to some of these deep cuts. In this sense, it appears that Suda51 and his team are attempting to interrogate new elements of culture such as shared universes, the MCU in particular, and the inherently juvenile, possibly authoritarian nature of superhero narratives. FU himself even calls himself a “Goddamn Superhero” as he's planning his conquest.
Of course, most of this commentary and satire is kept well within the margins and the subtext; the combat is still the core of No More Heroes 3. You will be swinging your beam katana against hordes of enemies, strategically dodge rolling, and performing wrestling takedowns on them. Also as is series tradition, the battery on your beam katana is recharged by shaking the joycon controller suggestively.
Hands down, the combat in No More Heroes 3 is its most polished and refined to date. Gone are the countless hordes of generic human fodder thrown at you in waves. Replacing them are bizarre alien enemies, all of which have their own tactics and strategies. The Bone is a straightforward humanoid enemy that can morph its limbs into swords. The Leopardon is a long-distance sniper that teleports to keep its distance. The Chesthole is all about littering the battlefield with proximity bombs. The list goes on.
Even the crazier random elements from prior No More Heroes games have more thought put into them. The slots mechanic still triggers whenever Travis kills an enemy, but the rewards for hitting triples are more subdued. Most of the time, you just get more money or resources. Considering the fact that past games were packed with overpowered super modes tied to randomness, this does make things feel more challenging.
But on the occasion that you hit a major payout like triple stars, BARs, or 7s, you can get temporary invincibility, a berserker mode, or even the ability to transform into Travis' mech armor for some heavy artillery support. Alternatively, there's a roulette wheel that activates every time you die. This can cause everything from letting you revive immediately at full health to causing more enemies to appear when you reload your last checkpoint.
This can unbalance certain encounters. I somehow got all three boosts during a boss fight and ended him within twenty seconds for example. On the other hand, it leads to me being stuck on a midboss encounter for way longer than was necessary.
Despite being over a decade coming, Suda51 manages to keep Travis Touchdown and his world internally consistent while maintaining its iconic punk edge.
What helps keep these fights from feeling too ridiculous is how they are structured in No More Heroes 3's overworld. You will explore not just the city of Santa Destroy in this installment, but other areas as well. These include the gentrified Perfect World, the post-apocalyptic Thunder Dome, and the giant military shooter map Call of Battle. Throughout these hubs, you will do odd jobs, including cleaning outhouses, mowing the lawn, and picking up garbage. You have to do these jobs to raise cash for your entry fee into the next boss battle. In addition, you must find and complete several Designated Battles, which are quick death matches against different enemy configurations.
It's a subtle but welcome change to how these games have paced themselves. The odd job mini-games are still as off-kilter as you'd expect, any game that lets you piledrive alligators while picking litter is a plus for example, but the Designated Matches help make each fight feel important. These are where the game's more challenging midbosses occur. Furthermore, once you have earned enough cash to access the next boss fight, you go straight to the boss fight. Padded fights with fodder are a thing of the past.
The only new elements that I feel is undercooked are Travis' new Death Glove. Every time you beat a boss or finish a mission, you are given crafting materials, which can be used to make certain chips to slot into the glove, giving Travis different boosts to his stats. There are some truly potent chips to be crafted here, some of which require you to use a Time Machine in the lab to fight older bosses again to farm materials.
Depending on what difficulty you're playing on, these chips can feel like an afterthought or like padding. The easiest difficulty, Berry Sweet, makes Travis completely invincible which just turns each battle into a game of attrition. Meanwhile, the absurdly ridiculous Carolina Reaper difficulty demands mastery of these chips, leading to a lot more grinding and farming. This is mostly because these chips offer really simple boosts like “10% increase to light attacks but -5% maximum health.”
No other game in the past ten years have made me handle something as offbeat as “The Deadliest Game of Musical Chairs Ever” until now. Better still, that's one of the tamer tangents.
Let The Insanity Flow
Thankfully, this hoop-jumping is worth it since every boss battle in No More Heroes 3 is absolute dynamite. When your first boss fight starts with a guy who can create black holes, ending with a giant mech suit battle in space, you'd think you've seen everything. Yet this game continues to play around with expectations, changing genre and tone multiple times. No other game in the past ten years has made me handle something as offbeat as “The Deadliest Game of Musical Chairs Ever” until now. Better still, that's one of the tamer tangents. For that, I must salute Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture for keeping things so delightfully weird and exciting.
If there is a complaint I do have, it's that some of No More Heroes 3's surprises feel more like squandering potential. Some of these either feel like twists for twists' sake or to do some series shout-outs. Much like how No More Heroes 2 teased the possibility of 50 unique assassins for Travis to fight, only to have the majority of them die offscreen, the presentation helps gloss over this frustration but I still wish some of these swerves didn't happen.
No More Heroes 3 | Final Thoughts
There is a lot more I can discuss about the merits of No More Heroes 3. Despite being over a decade coming, Suda51 manages to keep Travis Touchdown and his world internally consistent while maintaining its iconic punk edge. The combat, chaotic elements in all, is the most viscerally satisfying its been, and the boss fights are the biggest draw yet. Even when it makes no real sense, it draws you in and doesn't let go, making for the best 10-hour odyssey you'll experience this year.
TechRaptor reviewed No More Heroes 3 on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Polished, Satisfying Hack and Slash Combat
- Creative Exciting Boss Battles
- Imaginative, Punk Presentation
- Tedious Side Activities
- Half-Baked Death Chip Crafting