No More Heroes returns in full force to the modern gaming landscape. Its uniquely striking style, wonderful dialogue, and exhilarating combat make Suda51’s latest a worthy successor to the series that put him on the map. However, for every leap forward there are a few steps taken back.
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There’s really nothing even close to the feeling of playing a Grasshopper Manufacture game. They are far from “perfect” (what game is, honestly?) but they present a punk spirit you just can’t find anywhere else, and No More Heroes 3 undoubtedly recaptures that magic.
As both a return to the mainline series and as a follow-up to Travis Strikes Again, expectations are high, and it's hard to not be impressed by the game in its first few hours.
Travis Touchdown, a renowned Passing Assassin, is once again thrown into a new series of ranking battles. An alien named FU and 9 of his buddies has descended upon Earth to take it over. The prologue throws you from fighting guys in a parking lot, to Travis HENSHINing into a legally distinct kamen rider suit and flying up to a giant UFO.
The game doesn’t always keep this exact level of extravagance in each chapter, but there so few moments where I wasn't having a good time.
Kill or be Killed
If there’s one thing No More Heroes 3 nails, it's combat. It seems clear that the idea was to take the fast-paced, top down gameplay style from Travis Strikes Again and adapt it to match the 3D battles from its predecessors. This results in the purest gameplay in the franchise yet.
Battles are fast, exploding with style, and wonderfully chaotic. Any amount of clunkiness the series has been known for is entirely gone, and yet there’s a distinct “messiness” that remains. This is a good thing though, as it's this very messiness that gives every fight a "street brawl" feel.
Nothing really feels missing here. All the important mechanics that made the series so fun remain, and a handful of ones introduced in TSA are here as well now. Jump attacks and the death glove make for surprisingly fun additions, expanding Travis’ moveset pretty well.
What I did find to be a bit of a let down was customization and character building. Grasshopper Manufacture streamlined the system, removing upgradable katanas or the ability to go to a gym. Those were superfluous gimmicks that simply added to Travis’ stats, which are now all upgraded in a single menu. This does a lot for ease of use, but I found myself missing those little details.
Return to the Open Road
For those who preferred No More Heroes 1’s gameplay loop over the simplified way the sequel handled it, you’re in luck. Grasshopper has struck a balance between the two, but skewed closer to the original.
The open-world is much bigger than the single city you were able to explore there. There are five zones to explore now, with a few actually being around the size of the original Santa Destroy. They still feel a tad lifeless, but there’s enough side content hidden in them to offer players plenty to do.
From here you’ll fall into a comfortable routine in each ranking “chapter”. You’ll roam the open world, complete odd jobs and combat missions to prepare for the next fight, and then face off against a boss. There’s far less downtime and grinding for those who want to just mainline the story since the build-up to each ranking battle has been streamlined as well, for better and worse.
In No More Heroes 3, each ranking battle has the exact same requirement: Do a few relatively generic combat challenges, pay a small fee, and fight a boss. While they were rarely pinnacles of game design, one of my favorite parts of the No More Heroes formula were the stages that built up to the boss fights. Outside of maybe one or two exceptions, these are essentially gone now.
To some this will be a great change, another way NMH3 reduces tedium. However, I found myself disappointed in the removal of this series’ staple. They offered unique situations to characterize the rogue gallery outside of cutscenes by utilizing gameplay and environmental design. It made it harder for me to connect with a lot of bosses as a result, but at least they made for some fun fights.
Style that Bleeds Through
The open-world structure does lead to some puffing and panting from the Switch, though. No More Heroes 3 isn't a great looking game, not for a lack of trying of course. The resolution, especially undocked, is exceptionally rough. The draw distance on the open world is pretty small, and the texture pop-in sticks out like a sore thumb.
Mileage will vary when it comes to how much of a big deal it is, but the resolution issues, unfortunately, bleed into cutscenes as well. Thankfully any performance issues were ironed out during combat. The game targets 60 fps in these segments and almost always hits it. With how many crazy effects go on during this, that’s impressive.
The Switch’s hardware doesn’t do the 3D models any favours, but it can’t take away from the game’s brilliant style. The UI designers did an excellent job, complimenting a stunning soundtrack that gives No More Heroes 3 a unique and delicious flavour.
If there’s one thing consistent about all of the title’s Suda works on, it’s that the stories refuse to play out as you expect them to. It’s worth mentioning that if you thought about jumping from the second game to the “third” without playing Travis Strikes Again you’ll be pretty lost. Very little effort is made to catch people up on what happened in the previous games, but it plays it off so confidently.
The cutscenes, writing, and dialogue are an absolute riot to experience. This is easily one of the funniest games I’ve played in a hot minute, but I found it a bit thematically lacking in spots. If you’re going into this expecting writing on the same, deeply personal level of Travis Strikes Again you’re going to be disappointed. That doesn’t mean this latest entry is lacking in the writing department, but there were a few big story decisions that I didn’t really vibe with. When it hits, it hits hard, but the highs never equalled those from my favourite Suda titles. I think some more reflection on my part will be necessary, and I’m honestly quite excited to replay the game on Carolina Reaper.
Travis Touchdown’s latest adventure is an absolute joy for fans of the series. Not everything met my expectations, but what else would you expect from Suda51? Technical issues and an oversimplification of stable features hurt the experience, but not too much. No More Heroes 3’s punk soul and incredible combat shine bright through the cracks.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by the publisher