No More Heroes 3 is sure as hell a mainline No More Heroes game, and frankly, that’s all it needs to be. If you came for the hack-and-slash, high-octane action that the original game promised and delivered, the game certainly has it. If you’re here for goofy anime-like plot, a slew of pop culture references, and just an overall helluva romp, this will be a fun time. And this game sure has a lot of Travis Touchdown being Travis Touchdown: a total and utter a*****e of an “otaku,” with his well-meaning heart, a borderline god complex, and no time to waste.
Like the other games in the franchise, No More Heroes 3, developed by director Suda51 under the studio Grasshopper Manufacture, is all style and adrenaline. If you wanted to know what the best parts of the No More Heroes franchise are, then this third game will provide, and thankfully you don’t really need to know what happened in the other games to enjoy this one.
That said, all of its weak points are very much accentuated by the focus on aforementioned style and adrenaline. If you aren’t already sold into what No More Heroes has to offer, then maybe No More Heroes 3 won’t be your cup of tea.
The Great Alien War
When you play any No More Heroes game, you need to approach it with the same mentality as one would any high-adrenaline action movie, anime, show, etc. of questionable quality. Think the Fast and the Furious series, arguably. Are there central themes? Yes. Is there a plot? Certainly. But that’s not what you bought the ticket for. You’re probably looking for the corny dialogue, the cool as heck characters, the comic relief, and, most importantly, ridiculous stunts and action scenes. I mean, this last one had flying cars. If you want to go watch something more thought-provoking, Candyman (2021) is a pretty good horror film, but that’s not an action flick, is it?
In short, the story: in No More Heroes 3, top global assassin Travis Touchdown jumps back into action in order to save Earth from an invading force of criminal aliens by taking down the top ten galactic assassins. That’s it; that’s the pitch. There are intricacies to this, as the opening film displays, but it’s an easy premise and pretty easy story to follow.
No More Heroes 3 is the video game equivalent to the corny action shounen anime that we all imagined we loved in the early 2000s. Issue is, I can’t think of any, because all the good shounen anime actually dragged out their plot, which feels like a waste given some of the beloved casts that these series tend to accumulate. No More Heroes 3 goes in the opposite direction, cutting the crap and only expositing where it needs to happen. Instead of dragging out the story around fights, it asks you to do an inattentive series of tasks and battles to always keep your fingers moving. And when a villain takes too long, Travis calls it out.
While the story is relatively straightforward, there is pretty neat exposition, as it flips between a variety of cutscene direction styles. The opening of the game is super cool, for one, and I highly recommend taking the time to truly enjoy it. Cutscenes throughout vary, again, but are visually and thematically tied together by intent. Some are somewhat awkwardly placed, though, woven in after mandatory mob battles instead of bunched in at more vital points. It also has a habit of dragging on for a good while after major boss battles. It’s a neat way to take a breather after such encounters, but my finger tends to twitch over the “skip” button by the end.
If you don’t skip, at least for the English dub, you’re in for a fun time. All the voice actors, frankly, seem to be having the absolute times of their lives doing this. Noshir Dalal as FU gives an especially ridiculously engaging performance that adds an extra layer of life to the already-lively character.
The Way To Fight
But again, we’re not here solely for the plot. No More Heroes 3 is a hundred percent a game about killing your enemies, just like Travis Touchdown is a man who lives to kill his enemies. Accordingly, that’s where the game mostly shines.
I have very few gripes with the combat system. It was already relatively perfected in the first game, which, on one hand, means that Grasshopper Manufacture likely knows what players like. On the other hand, this means that the gameplay exists in perfect harmony that can easily be disrupted by an excess of additions. Thankfully, Grasshopper Manufacture seems to know what players want.
The new combat features in No More Heroes 3 are blessedly constructive. Travis now has a “Death Glove” (which I admittedly almost just called the “Death Grip”), which allows you to invoke a series of abilities. Some are given to you by a character that Grasshopper Manufacture would be annoyed with me mentioning early on in the game, and some are invoked by your Slash Reel, a “slots” game that spins for successful kill slashes that gives you small instant bonuses.
Once again, I must iterate that everything in this game’s combat is, first and foremost, for the cool factor. The first one they introduce is something right in the middle of a Kamen Rider suit and a Gundam. Arguably, this is basically just a Gurren Lagann sort of ordeal here. You get lasers, you blow up your enemies with missiles, it does a lot of damage, it’s pretty goddamn great. On the Slash Reel, there’s also Mustang Mode, which is just a rapid-fire attack mode, Invincible Mode, and Throw-Crazy mode, which is… pretty much what it sounds like. The Death Glove abilities are also pretty cool, allowing you to spice up your combat and work more strategically.
Again, while these abilities feel broken often, everything in combat still manages to work in balance. The fact that the non-Death Glove abilities require RNG to active means that the the hack-and-slash core of gameplay remains the focus of the gameplay. And while it is largely hack-and-slash, you do need to pay keen attention to your enemies, as they hit hard.
Boss fights are the meat and potatoes of the No More Heroes franchise, and without going into too much detail for now, they’re frankly as fun as ever. There is one instance, though, where I was locked out of movement, and Travis managed to jump off the stage and never return. So… mild jank. But it’s not that bad, as for the most part the fights have been carefully paid attention to.
This installation has also done away with the long single sequence leading up to each boss fight. Between each major boss battle, instead, you’re tasked with a series of mandatory “Designated Matches” littered around the city. The non-boss enemies are mostly pretty interesting this time, but after a while it becomes increasingly frustrating combinations of the same six or seven enemy types, and I’m really not a fan of some of them. When against lighter-footed enemies, the game’s high-speed action shines, but there are enough hard-hitting enemies with questionable dodge times that I groan when they appear on my screen.
I also don’t know what to say about the space robot battles except pew pew monster go boom. It’s fun, but not really memorable, per se, as they’re sort of shoehorned in during the game’s downtime.
Yes, you still have to Suggestively™ shake your Joycon to recharge when your sword runs out of battery, but I do like the sword-battery mechanic as a tool to break the pacing and force you to recoup. Speaking of, the Joycon also registers the game’s beloved combo-ending slash prompts pretty well, but you can also use the joysticks instead if you’re on a one-part controller. And while we’re on the subject of controls, I’ll observe that this is not the most accessible game. While some directional controls are usable on the controller instead of swinging, there are certain sequences that do require you to button-mash, and I haven’t quite found a way to turn it off.
A Human Errand Weapon
The combat is fantastic, but the exploration and downtime is where you start to see the game’s fraying edges. This isn’t great, because the game requires you to do a lot of exploring.
Before each major battle, you’re tasked with paying an “entry fee” for “Battle Registration,” a task that’s seamless with the bureaucratic lore of the game’s assassin system. Thing is, Travis Touchdown is literally living in a motel, so you can imagine he doesn’t have much money. At least this system remains an amusing way to break the monotony between fights and… well, more fights. The errand-running between fights has always frankly been both good and bad.
This time around, you basically need to discover the jobs and Designated Matches and the like for yourself, which is a bit of a time-killer. You start off with either question marks for points of interest or wider areas for Designated Matches. You even need to discover the toilets, which act as save points, then unclog them before you can use them.
The open-world exploration is not great, to be generous. It’s fine! It works! But it’s janky as hell! The graphics leave a lot to ask for, the rendering was not great on my three-year-old Switch, and it’s full of the worst placements of invisible walls I’ve ever dealt with. At least I love riding around in what’s basically my bike from Akira, skidding to a stop the same iconic way every time. But the world is kind of droll, like, worse than the oldest Grand Theft Auto. It’s soulless and cliche and doesn’t add much to the wider game thematically.
I brush it off as the game having Protagonist Syndrome, where literally nothing matters except the protagonist and his goals, but at least that means the protagonist would get more of a response than a scream if you run into someone. If you can manage to shrug that off — hey, for one? At least you have the bike from Akira. There’s also Fast Travel from one area to another, as there sort of has been in No More Heroes. Which, thank the gods, because driving in this game is also janky.
Once you learn to deal with the open world, the mini-games that allow you to earn money are pretty amusing and thankfully relatively short, as always. I feel like they’re even shorter than prior games’ mini-games, never going over five minutes. The main exception may be the Defense Matches, which are just waves of battles that can get you some extra money if you’d rather just keep fighting than do the chores. But the chores are short and doofy, and they give some reasonable amounts of money, so why not? It’s also worth opting in for area-wide searches, of which I’ve found hunts for scorpions for sushi, Deathman cards, and Jeane’s lost kittens, which give tiny amounts of money that do add up. (The tip is to hand multiple in at once.)
You can also just sell stuff to Bishop and cheat your way through that phase by selling rare items for immense amounts of money. I haven’t figured out if there are consequences. Please report back accordingly.
Game of the Immortal
If you’re willing to excuse No More Heroes 3’s almost-outdated graphics and tiring grinding, then you’re in for a really cool time. And I keep using the word “cool” because that’s what this game tries to be all the time. To give it credit, it’s cool enough that I want to spend the last bit of this review talking about what a general love letter to “coolness” this is.
No More Heroes is, at its core, a giant power fantasy. You’re playing as an “otaku” from a tragic background who is capable of killing with ease and spitting out one-liners even more smoothly. The whole game plays to that concept of being The Protagonist, and the world centering around your setting and actions.
Frankly, look, that’s not a criticism—that’s fun as fuck. I remember at the tender age of, like, 11 years old or something, when the first game came out and it was a bit controversial in this regard, but then everyone turned off their brains and took it as the self-aware satire-ish romp it was meant to be, and since then it’s turned into a serious gaming cult classic. (My 11-year-old self would probably also cry knowing I’m reviewing this game in a gremlin gamer apartment, and they’d think this game was fun as fuck, too.)
It’s earned that status as a cult classic, and No More Heroes 3 leans into the reputation that precedes it. The style of everything is both overwhelming and entertaining, and it’s clear they put as much love as they could into the more focused instances of the game: story, combat, mini-games.
But they also pour a lot of love into its influences this time around, as well as popular gaming tropes. Several battles have some pretty nifty gimmicks to them that directly copy other genres’ playstyles. In one case, the battle against the boss shifts into an entirely different genre after a long conversation about how the characters in these series just look goddamn weird. And, again, in all of them, there’s a chance you can summon a nifty human-sized Gundam suit to blow up your enemies with.
Each “episode” also ends with a classic 90s-style anime “ending credits,” as well as a “Next Episode” Netflix joke. I’m not exactly the best at catching references to things, but I’m sure there are plenty littered throughout the game.
Visually, No More Heroes 3 invokes the ideas of nostalgic things, very much like how it invokes the “idea” of what we perceive as high-octane action cinema. That’s not easy; nostalgia is often caught up in perfect emulation, which really is not the only way to utilize nostalgia as an aesthetic. Grasshopper Manufacture modernizes old pop culture visuals, making it a hell of a visually captivating game to play though.
There’s also a section at the beginning of each “chapter” where Travis and his friend Bishop talk about Takashi Miike movies. Yes, they actually do talk about real Miike movies, though as someone who has been meaning to visit his films I felt a little bit left out. If you are a Miike fan, though, you’ve probably noticed I’ve littered the headers of this review with Miike jokes because I thought it’d be funny…
What it lacks in optimization or grinding substance, No More Heroes 3 makes up for in well-executed sheer edginess. It took all the “coolness” that the past four decades of geekery have provided and churned it back out into a self-aware, hilarious, action-packed video that’s a great way to kill some time on a lazy day. Is it the best game ever? No, not at all. Not even close. The graphics, “open world” and depth of plot leave a lot to be asked for. But it’s a ridiculously good time, if you’re into this sort of thing.
None of us will ever be as questionably cool as neighborhood otaku asshole Travis Touchdown, nor have a world that sings and flashes to his tune as we dance around swinging a laser katana. Nor will we be flooded by such an incredibly preserved imagination of cool 80’s and 90’s nostalgia. But we can pretend for a few minutes! That’s the fun of a video game like No More Heroes 3, right?