No More Heroes III review – katana beam me up, scotty

It’s tough to review a No More Heroes game. To look at them objectively, they all have a few flaws and problems that you could point out, but the rough and ready style is exactly what gives the series its charm, and is part of the creativity that Suda 51 imbues in each one. This isn’t a AAA release, and because of that, it’s full of off-kilter humour, vulgar action scenes, knowing pop-culture nods, and some maddeningly deep fan service.

Still, I’m going to try my best to talk about this game, as both a long-time fan of the series elated to see it return, and as a critic. Because, in true No More Heroes style this latest entry is far from a perfect game, but it depends entirely on what you want to get out of it. If you’re a returning fan? You’re going to love this, it could be everything you dreamed of, as the madness of the series is dialled up to 11.

However, if you’re new to the series or had some issues with previous titles, then the problems might just stick out like a sore thumb. Even issues I thought were resolved in No More Heroes 2 seem to have resurfaced in the name of fan service, making for a game seemingly bogged down by the weight of its own legacy, that maybe doesn’t do enough to refine what made it great to begin with. But make no mistake, No More Heroes III is still a very, very good game.

I don’t think you can say a series like No More Heroes is jumping the shark, as every entry has had several moments that jumped the proverbial fish in increasingly bizarre scenarios burned in the minds of fans. No More Heroes III really pushes the series though, taking the wild but terrestrial series into galactic new directions, as Earth gets invaded by the erratic and flamboyant space prince, Fu.

Fu was once a cute, round child, and friends with a human boy who helped him leave Earth and make his way home to his home planet. Now he has returned twenty years later as an arrogant bipedal bastard who wants to conquer Earth. Luckily, Travis has stepped forward as Earth’s protector, and enters into a galactic assassin league in the hopes of defeating all ten of the highest-ranked assassins, culminating in a showdown with the villainous Fu himself. While the enemies are laid out to you from the beginning, as always, the climb to the top doesn’t go as you’d imagine, thanks to a number of instructions and showstopping encounters along the way.

Travis Touchdown rides his bike along a long, suburban road

I don’t want to spoil too much about the story here, as returning fans will likely be desperate to discover things for themselves, but there’s a surprising amount of continuity from the previous games, including the spin-off entry Travis Strikes Again. No More Heroes III sets up Fu as a powerful antagonist with some great character moments in the beginning, but there’s one encounter Fu has with a returning character that left a sour taste in my mouth. In a series filled with gore and over-the-top moments, this particular moment felt cruel and unneeded.

Moving on, the rest of the story is everything fans could hope for, with the bizarre designs of the alien assassins a particular highlight, as well as the variety of different gameplay modes that each encounter throws at you. Aside from the regular beam katana-focused action, No More Heroes III goes in a few really weird directions, though some of them might be more memorable than entertaining. Then, there are several returning characters and interesting cameos that will delight longtime fans, mixed in with the refreshing new breath of variety brought by Fu and his cohorts.

Back to that action though, this is where No More Heroes III doesn’t skip a beat. What felt fresh back on the Wii still works fantastically well here, with the additional option to forego motion controls and map all directional-based special moves to the analog sticks instead. Anyone who has already played the ports of the previous two entries on Switch will know how comfortable that set-up is, and it works a treat here. All the gory, insane, and frantic action is here and better than ever, with some additional sprinkles of fun.

Travis strikes his beam katana sideways through an enemy, as an onscreen icon prompts to swing from right to left.

When you die, if you retry you have the chance to spin a wheel, with various rewards or punishments spread around. Some will start the fight again with higher attack power, some will simply restore your health and put you right back you died for a second chance at glory, and one particularly cruel option starts you over again but with no power for your beam katana. There’s also the returning slot machine mechanic, where every death or successful special move will spin the wheel, with options for Mustang Mode (greatly increased speed and attack power), Invincible Mode, and the chance to power up Travis’ mech suit for a devastating attack.

there are several returning characters and interesting cameos that will delight longtime fans

While it sounds like there’s a lot of chance, there’s still skill and nuance to the main combat. The variety of enemies has been expanded, thanks to the new alien overlords, as well as the amount of attacks Travis will have to endure. With enough skill and precise timing though, you can still perform a perfect dodge and slow time, much like Bayonetta’s Witch Time. You also have to balance Travis’ beam katana energy, which while much more of an issue early on, becomes less of a hassle as you learn to pull off wrestling moves – recharging your energy.

This is exactly where the game sings, nothing feels more satisfying than building dizzying combo attacks, pulling off piledrivers on robotic space aliens, and decimating a room full of androids with the searing heat of your beam katana. Bosses are a fantastic test of your skill as well, with many of them demanding you learn the right timing for both perfect dodging and their attack patterns. You can also really push yourself by playing on the harder difficulties, where you will have no choice but to learn how to play properly, as opposed to simply mashing basic attacks and hoping for lucky spins of the slot machine.

Travis has swung his beam katana through an enemy, with blue blood exploding outwards and filling the screen

Throughout the entire 15 hour campaign, there are countless different chances to enjoy the combat, with each boss fight only being reached by completing a series of designated matches. These battles against a handful of underlings not only unlock the bigger fights, but generally reward you with enough money to pay your registration fee as well. They also ramp up nicely alongside Travis, so it never felt like padding before the main events. When playing on harder difficulties, every fight feels like it could go either way, and a lucky pull of the slot machine or roulette wheel feels like vindication instead of pity.

Boss fights are what people have paid for though, and they don’t disappoint. Not only as tough, constantly changing, and bewildering tests of your skills, but also as showcases for Travis and the many other fantastic characters along for the ride. I’ll never tire of Travis’ cocky attitude and tenacity, nor of the bonkers writing and on-the-nose references that Suda loves to include. Several of the boss fights completely change the genre of the game, and you have to love any title that is happy to include so many different styles. But as the saying goes, jack of all trades, master of none.

Travis dons a mech suit, and stands holding his beam katana in a cinematic fashion

However, where No More Heroes III falters, is its stalwart dedication to fan service and inclusion of several different elements, such as the open-world, and the returning side-jobs, where Travis can make the money needed to compete in the assassins league. You will have to find your way to each boss fight and designated match by navigating the open world, now split into several different islands. You have Travis’ bike to do this, but it functions far too fast to work in built-up areas, while Travis’ movement speed is far too slow to warrant moving on foot. The open world here is also barren, ugly, and just superfluous to the fun of the game. I would have preferred if it followed in No More Heroes II footsteps, as it did away with the open-world, instead, simply offering each location as a spot on the map, instantly accessible.

The minor improvement here is that there are collectibles in the over-world this time, you can find scorpions, alien artifacts, and trees to plant in every corner. These feel completely unneeded though, only serving to vindicate the open-world that itself is fairly pointless. One particular island is an ugly, foggy, barren wasteland, but it does so as a stylistic homage to a certain genre. It just doesn’t seem to serve anything here though, as it neither added anything cool, nor made the game more fun. Pastiche and satire are part of the No More Heroes series, but when it stands so brazenly in the way of enjoyment, I wonder what parts could be cut and make for a leaner, more enjoyable product.

Any fan of the series though will likely love these knowing nods, and I can’t pretend I didn’t laugh at some of the bizarre elements and knowing callbacks. I just wish the open world was more fun to explore, and the collectibles served a more important function. Even the minigames are hit and miss, with some of the returning games just as bad as they were originally, but I know many people will be happy to see them return. Jobs like mowing grass, mining for rocks, and a few others are dull distractions I never returned to. There is one mini-game I adored, in the form of a tank mission that tasked you with shooting giant crocodiles storming a beach, but I mostly ignored jobs as I earned all the necessary cash through designated matches.

Travis is throwing an enemy to the floor with a wrestling move

There’s plenty of new stuff to love, with the new skill point system working a dream and replacing the gym from older titles. You earn WESP points in each match, and can spend them on improving attack, health, and moves to beef up Travis’ stats. There are dozens of incredible outfits to unlock, with some amazing Indie representation and a particularly standout hoodie with the words ‘F**K RACISM’ emblazoned in bright red letters. Plus the sound design and music are phenomenal. As well as the hyperactive, bloody presentation, there are matching sound effects that sound like you’ve shaken a snow globe containing several casinos. While hearing the series motif twisted into the X-files theme put a massive stupid grin on my face.

This is where No More Heroes III exceeds expectations. It’s simply dripping with style in every single frame, and while some moments feel indulgent or needlessly pulling at the nerdy heartstrings, it’s everything I love about the series. The neon fonts, pixelated UI, the throwback television opening credits to each chapter, and even the ridiculous mech fights in space. No More Heroes 3 even has one of my favourite endings to a game in years, a mad mix of genres that made me genuinely laugh with joy. This is a series obsessed with pop culture and media, just like Travis himself, and it has never been so ludicrously apparent.

Overall, I always love the DIY, indie spirit of it all. Suda’s constantly been inspired by Jackass (Travis himself is based on Johnny Knoxville) and so much of this has that same home-movie spirit. It also does things other games couldn’t do, but at the cost of polish, and creative restraint. But, that’s this series’ DNA to its very core, it’s knowingly rough around the edges, but that never hampers the frankly incredible action and the bloody, expletive-laden, and corny spirit of the story. Long-time fans will be thrilled to see the series brought back with so much energy and fan service, but newcomers may get tripped up by the monotony of everything outside of combat, if they don’t understand the fan service it represents. Still, No More Heroes III is an accomplished action game and a glorious return to form for both the series and Suda’s imagination, though they’re inseparable.

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