Welcome back to the Garden of Insanity!
God, where do I even begin with No More Heroes 3?
It’s like… well, it’s like this:
When people talk about the differences between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, they often agree the latter is better than the former. When people talk about the differences between Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4, they tend to lean in favor of the former over the latter. In Kingdom Hearts’ cases, the sequel saw noticeably enhanced combat paired with a convoluted story that unraveled the original.
In the case of Saints Row, both gameplay and story went off the rails in the fourth installment because progression was going that way — it just seemed to go in that direction too quickly. At the end of the day, both games in both franchises are still very good, but the balance between the installments and their respective elements were thrown off in the name of improvement.
Of course, a lot of that is subjective — plenty of people would consider Kingdom Hearts 2 to be their favorite despite the fact the plot is full of holes and plays like a Disney B movie, and so many hate on Saints Row 4 for its massive deviation in just about every regard. I guess what I’m saying is, change is necessary, but it’ll cost.
Overall, those necessary changes were very, very, very good for No More Heroes 3. Already a very outrageous (and outrageously violent) franchise, No More Heroes 3 could have changed just about anything and it’d still be pretty on-brand. But some integral components obviously remain: Travis Touchdown must quench his thirst for blood in a series of ranking battles that start him at the bottom. Using his beam katana, he’ll travel around doing odd jobs to collect the money to pay for said battles, forking over the cash to Sylvia and the United Assassin’s Association before entering into a unique boss battle showdown that’ll keep players on the edge of their seats, swinging Wiimotes and Joy-Cons for hours on end.
As for those changes, there’s a lot to love here. Instead of killing other assassins, Travis is out for alien blood, as alien Prince FU has decided to take Earth for himself unless someone can defeat him and nine of his friends (in a familiar, specific order). Those who have played Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes will immediately recognize the Death Glove on Travis’ left hand, which received much-needed streamlining to make it far easier to use. While swinging away at alien baddies with the beam katana in the right hand, Travis can use four different abilities to attack with his left. Complete with the much adored lucha moves and the tension overdrives that now include some mecha goodness, Travis is a well-rounded killing machine. A passing assassin. A goddamn superhero.
One of the most important changes in No More Heroes 3 is the overworld map — for one, the fact that it exists again is huge, since it was removed in No More Heroes 2 in an effort to keep boss battle momentum. Riding through the mean streets of Santa Destroy dumpster diving for tee shirts was literally one of my favorite ways to unwind in No More Heroes, but I admit it was honestly a bit too difficult to get right back into the swing of things afterwards. The first game’s overworld map didn’t truly work, but removing it completely wasn’t the answer either. Something had to give.
No More Heroes 3 decided to compromise in a brilliant way: the overworld map returns, but it’s broken up in segments that you can fast travel between. All mini-games and places of interest are marked on the map either by a question mark or by their respective icon after discovery; even items that are supposed to be hidden can be easily located with the appropriate gear, as a beeping noise and a vibrating controller will indicate a close proximity to any collectibles. There’s still a sense of emptiness in most areas, but there’s a hell of a lot less repeatedly combing through an endless sea of hidden alleyways. The dev team nailed the overworld map this time, and I hope they continue to finesse this version of it in future releases.
In an effort to force players to interact with the overworld map in the first installment, facilities like Naomi’s Lab and the gym were placed all over town. No More Heroes 3 again streamlined the process by making the motel the central hub for all things necessary post-battle. Utilizing a fireman’s pole, Travis can traverse through three different floors of the No More Heroes Motel, the basement being Naomi’s Lab. It’s here Travis can not only trade battle-earned World Ending Super Nova (WESN) points for stats upgrades and new moves, but also replay boss battles, customize the Death Glove by creating and equipping chips, and even order sushi. An ATM is even in the parking lot outside! No More Heroes Motel becomes more of an important place than ever in No More Heroes 3, a nice return to roots considering the premise is literally up in outer space.
Speaking of outer space, these alien baddies definitely mean business and are definitely not pushovers. The dev team recommends playing the game on Bitter (Normal) difficulty, which I have to hard agree to. It’s fine-tuned to perfection to be a challenge worthy of a passing assassin, so those looking for a fight are going to get one even on the regular setting. For reviewing sake I did try the other modes, and while Berry Sweet (Easy) mode is still fun, you’re literally invincible so while you’ll breeze through things, it won’t be as rewarding. Spicy (Hard) mode, on the other hand, is fairly punishing due to how the game is structured in the beginning, but worth a shot if you find Normal mode too easy. New Game+ mode offers the Carolina Reaper difficulty setting, which… good luck, guys.
By now, fans of the franchise should know that Travis is a so-called “otaku-freak,” but understanding anything past that wasn’t always necessary. The experience of No More Heroes 3 will be greatly enhanced if you actually are into Japanese anime and film, particularly the works of Takashi Miike. In fact, playing other Suda51 games like The Silver Case would also help here, and it should go without saying that Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes will be required homework. This is certainly partially because of storyline reasons, but also for aesthetic purposes. No More Heroes 3 effortlessly weaves elements from so many influences into the very fabric of the game, and it’s all done so goddamn beautifully that I’m still a little in awe that this game was made at all, let alone localized for non-Japanese audiences. Just like Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, No More Heroes 3 is best summed up as a million small details executed brilliantly.
So… with all this high praise, what was all that talk about necessary changes coming at a cost, Kingdom Hearts 2, etc.?
Without spoiling too much, I will say that there are some things that I feel come with the territory of a No More Heroes game, like wacky twists and a lot of nonsensical deviations, but there’s still a general guideline to adhere to. Veering off course is fun when it happens, but if it happens too much, it’s hard to find the original course to return back to, per se. I went from expecting the standard story progression tied to battles that I’d come to understand from the previous installments to just knowing nothing was going to go as planned; in fact, if things went as they were “supposed to go,” that would have been more surprising than another twist.
Don’t get me wrong, I get that the dev team told the story they wanted to tell, but it felt like it was written piecemeal over the course of several years. Like a 3-star Michelin dessert buffet, you know all the individual plates will be amazing, but eating them all together will give you diabetes. The combat and overworld balances? Award-winning. The story balance? Something was still a little off. Everything was still extremely fun, but it was fun in the way Kingdom Hearts 2 was — just take the combat and gameplay enhancements for what they are and just focus on that. I realized I needed to just let certain things go in order to get the most out of No More Heroes 3.
Again, all of that is pretty subjective — if you’re the kind of gamer that skips scenes to get back into the fray, this isn’t going to bother you one bit. And truth be told, it’s honestly not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, because the twist after twist after twist is still grounded in the game’s lore and logic. I mean, as grounded as a passing assassin going head to head with alien scum can be. I just wish some of those twists could have been more… spread out. And unique. And that’s all I can say on the matter as per Suda’s wishes (also why would I want to spoil it for you anyway?).
I’ve saved the best for last: aesthetics. I mentioned Japanese anime and film aesthetics earlier, but they’re done to literal perfection. The use of color in the overworld map and battles features a different palette than certain storylines or other cinematics; in fact, No More Heroes 3 utilizes at least a dozen different art styles throughout the experience. I could literally feel the endorphins surge through my brain through some cutscenes, and at one point told my husband this was the only game I wanted to play for the rest of my life because of just how mind-blowing everything looked and felt. And, having played through all of the games again this year, I feel like I can safely say No More Heroes 3 has the best music in the series. The sushi stall music in particular is my favorite — I kept that on for a few minutes each time I visited, and you can bet that once the soundtrack drops on YouTube it’s gonna be on repeat.
No More Heroes 3 dazzlingly outshines its predecessors in many respects. The combat is vastly superior, the overworld map makes a triumphant return, and the art styles and music are so brilliantly executed to the point where I want to buy the entire dev team a round of drinks. In the team’s eagerness to return to a clearly beloved franchise, I think a lot of fantastic storyline ideas came together in a way that didn’t always fit perfectly, but No More Heroes 3 was never anything less than a total blast. If you’ve already played the other three games in the series and loved every second, I have no idea why you’re still reading this article — go get No More Heroes 3 already!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Grasshopper Manufacture; Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture; Players: 1; Released: August 27, 2021; MSRP: $59.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of No More Heroes 3 provided by the publisher.