No More Heroes 3’s Travis Touchdown is the anti video game mascot. He’s vulgar, crass, impulsive and an idiot. But his zeal makes him both hilarious and unforgettable.
That’s exactly what auteur game designer Suda51 (pronounced five-one), who’s real name is Goichi Suda, gave us with No More Heroes 3 on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a follow-up to No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, which was released back on the Wii in 2010. Here we have a tortuous narrative of satirical story telling that scoffs at logic, featuring oddly designed characters, dimwitted motivations and a plot that has no idea where it’s going to end up next. Simply put, Suda does what Suda wants and I couldn’t get enough of it.
No More Heroes started as a Wii game back in 2007. Like many third-party Wii titles, it didn’t find success with sales but netted a dedicated fan base. That same fanbase often overlooks many of the gameplay shortcomings found in Suda titles, instead opting to appreciate his relentless vision and zaniness above all else.
There’s a lot to love and a lot to despise in No More Heroes 3. On one hand, you have some of the most twisted boss designs and encounters rarely seen in gaming. On the other hand, you have a monotonous grind-fest where development studio Grasshopper Manufacture feels as if it needs to pad the game’s runtime.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: August 27, 2021
No More Heroes 3 review: Gameplay
After a good hour of cut scenes and introductions, No More Heroes 3 reveals its open world. It’s a hodgepodge of areas inspired by other properties, like Call of Duty and Mad Max. There are five areas in the game total, which you can travel to play various mini games or accomplish certain tasks. The “No More Heroes Motel” serves as the central hub. Here, you can save, change clothes or talk to your cat Jeane.
There are two currencies in No More Heroes 3. UtopiCoins, which are used to buy items and pay for boss battles, and WESN, which are used to upgrade abilities.
The gameplay loop requires earning UtopiCoins by doing tasks and playing other mini-games. Task and mini games include battling waves of enemies or shooting oversized alligators and tanks. But it’s in earning UtopiCoins where the game falters. UtopiCoins are doled out based on performance ratings. The better you do, the more coins you get. Each subsequent boss requires a significant increase in the amount of UtopiCoins to unlock.
Here’s where the monotony begins. Designated tasks are required to advance the game. These tasks have no bearing on the actual story, but instead feel like homework. Oddly, just getting to the point on the map to start the task is a needless chore. There are poorly placed invisible walls and other obstructions start to wear thin your patience.
My biggest gripe is that most of the designated tasks don't dole out nearly enough UtopiCoins. This results in a tiresome grind of replaying mini-games to gather enough to start the boss fight. The in-game economy is so imbalanced that I didn’t buy any upgrades because it wasn’t worth the additional effort.
This structure needlessly pads the game with superfluous content, seldom adding much gameplay value or fun. But I’m willing to concede that all tedium is worth it for the game’s over-the-top and ridiculous boss battles.
The combat in No More Heroes 3 manages to find a good combination of button mashing brawler and strategic challenge to keep it engaging. The Beam Katana, which is a low-budget lightsaber, returns. For every strike, a battery meter on the screen goes down, requiring a recharge to continue to do damage.
Along with hacking and slashing, the game resorts to a directional Quick Time Event followed by a slot machine which rewards some combat bonuses.
No More Heroes 3 gives you two control play styles: standard and motion control via the Joy-Cons. Motion control mostly comes down to mimicking on-screen gesture prompts. Even with motion controls, attacks default back to button presses. Motion is mostly used for finishing attacks and charging Travis’ Beam Katana. The standard controls have you using the analog sticks to mirror on-screen directional prompts, similar to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Interestingly, the game recommends players opt for motion controls. Unfortunately, I found following the on-screen prompts to be difficult in the heat of battle, often leading to missed inputs. I opted to stick with traditional controls as the gestures never substantively added much to the experience.
No More Heroes 3 suffers from framerate inconsistencies. Most of the game aims to be locked at 30fps, but often falls below that. Luckily, combat scenarios see a jump to 60fps, making slashes, rolls and dodges supremely more enjoyable.
The combat mechanics lack depth, but are simple to pick up and play. The game throws a myriad of tutorials early in the game, which can be overwhelming. But it didn’t take long for me to figure out what needed to be done to succeed. The camera can position itself incorrectly from time to time, but not to the point of frustration. You’ll probably see every type of enemy variety about halfway through the game, but there’s enough here to keep things fresh throughout.
Combat is simple and enjoyable but can be challenging if not approached correctly. It requires having to manage multiple enemies, respecting their space and knowing when to lean in with an attack. I would often find that taking out the biggest threat was the best strategy, before wiping out weaker foes. Ultimately, combat takes a backseat to Suda51’s eclectic style.
No More Heroes 3 review: Story and setting
No More Heroes 3 opens with a boy named Damon who happens upon a Jigglypuff-looking alien called FU that’s crash landed on Earth. The two form a friendship, but eventually, in ET-like fashion, FU has to fly away to his home planet. Twenty years later, FU returns with megalomaniacal tendencies and a desire to destroy the world. Enter series protagonist Travis Touchdown. He’s an anime loving, foul-mouthed, top-ranked assassin who, along with a team of other misfit assassins, are tasked to stop FU and save the world.
The story serves as a framework for the following structure: battle the ten alien bosses in order based on their “Galactic Super Hero Ranking,” working your way up to battle FU. There isn’t much complexity in the narrative. A handful of characters from previous iterations make appearances along with a plethora of references. Luckily for players new to the No More Heroes franchise, there’s enough exposition here to understand each character's history.
No More Heroes 3 is full of cheesy one-liners, but the voice acting holds up surprisingly well. The game is propped up by Tarantino-esque over the top violence and action. Character motivations are seldom logical, which ends up creating an incoherent plot. For example, one boss battle has you playing a DDR-like musical chairs game.
It’s self-aware and full of American and Japanese pop-culture references, borderlining on excessive, but ultimately doesn’t take itself too seriously.
No More Heroes 3 review: Visuals and sound
Suda51’s unique flair shines in No More Heroes 3. His team over at Grasshopper Manufacture layer the game with varying art styles, from cartoony to retro 8-bit.
Sadly, the game is hampered by poor graphics. The Switch’s lesser horsepower isn’t to blame here. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild look and perform great. No More Heroes 3’s open world suffers from bland textures, low draw distance, pop-in and an inconsistent frame rate. It looks like an up-res'd Wii game at times.
Eight-bit elements are nice, however. Notification markers, enemy health, lock-on circle and the entire UI have a retro pixelated look. Individual characters are cel-shaded and well animated. For example, FU wears a gold crown that has two eyes that are constantly moving around while his hair bops as if he uses Pantene Pro-V conditioner. Clearly, a lot of effort was put into the characters and their interactions with one another.
Music is a nice mix of retro, rock and heavy metal.There was nothing that personally stood out to me, but neither did it hinder the experience. There were cool 8-bit sounds sprinkled throughout the game. For example, recharging your beam katana produces Mario-like beeps.
No More Heroes 3 review: Verdict
Twisted, unapologetic and unpredictable, No More Heroes 3 is Suda51 at his purest, for better or worse. The game’s technical shortcomings, dated graphics and padding bog down what could’ve been an amazing package of unique characters and amazing boss battles.
This game is an acquired taste. If you’re a fan of Hideo Kojima or Tarantino, this game will work for you. For others, it might be too difficult to get into.
Either way, No More Heroes 3 is an unforgettable, broken and hilarious experience.