I remember playing the first No More Heroes as a wee preteen. It was one of my first Wii games, and honestly, I was probably a little too young for it. A lot of the references probably went over my head, and the gore was kind of wild — but I loved it so much. It was a game full of style and crazy characters and lightsabers and wrestling moves, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Years later, 2019 rolls around and an older but barely wiser me gets to play Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. I was finally feeling closer to series protagonist Travis Touchdown in age and mentality, but he and series creator Suda 51 had changed just as much over the years. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes was a reflection on the series and Suda 51’s entire career, a slower and more thought-provoking entry in a usually bombastic series. However, if Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes was the slow and solemn final song of a concert, then No More Heroes 3 in review is the crowd-hyping encore — one last explosion of greatest hits and wild energy to send the crowd home happy. And man, am I happy.
I talk about “spinoff” game Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes for a reason — it’s kind of required reading if you’re going to play No More Heroes 3. A lot of lore and characters are introduced in that game that turn up constantly in 3, and you might be in for some confusion if you jump straight from 2 to 3. At the end of the day though, No More Heroes games are whatever you’re willing to put into them — there are plenty of references and lore tidbits, but if you wanna just turn your brain off and play a game about a cursing jackass with an eBay lightsaber, No More Heroes 3 has you covered.
Things are a little different this time around. Rather than Travis Touchdown taking on 10 Earth-bound assassins to reach the top of the rankings like usual, a sudden alien invasion tasks him with eliminating 10 space-born threats to humanity. Every numbered battle is book-ended by television-style credits and cheeky Netflix next-episode bumpers, cutscenes, and text-adventure dialogue exchanges that give the insanely colorful cast a chance to shine. Travis Strikes Again was a verbose and elegantly written game, but No More Heroes 3 gets back to the snappy, pulpy bullshit that the series is known for. Characters spout off inane dialogue and hyper-specific references that equate to the fast food of video game dialogue — no substance, but loaded with flavor.
Admittedly, that formula was a little offputting at first — especially as a long-time fan who was fresh off of the previous game. The story hits a sort of slow and simple repetition for the first five ranking battles that had me worried; it was still fun and funny, but it felt like something was missing. Once I got into the back half of the game, though, everything started to click. Callbacks to previous games flooded in, the formula of “meet this alien, fight this alien” started to shake up significantly, and it finally felt like No More Heroes 3 abandoned the rulebook and started going ham. The game starts out full of style and lacking substance, but by the end, it delivered so many callbacks, Easter eggs, unforgettable cutscenes, and jaw-dropping boss battles that I couldn’t handle an ounce more of substance.
Unlike with the top-down nature of Travis Strikes Again, No More Heroes 3 returns to the hack-and-slash action of 1 and 2 and hits its stride almost immediately. Chain light and heavy lightsaber slices with wrestling throws and a random set of mid-battle power-ups for blood-splattering bliss. Plus, Death Glove Chip power-ups add a new set of unique abilities to your toolkit. You start out with a simple dropkick at first, but once the other three abilities make it into your repertoire, combat becomes a constant flow of action that rewards you for smartly swapping between slices, throws, and Death Glove attacks. You can also create stat-boosting Death Glove Chips out of junk you collect.
In No More Heroes 1, you would navigate a basic-yet-clunky open city of Santa Destroy to take on odd jobs, pay off your assassin fees, and then enter levels full of bad guys to mow through in order to reach the boss. No More Heroes 3 is similar, as the open world returns with six different environments to run and drive around in. They don’t offer the sandbox freedom of something like Grand Theft Auto V, but with a bunch of items to track down, arena battles to challenge, T-shirts to earn, side stories to watch, and more, there’s plenty to do in these spots.
At first though, you won’t be seeing any regular combat levels. The game tasks you with tackling three different simple closed-arena battles of your choice before diving straight into your numbered boss battle. It was really bizarre and a little deflating to just breeze through boss battles and not get proper levels to play through, but fret not — once the game takes its limiters off in the second half, there are plenty of pre-boss surprises and proper levels to dig through within each chapter.
No More Heroes 3 is carried by its style, but it isn’t without failure. The game goes for a slightly more realistic art style than the first two games did, but Nintendo Switch can’t quite keep up with it: Textures are muddy and slowly pop in, lighting makes everyone look like they have shiny doll skin, and cutscenes will frequently suffer from frame rate chug or even audio de-sync. The result is an underbaked visual experience that feels like it would only properly shine on stronger hardware. The game still makes up for it with gorgeous artwork, wild insert animations, and addictive music, but it’s hard to ignore the technical faults.
At the end of the day, No More Heroes 3 is definitely a flawed game — but it’s also a game made by a very specific person, for a very specific group of people. The things that matter to No More Heroes fans — the rowdy writing, the flashy combat, the flood of pop Japanese style that only Suda 51 could provide — are all here. The game may take a while to find its stride and it may have some technical hiccups, but if you’re a die-hard No More Heroes fan looking to take one last ride into the sunset of Santa Destroy with Travis Touchdown, then this game is exactly what you want.
A review code for No More Heroes 3 was provided by the publisher.