On paper, No More Heroes 3 is a third-person, open-world, action-adventure game with RPG elements. NH3 is so much more than that though. The developer Grasshopper Manufacture, helmed by Suda51, has a long track record of subversive, genre-smashing titles including the previous No More Heroes games, Killer 7, Lollipop Chainsaw, and plenty more. Thankfully, NH3 builds on Suda51’s legacy of fun and meta-breaking games by bringing what should be a more than dated protagonist into this generation with little to no compromises along the way.
Santa Destroy, We Missed You
No More Heroes 3 stars Travis Touchdown. A crass, probably middle-aged, otaku assassin who has seen more than his fair share of crap over the years. The events of the previous games have found Travis living a peaceful life in Santa Destroy until a group of aliens starts destroying cities and murdering civilians left and right. The aliens are led by FU, a being who left the planet twenty years before the game’s start and has returned to keep his promise to a human named Damon. Upon FU’s return, he claims to be a god damned superhero while destroying the planet. This event sets the tone for the rest of the game.
Travis and his friends find themselves thrust into this conflict as they easily manage to dispatch one of the “superhero” aliens. FU however proves to be too much of a challenge for them and instead forces Travis into a tournament of death. Although he was living peacefully up till then, Travis enthusiastically joins the tournament where he will need to kill the ten superhero aliens ahead of him in the ranking to finally face FU and save the planet. Just another day for Mr. Touchdown.
Much like everything else in the game, the story is told unconventionally. NH3’s narrative plays like an anime tv show with each ranked battle serving as its own episode. At the beginning of each episode, a literal anime intro plays capped off with the episode’s title. After defeating the ranked alien of the day, an outro plays like the ending of an anime before a brief Netflix-esque timer counts down to the next episode’s start. Fourth wall breaking. Subversive. Meta. There are so many words to describe it but it definitely cannot be called boring.
The actual content of the story between these episode headers is told through cutscenes, transmitter skits a la Metal Gear, an odd YouTube-style show with Travis and his friend talking about Takashi Miike and his various works, and lots more. What’s frustrating, especially to a writer, is that it all fits together perfectly when it really shouldn’t. The story hits every beat just right from Travis explaining to a boss what onscreen prompts to use all the way down to the over-the-top violence that removes any gravity from character deaths or dismemberment due to the ridiculous amounts of blood on display. The story is easily one of the strongest points of No More Heroes 3 as it never takes itself seriously enough which gives it the freedom to go in any direction it wants knowing its audience will either accept everything completely or none of it at all. It’s a daring way to tell a story.
Cut Them All Down
Combat is the main draw of NH3 and there was a lot of polish added to make the latest title feel that much better. Travis is armed with his signature Beam Katana which runs out of power as he attacks or defends. Shaking the controller, performing pro-wrestling moves, or eating sushi are the only ways to recharge it and are just inconvenient enough to make running out of power in battle a thrilling moment. During battles, Travis gains tension signified by a small kitty in the corner of the screen. The lower the tension, the cuter the cat appears. As Travis lands attacks or blocks and dodges enemy attacks, tension builds. At max tension the cat becomes a red tiger but what exactly does that mean?
The basic controls for No More Heroes 3 include swinging the aforementioned Beam Katana to do damage, a lock-on feature for enemies that doubles as a block, dodging, Death Glove abilities (more on that later), and camera controls. Swinging the Beam Katana at first feels pretty basic as Travis only has a set of light and heavy combos with no real variation. Tension however affects what combos are performed. As tension rises, the light and heavy combo hit count and flashiness increase and Travis turns into a whirling dervish of death. Tension also is a good measure of how well Travis is doing in battle. Each battle is ranked from no rank (meaning it was too low) to double S rank which is earned by taking no damage and whooping lots of butt. The higher the grade achieved, the more currency earned in the form of Utopia Coins (UC) and World Ending Super Nova (WESN).
Outside of the Beam Katana, Travis’ move set includes some over-the-top wrestling moves and Death Glove abilities. The wrestling moves on display can be executed on stunned enemies or after performing a perfect dodge. The Death Glove gives Travis access to a total of four abilities with cooldowns that can change the direction a battle is going in. Some abilities are being able to slow down time or deliver a teleporting dropkick. Both the wrestling moves and Death Glove abilities can be added in between light and heavy combos for flashy, effective, and awesome feeling combat.
Finally, when an enemy’s health drops low (pretty much zero hp), a prompt to a finishing move will appear in the form of a killer slash. Once executed, the Slash Reel will begin to spin. The Slash Reel is a slot machine that can give Travis additional UC and WESN or, better yet, activate a mode that lets Travis grab and throw enemies like a madman. Every spin of the reel can turn the tides of battle adding yet another layer of depth to the bloody parfait that is No More Heroes 3.
At its best, combat in No More Heroes 3 feels amazing. Mastering the fundamentals can turn boss fights into straight-up beatdowns by being able to stun, suplex, and roll the slash reel on most of them just like a normal enemy. It’s fun and addictive but there are some issues with it. Lock-on is wonky at best as it grabs the closest enemy and slightly narrows Travis’ field of view. Due to this, it’s difficult to track what other opponents are doing which caused more than a few unnecessary deaths.
Almost every battle places Travis against multiple enemies so not locking on would default to the game using a soft lock. Use a Death Glove ability without manually locking on first? Don’t be surprised if the attack hits some random enemy way the heck on the other side of the room. What’s more, at least on Spicy mode (hard mode), enemies can still deal damage during most of Travis’ moves. There doesn’t seem to be many iFrames on display as death was far too frequent due to enemies attacking during a Death Glove move that can’t be canceled out of. While not enough to hamper the overall experience, these deserve to be noted and hopefully will be addressed in a future patch.
Lawn Mowing Simulator
As mentioned before, the story isn’t the only unconventional feature of the game. Outside of combat and between ranking matches, Travis is free to roam the multiple cities of his world. Starting in Santa Destroy, other locales include Perfect World which is supposedly an idyllic city, and Call of Battle which appears to be a Call of Duty parody without directly saying so. Every city to visit has a multitude of things to do which is where the game’s style and attitude start to bubble up.
Whether it’s grabbing trash from a river while suplexing hungry alligators to straight up just mowing someone’s lawn in style, the activities in NH3 are ridiculous but fun. It’s clear that Suda51 wanted to include activities similar to GTA but refused to just have races and other, now default, open-world game activities. Heck, to unlock save points on the world map, Travis has to clear a blockage from a public toilet whose contents are thankfully blurred out. No other game could get away with that.
As mentioned, there is time between ranking matches before Travis can participate. To participate, Travis will have to clear all the designated matches in whichever city is on display for the next battle. These are moderate difficulty battles against some of the game’s various enemies. After clearing enough designated matches, a payment of UC will need to be deposited into the ATM which will grant access to the next ranked battle. This flow works surprisingly well as every zany activity completed pays out in both UC and WESN. WESN, by the way, is used to level up skills such as Travis’ attack and the max charge of the Beam Katana.
With so much variety, the only complaint at the time of this writing is the lack of visual notification that an activity has been completed. Whether it’s the defense missions or the others, at first there appears to be a red stripe through them so it is clear they’ve been completed but upon returning to the area, the stripe is gone. There are occasions where a secondary activity will be added but a clear indication of what has or hasn’t been completed, without diving into the game’s records, would be extremely useful to manage time. Lots of wasted time occurred due to having to drive over just to find out that the activity was the same one already cleared. This is pretty crucial in an open-world game to save players time.
Subversive Nolstagia Smoothie
Going into No More Heroes 3, nostalgia could definitely take over. The visual style has been upgraded but still just as intentionally offputting as it was over a decade ago. The aliens in particular directly clash with the visual style of everyone and everything else which is exactly the point. They’re alien to the senses so they should look out of place. After the first hour or so, they all seem to fit the universe No More Heroes 3 has melded together. The aliens look alien, the citizens of Perfect World all look “perfect” which makes them bland and expendable, and Travis’ bike looks like it’s straight out of Akira. The visuals are further heightened by the excellent sound design including some amazing tracks especially when chowing down at the sushi stand. Like if someone wanted to break into rap today, they should definitely sample those beats.
Continuing with the nostalgia angle, Travis, without beating the player over the head with it, has grown in many ways. While Travis still takes a peek at his wife’s backside when she bends over and curses like a sailor, he continuously asks about his kids and can wear a hoodie with the words “Fuck Racism” plastered over it and it fits his character perfectly. There’s something oddly satisfying with seeing a game not trying to pull punches in this day and age while still showing progress through its narrative. They don’t make a big deal out of anything going on and instead just have a really fun game with some under-the-surface themes and subversive dialogue as Travis continues his journey to be the biggest badass in the whole universe. Many shockingly violent moments occur but none that should make anyone turn off the game. Think a Tarantino film in video game format and that’s about 10% of what NH3 has on offer.
The smoothie isn’t done there though as the game continues to mess with set expectations. NH3 will often set up a cool boss fight against a trope of characters seen in so many other action games just to pull the carpet from under the spectacle at the last second. Many fights don’t go the way Travis expects and some aren’t even against the ranked alien of the day. There are even some events throughout the game that will leave jaws agape at how out of nowhere they feel. While it would have been safe and easy to just have ten battles in a row with really sharp boss designs (every boss battle is amazing by the way), subverting expectations makes the journey so much more fun. Instead of wondering what the next boss will be, the thought becomes what crazy thing are they going to do this time?
Summarizing No More Heroes 3 in a few sentences is hard to do. It’s the fantastic sequel that Travis Touchdown and fans of the series deserve where the game, visual, and sound designs are all sublime which is rare in this current generation. The issues such as lock-on during combat being a tad wonky and the world map not showing activity completion accurately bring the experience slightly down from 100% perfect. However, everything else is done so well and deliberately that it’s hard to not think that these issues could be some meta-comment Suda51 doesn’t expect anyone to get. To summarize in a way Travis would be proud of, it’s a really weird-ass game but also a really good-ass game. GTFO and buy it.