‘No More Heroes 3’ review: a game of two halves

Only for the fans

For anyone who has never played a No More Heroes game before, the third entry might just blow your mind. This is a series where hero Travis Touchdown shouts random berry names as he attacks with his definitely-not-a-lightsaber Beam Katana. That’s when he’s not randomly shouting “fuckhead!” at them instead. You save your game on the toilet; after you’ve plunged them to open up the map a bit, that is. To recharge your weapon you have to vigorously shake it, just so you can continue the fight.

If you’re not quite getting the picture yet: No More Heroes III isn’t particularly worried about what anyone thinks of it.

While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it feels like a better version of the original game. Modernised in some ways, but still stuck in the past as well. The lack of caring what people think of it might be why you need to manually save, or why you can’t change difficulty after starting your game. These are modernisations that neither protagonist Travis nor auteur game designer Suda51 care for, and it’s to the detriment of what would otherwise be a terrific adventure.

No More Heroes 3 Credit: Grasshopper Manufacture

The tight, responsive combat that has a tactical edge to it thanks to special moves and the aforementioned sword-shaking is the best part of No More Heroes III, as are the lengthy cut-scenes that introduce the sometimes stereotypical, but always outlandish characters that you have to take down to save the world from an Alien invasion.

You’ll hack and slash through enemies, with special moves, health bars, and all the machinations of a third-person action-adventure title that you’d expect from a 2021 release. It feels great, even when using the optional motion controls to literally slash across your enemies, or grapple them into a power-bomb to finish them off. It’s a genuine, unequivocal joy every time you engage in combat.

But for every moment of ecstasy that is the combat, there’s some open-world busywork, and unfortunately, it’s here things fall apart a bit. The structure of No More Heroes III is pretty simple: like the previous games it’s a boss rush with a top ten ranking to climb. You basically rank up in the global assassin leaderboard so you can challenge for the top spot. But before you can take on each boss, you have to do three “designated battles” to earn the entry fee. To begin with, that is.

Because by the half-way point the designated battles are just the same three or four fights with a variation on which enemies you face, and the entry fee to actually challenge the placement fight boss gets steeper to the point where you’ll be forced to engage with the open-world elements more.

No More Heroes 3 Credit: Grasshopper Manufacture

These designated battles are paced all over a fairly large open world, and it looks dreadful. It’s not an exaggeration to say it looks PlayStation 2 era, visually. The performance barely hits 30fps (and frequently goes under it) is matched by a sub-HD resolution when docked, with jaggies everywhere and textures that are so bad they make you wonder if it’s part of the joke. Worse yet, there’s an area that is deliberately “bad” looking, with an added filter over the top that is so ropey it made my eyes hurt. It’s supposed to be a funny reference to other games, I think, but it’s ten years too late even if that’s the case. Being forced to go back there a second time nearly broke me.

Due to the fact that an entry fee is required to challenge a ranked boss, you will have to seek out side-missions across this map. For example, you’ll earn 1000 of the required currency unclogging a toilet, and at first this is a pretty funny joke. Sadly, by the tenth time, when the dialogue hasn’t changed, and the mini-game itself is exactly the same, even offering the tutorial text before each go, it doesn’t even raise a smirk. And there’s only so many times you can fend off giant alligators as a coast guard, go litter picking, or mow a lawn, let me tell you.

The mini-games that you’ll have to play are a nice variety, but also a hugely mixed bag. Hilariously, the lawn mowing game is one of the better ones, whereas the racing takedown experience is perhaps one of the worst mini-games ever created. Seriously, I still can’t work out if it’s supposed to be “so bad it’s funny” or if it’s just plain awful. You will drive about the world on your motorbike, but due to the disappointing frame rate and poor-feeling controls, you’ll crash multiple times.

But the boss battles are marvelous. Cathartic and interesting, they’re ridiculous yet compelling. From the first to the last (despite a boss that has a questionable one-hit-kill attack) it’s a joy, and the enclosed environments look markedly better than anything else on show, too. It feels like two games in one, visually, because of this. The story is exactly as “Suda51” as you’d expect, and the music is phenomenal throughout.

So much effort has been put into referencing pop-culture, too. From the Netflix-style introduction sequences to each chapter, to the on-the-nose references, like one boss shouting “Adrian!” whenever it attacks. Not everything is a hit, and there’s no question that this is an experience aimed at the Otakus, but it’s also got a fairly Westernised sense of humour to it, as well.

The open-world is the worst part of No More Heroes III, without question. It’s a game that feels as though it’s an attempt at modernisation, yet it’s also hamstrung by it. Not every game needs to push into the double digits hour mark, and this is a perfect example of why. Remove some of the busywork, tighten the experience up, and you could easily add an extra star to that big review score, but as it is, this is an experience for fans only, despite the fact it has so much love poured into it, and the combat is brilliant. But for Christ’s sake, don’t touch the racing mini-game.

No More Heroes 3 is available on Nintendo Switch from August 27.

The Verdict

No More Heroes III is like two games in one, and if you’re happy enough to play mundane mini-games in an open world that’s awful to look at, you can break through to some compelling, exciting combat. A bizarre and always entertaining story is here, too, but this one really does feel like it’s made just for the fans.

Pros

  • Superb combat
  • Soundtrack is great
  • Fun, off-the-wall story

Cons

  • Truly awful mini-games
  • Open world is bad
  • “Call of Battle” section is horrific
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