No More Heroes III is a video game in love with b-movie sci-fi and hammy action flicks, with professional wrestling moves and melodramatic narratives, with eye-popping anime iconography and superhero comics and cinema. And most of all, it's in love with video games themselves. It's a fourth-wall shattering, conventions-bending, expectations-skittling success of an experience - the result of an idiosyncratic imagination left to simmer into a heady brew and unbridled enthusiasm being splattered all over the canvas. It confidently proves you don't need powerful hardware or a Hollywood budget to realise wholly enveloping interactive entertainment.
At its core, the Switch-exclusive No More Heroes III is an all-action, third-person, hack-and-slash affair in the vein of its two Nintendo Wii predecessors - we'll leave the spin-off-styled, multi-genre Travis Strikes Back to one side, for now. Chronologically, this new release follows on from 2010's No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, and is that game's proper sequel. Newcomers to (crunch-banning) creator Goichi Suda's (aka SUDA51) world of bizarrely monikered assassins fighting to the death in surreal landscapes may well feel lost when this third mainline game throws in an array of faces that'll be familiar to series stalwarts but aren't given much in the way of introductions for the beginners out there. But stick with it: the confusion over the first few hours is totally worth it when the many and multifaceted threads begin to tie themselves together.
Watch the Alien Superheroes trailer for No More Heroes III, showcasing the main bosses Travis is up against...
The player slips into the leather jacket of Travis Touchdown, a lucha libre-loving otaku who only slightly inadvertently ends up as Earth's last line of defence against an alien invasion overseen by the charismatic but maniacal FU, who shows up in our atmosphere with an entourage of interstellar assassins. These range from a galaxy-renowned musical chairs champion to a C-3PO-gone-awry trader of illegal goods, and Travis has to kill them all to earn a shot at FU and send the cosmic aggressors back the way they came. No More Heroes III's combat is (mostly) your tried-and-tested mix of fast and heavy attacks, dodges that when timed just right slow the enemy and allow for extra blows to be landed (or wrestling moves executed), and pumping away on the right Joy-Con (or right stick, with the R button held) to recharge Touchdown's trademark beam sword - not a lightsaber, so, easy on the L-word, yeah?
But, it's not exclusively Bayonetta-style slicing and dicing. The aforementioned musical chairs champ? That boss encounter is... certainly unexpected, and it's one you'll need a steady sense of rhythm for. Fans of RPGs will love a late-game face-off against a watery giant with hands for nipples - and to say anything more there would be to spoil a blindsiding surprise. No More Heroes III quite unashamedly, but quite brilliantly, borrows fighting styles from some thrilling sources, and its amazing variety of assassin throwdowns, which Travis takes on in order to climb the Galactic Superhero Rankings, is a wonder to witness.
While initially restricted to some pretty basic moves - sporadic diversions into full-armour-mode mecha action aside - Travis ultimately unlocks four Death Glove abilities introduced in Travis Strikes Back. These all operate on cool-downs (certain sushi can be consumed pre- and mid-battle to speed this up, and restore health and power), and serve very different but extremely useful functions. There's a dropkick that chops a healthy chunk off an enemy's health; an opponent-surrounding shower of smaller attacks; a force push (no J-words either, alright?) that shoves your attacker away; and a slow-motion field that'll have anyone caught in it completely vulnerable to your attacks. The Death Glove can also have chips installed - visit the lab, beneath Travis's motel room, as this can be easy to miss - which offer attack perks and more. The lab is also where your base health and strength can be upgraded, and extra abilities unlocked.
Before taking on a boss, Travis has to earn the right to fight. This is done through blood, sweat, and cold, hard cash. A number of designated battles can be found in the semi-open world - a city shattered into individual and environmentally varied hubs connected by an interchange (fast travel is also available, handily) - and completing these is the first prerequisite. The second is money - each boss has an entry fee, and if Travis doesn't have enough from taking down regular baddies, he can take on odd jobs around the world. These range from mowing lawns and planting trees to picking up sewer trash (and wrestling with alligators, should he put a step wrong), taking thugs off the roads in high-speed pursuits on a very-Akira-like bike (there's even that skid) and collecting scorpions to make some pretty zesty ramen. Oh, and there are lots of public toilets to unblock - which you'll want to, as you can only save in No More Heroes III when Travis is on the can.
All of these collect 'em up side-quests and mini-games initially appear to be getting in the way of the action - but the deeper you get into No More Heroes III, the more you appreciate the opportunity to take a break, to get a breather. Because even on its standard 'Bitter' difficulty, this can be a testing challenge. One particular boss fight turns from a fairly silly situation to a one-hit-kill trial of stamina and patience in the blink of an eye, and I do not mind telling you that when that was cleared, I was happy to go unclog a few bogs. There's a tougher, 'Spicy' mode if you're feeling brave (or already have games like this mastered), and a 'Berry Sweet' easy mode which is probably too easy given that it almost makes Travis invincible. You can't switch between difficulties mid-game, so choose your starting level carefully.
And while the game's open-world is far from the prettiest ever, and Travis's bike handles like a brick on rollerskates, there's a lot to be said for the consistency of aesthetic and the mood that's manifested by the marriage of sound and vision. In one particular part of the city, you can stroll along the seafront, listening to lapping waves over gentle jazz piano. Elsewhere, there's more grit and grind to complement the war-blasted remains of a neighbourhood which is occasionally, hilariously, attacked by oversized alligators that rise out of the sea (an optional mini-game involves using a tank to push them back). Every area is different, but it all sort of makes sense in the wild world of No More Heroes - a world where a talking cat will cheer you on in battle one minute, and send you off to find their lost kittens the next. But they will sometimes sit on your lap, at least.
This is a world where chowing down on sushi is accompanied by a rap song all about making sushi. Where numerous visual callbacks to past games in this series rub shoulders with little visual and audio cues covering a bevvy of pop culture influences (it can't just be me who hears The X-Files when Travis is beamed up to battle). Where literal kill screens aren't to be feared but to be strived for - in massive, blood-red lettering. Where you can run around town with 'F*ck Racism' on your hoodie, should you want to, and acquire new t-shirts from fashion-conscious aliens. Where you can twist the rules of time and space alongside a cavalcade of compellingly complicated, deliriously original bosses, and say hi to a handful of old friends along the way. And maybe kill a few. Possibly.
As a Switch exclusive, No More Heroes III is optimised for its hardware in a few ways. Firstly, it runs well docked and handheld, although you will notice plenty of pop-in assets in the open-world gameplay, and some general fuzziness in handheld mode (which presumably won't be there on the OLED model). It realises its restrictions and doesn't dangerously push through them, and while the environments probably could be more detailed, and less like upscaled layouts from the Wii era, it's the combat performance that matters. (And like I said, these other areas work, just fine.) It encourages you to play with Joy-Cons strapped to each hand, so that you can perform a few tricks with a flick of the right wrist; but I played most of the game using a Pro Controller, and recharging the beam sword with the right stick really wasn't a hassle outside of a few very heated battles.
Presentation throughout is incredibly slick, with intro and outro credits sequences between every rank/chapter, and even a Netflix-like 'next episode starting' countdown too. There are pop-up windows that look like '90s PCs, fonts that remind me of the ZX Spectrum, and other moments that are the spitting image of interfaces from '80s text adventures. The closest recent game to rival this outstandingly outré style is probably 2020's excellent Paradise Killer - which itself took a few acknowledged cues from Suda's canon. There are inconsistencies and minor annoyances - I found small walls I couldn't jump over next to larger ones that I could, the in-game map is perfunctory at best and weirdly low-res, and Travis's bike, while very cool to look at, just isn't that much fun to zoom around on. Some very important things aren't all that well explained, either - I was a few assassins deep before I realised I could visit the lab to increase my attack damage and health, which may be entirely my bad for missing a notification, but there's no obvious reminder, like: you have XP to cash in, etc. You can also replay boss battles using the lab's time machine, if you're going for a perfect ranking.
Goichi Suda's games have always felt special (why not check out our interview with the man, from Gamescom 2019). They've not always been good, but there's always something singular about them, a spark of real individuality and personality. No More Heroes III is probably his most mainstream-friendly title yet, even more so than 2007's first No More Heroes and 2012's collaboration with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, Lollipop Chainsaw. It has the spread of map markers and completist-itching collecting to carry out, the take-your-time pacing punctured by furious, nothing-left-behind combat, the play-your-way difficulty options. It doesn't hold your hand, but it never leaves you lonely. It is perfectly tuned to that just one more thing kind of late-night sessions, when you meant to quit at 11 and all of a sudden it's 2am. It's a very easy game to play, then, even while its narrative is flying over the heads of anyone new to the series. And it's a very, very easy game to fall in love with.
No More Heroes III is knowingly crass, extremely violent, and doesn't look close to a modern-era AAA action-adventure, which will put some (boring) people off. But beside that core of hacking and slashing is a warm heart, a kind soul, and the fun-loving spirit of a creator who clearly adores playing video games as much as he does making them. It's a game out of time, a game apart, and a game that anyone who finds repeat instalments of established series a bore and the incessant raft of remakes a chore absolutely has to play.
Pros: breathless combat that's tight and testing; a story full of genuine surprises; amazing presentation and bucketloads of personality
Cons: open-world performance is only acceptable, and some areas are pretty ugly; no option to switch difficulty mid-game; some important features aren't well explained
For fans of: Goichi Suda games, Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, vaporwave vibes and wonderful weirdness
No More Heroes III is released on August 27, 2021 exclusively for Nintendo Switch. Code provided by the publisher, Grasshopper Manufacture. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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