It’s a truly magical moment when a long-dormant franchise you love makes its grand return, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Streets of Rage 4 springs to mind right away with its no-nonsense punch-and-kick-heavy reappearance while upcomers Windjammers 2 and Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp are locked for highlights on my 2021 calendar.
The first two No More Heroes games meanwhile remain highlights in the Wii’s long library combining excessive amounts of over-the-top violence with a foul-mouthed protagonist that wasn’t afraid to constantly break the fourth wall. Unfortunately, the pairing were far from major successes leaving the series future shaky at best. Fast forward over ten years though and we finally have a direct sequel – ignoring the fairly underwhelming Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes since it’s technically a spin-off – in No More Heroes 3. After such a long hiatus though, is there still fun to be found in Travis Touchdown and his assassin-killing antics?
No More Heroes 3 sees Travis once again hacking and slashing his way through the assassin rankings only this time the list of elites is made up of aliens lead by the particularly violent and unstable Fu. With plans to take over Earth, Travis must face off and defeat this new threat… all whilst adhering to rules of the Galactic Superhero Rankings of course. Much like Suda51’s previous work, expect a very self-aware story that takes you in all sorts of directions even leaving you scratching your head at times. It’s bananas but in the best possible way and trying to keep up with every bizarre story beat is a blast.
Fans of the series will find a lot about No More Heroes 3 immediately familiar. Our protagonist Travis Touchdown is still the same brash, rude and cocky fool he’s always been often letting his Beam Katana do the talking while the game’s structure too sticks to the series tried and true blueprint of ranked battles capping off a small grind of earning cash via taking on missions and odd jobs littered about an open world.
This time, spread across six different islands, you’ll traverse the open world in Travis’ speedy motorbike driving around and taking on an assortment of challenges. Most will see you battling single or multiple waves of enemies in a smallish arena while others offer a more mundane job like mowing lawns or picking up trash.
Each ranked battle you take on will first require an entry fee and three specific fighting missions to be completed, conditions that rarely require too much grinding and for the most part are fun to do. In fact, the jobs surprised me, taking otherwise boring chores and turning them into pretty enjoyable mini-games. Mowing lawn for example doesn’t sound like much fun, but when you’re racing against the clock and trying to avoid the increasing number of rocks in your way on higher difficulties things become more interesting. The same can be said for the trash collecting or coast guarding – the latter seeing you shooting giant alligators coming in from sea. The mining job is the only let-down, frustrating more than anything as I’d find myself often getting lost with no map to help. Then again, none of these are forced on you so if I didn’t want to mine any more, I didn’t have to.
Missions and jobs offer rewards in the form of UtopiCoins that act as your standard currency while WESN can be used to upgrade Travis’ stats such as his power, health and learning new moves. Junk gathered meanwhile can be used to build chips for your Death Glove offering perks that raise your stats even further. As you rise the ranks, you’ll venture to new islands and while each have their own look and vibe about them, they for the most part feel rather barren and empty. Sure, one has a war-ridden look to it and another a pleasant American suburb but none feel like they possess a real personality boiling down to a mere facial swap and little more.
Combat is your basic hack and slash affair, Travis able to swing both light and heavy attacks with his Beam Katana, block or leave enemies open to a counter attack with a well-timed dodge. Weaken or stun enemies and you can slam them with a powerful suplex or finish them off with one final slice (physically if using a Joy-Con). It’s worth noting anything you do with your Beam Katana will drain its energy leaving you vulnerable should it fully deplete. Fortunately, a quick shake of the Joy-Con or control stick will charge it back up getting you right back in the action. Along with the Beam Katana, Travis can also use his Death Glove, a device that offers four special skills including a drop kick, launcher and slowing enemies’ movements.
Overall, combat is simple but fun, the balancing and combining of swordplay and Death Glove skills always satisfying to experiment with. This feeling is further heightened thanks to the variety in enemy type you’ll face (arguably the strongest the series has seen to date). Even when you find yourself growing a little weary of fighting the same mishmash of minions, you rest knowing a ranked battle isn’t far off…
Unsurprisingly it’s in the ranked battles where the game’s best and most memorable moments lie, every fight bringing something new to the table. Bookended by weird and wonderfully entertaining cutscenes these fights will see you taking on varying combat styles even going so far as to bridge into different gaming genres all together. To reveal any of them here would be to spoil the bombardment of surprises and WTF moments the game wastes no time throwing your way in quick succession.
From a technical standpoint No More Heroes 3 can look a little rough around the edges while performance-wise runs very smoothly during enclosed combat sections but can struggle a little when out in the open world. We’re never talking Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise levels of slowdown, but it can certainly be noticeable at times. In handheld mode, the game has a far fuzzier look to it but performance still remains as decent as running in docked. Load times meanwhile while largely inoffensive when it comes to length can become irksome in terms of quantity as you jump between open world, missions, cutscenes and visits to your apartment.
What the game might lack in terms of technical achievement, it more than makes up for stylistically. Ranked battles are presented in episodic fashion right down to highly amusing opening and closing credits. Enemy design is weird but wonderfully unique. Menus scratch that nostalgic itch displayed in a full pixelated style while battles see blood in rainbow of colours darting about the screen in mesmerising fashion. The soundtrack too oozes cool with a number of remixes on the main theme sure to get any No More Heroes fan bobbing their head. All in all, the game is absolute treat on the eyes and ears.
No More Heroes 3 is bloody, violent, crude, insane and even confusing at moments and it’s an experience I found myself having a great time with right up to closing credits. Performance issues can’t weigh down what is a truly exciting rollercoaster ride of a game and arguably Travis Touchdown’s best outing to date.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Grasshopper Manufacture