That's a Touchdown.
It’s been a while between drinks for Travis Touchdown. Besides a side-outing in 2019 with Travis Strikes Again, the No More Heroes series hasn’t had a new release since 2010’s No More Heroes 2. Lauded at the time for being an ‘adult’ game on a Nintendo system, the series went dormant for nearly a decade while developers Grasshopper Manufacture moved on to other projects. But here, 11 years after the last numbered title, Travis returns on Nintendo Switch with No More Heroes 3.
For those not aware, NMH3 picks up after the events of Travis Strikes Again, which saw Travis and ‘Badman’, the father of an assassin Travis took down way back in NMH1, fighting through different video game worlds. While director Suda51 claimed the game was not a direct sequel to No More Heroes 2, the events that occur in that game do set the scene for the third numbered title, including multiple characters who were not part of the series previously. Rest assured, absolutely none of this is explained in the game whatsoever.
As No More Heroes 3 begins, we learn that an alien prince named FU (pronounced ‘foo’, not ‘eff you’ – though either is plausible with this series) has arrived above the Earth in a huge ship, determined to conquer the planet with a collection of nine friends he made in space prison. Prince FU has decided to accomplish this through the ‘trend of superheroes’. After they begin to attack Travis’ home of Santa Destroy, he decides to once again pick up his beam saber, put his assassin skills to work, and defeat these top ten “Galactic Superheroes” to save his home world.
What follows is… okay. I’m gonna be honest with you here, reader. No More Heroes 3 has a lot of moving parts – I’m not sure if they’re moving in unison, working against each other, or quantum-phasing THROUGH each other so the whole thing doesn’t fall apart. There’s so much piled into this game, some of which seems absolutely nonsensical, to the point that I can’t conclusively say if it’s GOOD or BAD. What I can do is break down the experience, tell you how I felt playing it, and let you make up your own minds from there. Cool? Cool.
At its core, NMH3 follows the same structure as the previous numbered titles – you’ll explore the map, completing tasks to earn money, to then pay the entry fee for the next boss battle. You’ll have to compete a set number of “Designated Battles” for eligibility as well – fights against varying numbers of enemies, hidden around the map for you to hunt down. Usually completing all of these encounters will get you close to – if not over – the entry fee at the same time.
The game is broken up into several zones, varying from Travis’ home of Santa Destroy, pristine suburban neighbourhoods, and also a parody of the kind of brown-tinged, run-down urban rubble you’d expect to see in an FPS, for some reason. You’ll also find various odd jobs scattered around the map to earn you additional coin – mow some lawns, shoot some alligators with a tank, the usual stuff.
Once you reach each boss battle, things get a little more varied. Each boss fight is unique or subverts expectations in some way. Fighting on the ground, fighting in the air… Space? Sure. Musical chairs? Of course! Each fight will provide its own challenges or style, and all can be replayed from the game’s home hub for additional levels of difficulty and rewards. Combat with the beam saber is as hectic as ever, if a little limited in the available moveset.
This really starts to show as you get closer to the endgame – even with maxed-out weapon damage, I felt like I was hammering away with the same combos over and over again, even for fodder enemies. Nevertheless the final strike on each enemy, achieved by flicking your right stick (or swinging the Joy-Con) always feels cool. Enemies spray buckets and buckets of blood, mitigated partially by the fact that not all aliens bleed red. It’s a level of goriness that shoots into comedically ridiculous, but still might not be for everyone.
Layered on top of this gameplay loop, however, is gallons and gallons of Suda51’s particular brand of ‘style’. Characters’ dialogue is consistently meta, Travis and co. will speak directly to the player at times about the tropes of the game itself, and there’s plenty of awkwardly stilted ‘badass’ dialogue to go around. It remains unclear even after finishing the game if this is due to the challenges of translating Japanese intention into English, or is intentional – as Travis as a character is a big fan of anime, he could be speaking in this manner as an homage. Is that giving the game too much credit?
On top of all this are multiple framing devices. Each ‘episode’ the game is broken up into features the lead-up to the next ranked battle, and culminates in the fight and its fallout. These episodes begin and end with anime-style opening and closing credit animations, but also feature a Netflix-style transition from episode to episode, but ALSO also has each episode start with Travis and his friend Bishop talking about movies by (real-world) director Miike, presented like footage on a retro TV set. Is this them doing a podcast, a cable TV show, or just surveillance footage of Travis’ apartment? I don’t know, because no direct reference to this is ever really made in the game. You’ll also get scenes of Prince FU with his various compatriots, presented like old film footage, before each big fight. Oh, and Travis has a mech capable of space flight now, which also remains unexplained.
All in all, No More Heroes 3 is kind of a mess – but it is a FUN mess. If you go into this expecting a coherent narrative, you’re not going to get it. If you want a game whose world has an internal logic to it, you’ll be disappointed. If you want to understand who any of the people in this game are, you will remain mystified. But if you’re looking for some fun sword fights against aliens with designs too weird for Katamari Damacy, you might just find your sweet spot.
No More Heroes 3 was reviewed using a promotional code on Nintendo Switch, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
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