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No More Heroes 3 Review

No More Heroes 3

Since You’ve Beam Gone

Eleven years passed between the releases of the second and third entries in the SUDA51 cult favourite No More Heroes series. During this period, fans only had the occasional port and a lacklustre top-down action game to occupy them. Imagine my excitement when in 2019 No More Heroes 3 (NMH3) was finally announced!

Much of what I loved about the original entries remains. Quirky characters, cheeky humour, sword based violence and a familiar plot progression. And yet, something seems to be missing, and much maligned features have been bafflingly included yet again.

Welcome To The Garden Of Insanity

Each entry in the series sees our protagonist Travis Touchdown wield his beam katana against an international assassin ranking system. One-by-one, Travis will slice through goons, defeat a boss, complete some dull side-activities for money and upgrades, and repeat. No different here, an alien warlord conquers Earth, with his lackeys conveniently ranked in an intergalactic assassins league. Thus, Travis sets out to slay them all, making his way to the deranged and immature warlord Fu.

This plot is primarily told through a combination of regular cutscenes, bland codec conversations, and the occasional stunningly drawn anime. Whilst often entertaining, given the visuals and zany humour, their repetitiveness makes the game feel slow and bloated. One cutscene even repeats after every single boss, framing the game as an episodic anime, but thankfully can be skipped.

Likewise, each assassin is introduced via a near identical briefing between Fu and Sylvia. As in previous games, Sylvia welcomes Travis to the ‘Garden on Insanity’ every time she is encountered, quickly becoming grating. The whole affair feels even more formulaic than previous entries, even given the self-constraints of the ranking system plot. And despite this padding, as I didn’t play Travis Strikes Again, the aforementioned spin-off, I felt left in the dark several times throughout the story and could have used some context.

Sword And Shield

Without a competent story in No More Heroes 3, combat is the therefore the bread and butter of the game. The previous games on the Wii utilised motion controls well, with directional slashes and other gimmicks avoiding the usual frustrations. Thankfully, motion controls are optional, with directional inputs on the right stick working just as well as Joy-Con motion controls.

Combat is largely unchanged, with light/heavy attacks and dodges being the primary tools. Stunned enemies can be suplexed for massive damage, another entertaining recurring feature. Successive strikes without receiving a hit builds up a combo meter which, when full, increases Travis’ attack power and speed. This turns him into a hyper active killing machine, and feels incredibly satisfying to execute. Upon killing an enemy, a slot machine barrel rolls, with bonuses ranging from minor buffs to an instant kill attack. It’s disappointing then when the games camera chooses these moments to go wonky and cause the attack to fail.

Death Grips

The only significant new addition in No More Heroes 3 therefore is the Death Glove, which offers 4 additional skills, tied to a cooldown. These include an offensive dropkick and force push, and defensive time slow and chip damage traps. The dropkick and time slow are the most useful, allowing Travis to teleport across the arena, and wail on enemies. Cooldowns can be reduced through the upgrades tree, which makes these skills incredibly overpowered, simplifying combat a bit too much. Thankfully some of the many enemy types act as mini-bosses and can’t be defeated quite as easily as regular grunts.

A new type of combat encounter also exists, in the form of mech battles against giant space aliens. These play similarly to boss battles in Starfox games, with Travis able to strafe and shoot independently. However, the weak points of some of these encounters are so infrequently on display that these become aggravatingly grinding.

Plenty More Zeroes

In No More Heroes 3, when not chaining together stylish combos resulting in fountains of multi-coloured alien blood, the games pace slows to a halt. Similar to his first game, Travis must traverse an ‘Open World’ to fund the next ranking battle. I say ‘Open World’ because exploration options are incredibly limited, with Travis’ jump not clearing even the smallest obstacles. Travis’ bike feels satisfying to ride at speed in its own missions, but for overworld travel is far too unwieldly.

Whilst side quests are not strictly necessary, the money and upgrades awarded make them worthy of trying out once each for variety. Blasting giant alligators in a shoot-em-up is somehow more entertaining than mowing a lawn, can you believe? These sections narrowly avoid fully ruining the game, and at least offer a break from the main action set pieces. That said, if a sequel was to focus more on the action I would not pass it up!

Each ranking battle, as well as a financial fee, requires you to complete a certain combination of three combat missions. These missions are simply one room of enemies, ranging from three Goomba equivalents, to waves of difficult mini-bosses. The problem here is that the map doesn’t clearly show if a fight will fulfil your current requirements. Early on, the chance of reaching a battle that is of the correct type is high. However, before the final boss I had to search the map for an age, before finally finding the one fight I had missed. At the very least, repeated bouts will still reward you with money, upgrade points and crafting materials.

Motel California

The Motel at which Travis resides is the only location where he can purchase upgrades, change outfits, and modify buffs. It’s therefore appreciated that triggering most ranking battles will automatically transport you here first, also allowing you to save.

Upgrades can be purchased to increase your HP, attack, defence and stamina; reduce cool downs and purchase additional skills. The Death Glove can also be modified through crafting, using materials automatically obtained through defeating enemies and completing side quests. Whilst these can offer plenty of customisation, I just equipped three buffs to my perfect-dodge slowdown, for maximum unimpeded strikes.

Potions and elixirs take the form of sushi, allowing you to refill your HP and stamina or apply temporary buffs. These can be purchased at the motel, before boss fights, or in the city. The problem here is that it’s difficult to cycle through these-mid battle, or to distinguish them. Hence, I played most of the game with just the maximum number of health potions for tricky situations.

Ailing Aliens

The bosses of the NMH series have always been the highlight, but the offerings here left me feeling conflicted. Previous examples include a mech made of cheerleaders, an old lady with a shopping trolley laser cannon, and a creature from an anime dream dimension.

Disappointingly, the majority of No More Heroes 3’s bosses are just brightly coloured aliens with a single gimmick. Even as I write this review, I struggle to think of many outside the giant blue liquid robot with hands for nipples or the girl with flame shooting demons for hands... Okay, maybe I have been too harsh? But amongst these standouts are some comparatively uninspiring designs when put in the context of the whole series.

Some boss fights play out in completely different forms to the rest of the games hack-and-slash action, keeping them fresh. Conversely though, some interesting sounding bosses are misdirects and you actually fight someone far less exciting. The return of a fan favourite boss from previous games was much appreciated, but even this execution felt botched.

No More Heroes 3: Final Thoughts

Whilst I’ve mainly focussed on the negatives here, fans of previous entries in the series will certainly enjoy the game. My love of the series is what leads to my criticism, and perhaps I should put my nostalgia aside. After all, myself and many other fans were happy just to see another game after such a long wait.

The poor pacing caused by the Open World segments serve only to pad out the game past the enjoyable combat. Despite this, some side quests offer a brief distraction and can be fun, but just as often miss their mark. Combat is where No More Heroes 3 really shines, despite being simplified by the Death Glove, still yielding moments of intense action. The stylised final kill screen upon completing a battle never failed to give a genuine sense of accomplishment and glee.

If you’re a fan of hack-and-slash action, the NHM series, or SUDA51, definitely give this game a chance. Just be prepared for some lowlights between the bosses, who whilst still great, don’t quite live up to series highs.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

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