No More Heroes 3 is a new game that plays like an old game in the best ways. It’s personally challenging for me to think about how the original No More Heroes is over ten years old—it was a stylish hack-and-slash game that captured this sort of absurdist urban fantasy that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has. In that original game, Travis Touchdown is a down-on-his-luck otaku who takes a job to assassinate somebody with the not-lightsaber he won in an online auction. It turns out that Travis actually kills him—and that he was the 11th ranked member of some underground bloodsport. The rest of the game is about Travis climbing the ranks to become number one, because it was promised that if he did, he would get laid.
It was wacky, it was loud, it was stupid. Between each level, you had to take on a bunch of mundane odd jobs to make enough money to get into the next fight, and it would repeat until you were first place, with some minor swerves here and there. Its sequel, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, upped the ante with a more streamlined experience featuring faster gameplay and less downtime, and Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, a side-game-but-actually-a-main-game released almost a decade later, was a janky love letter to indie game development with some excellent writing and some only-okay gameplay. No More Heroes 3 is a sequel to all of these games.
The combat is the most complex and the most difficult the series has seen thus far. Previous games made you feel like an unstoppable force of nature. Every time an enemy’s health bar emptied you would have to finish them off with a deathblow—this attack not only killed the enemy, but it also could kill everyone else the strike touched if you pushed it a little more. It was really overpowered and really fun, but the enemy design often suffered because of it. That first game had two enemy types: man with a bat-like object and man with a gun. The sequel expanded the roster in some pretty meaningful ways. NMH3 cuts back on the number of enemies in any individual encounter and makes every individual kill more significant.
Enemy attacks hurt a lot and enemies themselves are either fast or have a lot of range—sometimes both. In previous games, you were pretty okay to lock on to a single enemy because the game had a radar telling you where everyone was; here, I was frequently flicking between foes to keep track of everyone. Each encounter still has that escalating feel, but it’s because the scenario is simpler and not because everyone exploded. I do still miss that instant burst of dopamine, but its absence made the fodder more interesting.
And like that first game, when you’re not fighting, you’re exploring the city of Santa Destroy and its neighbors, completing challenges and playing mini-games. These range from a pretty fun lawnmowing mini-game, a racing mini-game that gave me F-Zero flashbacks, and a pretty simple dungeon crawler, among others. Each one has at least two variants, and if you don’t like any of them, you can continue making money by doing optional fight missions.
Visually, No More Heroes 3’s environments tend to look a little dated—it’s a Switch game that really feels like the developers were limited by the system. It looks like they had to turn all of the settings down to make everything run at 60 frames; it would be nice to have an option to sacrifice some performance for the visuals, but that does not exist. It’s still very striking and unique, but the shaders they use here are bright when previous games employed many shadows.
The actual open world feels pretty dated, too; NPCs are few but points of interest of plenty, driving Travis’ motorcycle around the place is pretty fun, but ultimately the city’s not the deepest. Its size has also replaced the dedicated levels that each boss used to get, and while later in the game there are these little side-quests portrayed in the style of Travis Strikes Again’s visual novels, there aren’t very many of these—which was a shame considering the writing in this game is a shining high point. If there’s a No More Heroes 4 or some other entry in the series, it would be great to see those dedicated levels make a return or dip into some adventure game aspects, because the world here is more fun than it’s ever been before.
Plotwise, this entry is a direct sequel to 2019’s Travis Strikes Again, and while some promotional material implies that, there’s nothing in the game that tells you who anyone is—so people new to the series would do well to at least familiarize themselves with the cast and that previous game. It’s very much a game for people who are fans of the franchise and the developer’s other works. Aside from that, you’ll get a game that’s cool in the stupid sort of way; if you like videos where teenagers pretending to be Kingdom Hearts characters fight in Best Buy parking lots, you’ll love No More Heroes 3.
For fans of the series, this is a must-buy. No More Heroes 3 is a great action game that’s really kinetic and stylish in a way that not many games are nowadays. A lot of its design is picked from games ten or fifteen years ago and has listened to its competitors but decided to tackle many of the same things in a way that is true to No More Heroes. However, the things it’s chosen to leave behind in previous games keep it from being significantly better than the ones before it.