While more and more developers try to create seamless, immersive worlds nowadays, No More Heroes 3 feels like a game straight out of 2003, where power-ups are food and big shiny arrows guide you to your next destination. At the same time, however, it’s littered with kitschy modern references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Netflix, and performance-obsessed gamers, resulting in a 3D action game that’s trapped in both the past and present. This sequel still has some surprising boss fights and admirable ambition, but those are only enough to drag the rest of its aging ideas and mechanics along with it.
No More Heroes 3 is the first mainline addition to the series since 2010’s No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, but it’s actually more directly a sequel to the 2019 spinoff Travis Strikes Again. Unfortunately, unlike the novel and entertaining action of the original games, Travis Strikes Again was not particularly enjoyable, making its returning characters and plot points a less exciting reunion than they could be. But the core premise of the first two No More Heroes games at least returns here, letting you run around the fictional city of Santa Destroy as part-time assassin Travis Touchdown, who is once again killing his way up an assassin hierarchy as part of a bloody competition.
No More Heroes 3 Official Screenshots
In the original games, Travis joined this twisted contest for a chance to sleep with a beautiful woman named Sylvia Christel. But in No More Heroes 3, his motivations are less self-centered. This time an alien prince named Fu (who is basically the answer to the question “What if E.T. was evil?”) comes to Santa Destroy with his posse of nine alien overlords to try and take over Earth. Fu and his alien cronies conveniently join the assassin’s ranking, giving Travis a path to murder his way toward Fu and save the world.
And that’s pretty much the way No More Heroes 3 goes for its roughly 14-hour runtime: start at the lowest rank, kill the boss, earn money from minigames to eventually buy a ticket to the next boss fight, and repeat until you reach the end. That’ll be a familiar formula for existing fans, but No More Heroes 3 still feels like a step back for the series in this regard. The themed levels full of smaller minions that previously preceded each boss are absent here, and the time spent between bosses is mostly tedious. As a result, the minigames needed to earn money – which range from a pretty fun lawn mowing game to a much less fun mining minigame – make up a bigger proportion of the overall playtime.
To pad out the time between bosses even further, No More Heroes 3 also makes it so you have to complete two or three filler fights against various alien bad guys as an additional requirement to begin the next boss battle. While enemy variety is significantly increased from previous games, these encounters are less interesting than the themed levels they replace, and balancing issues can make them flat out aggravating to take on. These enemies have unique abilities like shooting lasers, throwing up mines, or turning invisible – but because their difficulty seems to be determined by enemy count more than anything, the fights are chaotic and messy as attacks fly every which way with no rhyme or reason.
That’s a shame, because there can be a real flow to No More Heroes 3’s combat when it hits its stride elsewhere. You alternate between light and heavy slashes with your beam katana and whack baddies enough to stun them, at which point you can German Suplex them for additional damage. No More Heroes 3 adds a jump button too (though I rarely used it) as well as four unique abilities on cooldowns. These abilities either slow down time, push enemies away, set up a passive laser beam, or let Travis drop kick the nearest bad guys.
The hacking and slashing can be fun, but I’m more torn on the cooldown abilities. On the one hand, their crowd control capabilities feel designed explicitly for the purpose of handling the aforementioned minion battles, and they could be especially crucial for harder fights. But on the other hand, these attacks don’t feel necessary for the actual boss fights, and don’t mesh particularly well with the rest of the sword-based combat – especially since the beam katana itself still runs on a depleting battery which you need to recharge during a fight by, uh, shaking it.
Getting to each boss can be a slog, but the boss battles themselves remain a series highlight. You’re introduced to Fu and his gang at the start of the story, but these aliens lack the personality needed to stand out in any memorable way – especially compared to past No More Heroes bosses like amputee grenadier Holly Summers, scythe-wielding gothic lolita Margaret Moonlight, or the flame-throwing take on Texas Chainsaw Massacre Matt Helms. But, without spoilers, No More Heroes 3 cleverly zigs whenever I thought it would zag, messing with my own expectations of each boss and providing a few nice surprises for longtime fans. These fights are where combat truly shines, although some bosses are primarily beaten through puzzles instead. But even then, the creativity behind their designs makes them enjoyable for the humor alone, like one fight that’s settled through a deadly game of musical chairs.
Between those flashy encounters, the open world of Santa Destroy is disappointingly barebones, and performance can be noticeably subpar in certain areas. One spot that looks like a bombed-out city (either a reference to Fortnite or Call of Duty) runs so poorly that it actually has an artificial retro CRT TV filter put over it, seemingly to hide its alarmingly bad texture pop-ins. That doesn’t make the issue any less severe, but No More Heroes 3 at least tries to make up for its clear technical shortcomings by presenting itself in new and interesting ways like this. For example, every chapter begins and ends with a hand-drawn anime-style opening or a Takashi Miike podcast hosted by Travis and his cinephile friend, Bishop. It will also randomly throw you into different genres at a moment’s notice, suddenly having you play a No More Heroes version of Fatal Frame or a retro PC-8800-style visual novel. No More Heroes 3 is always ready with a bit of creative flourish after every technical misstep.
These frequent moments of genuine surprise and wonder meant I certainly enjoyed No More Heroes 3 at times, even if by today’s standards it’s a pretty dated and uneven experience between them. Developer Grasshopper Manufacture describes itself as a video game punk band, and No More Heroes 3 definitely feels like a house show where the guitarist is playing on a busted amp, duct-taped to hell but still not sounding quite right.
I can’t help but admire No More Heroes 3 for that. This industry is often unforgiving of games that don’t run at a perfect 60 fps or have the latest high-end graphics, leaving weird, off-kilter projects like this without an audience. But that admiration doesn’t mean I can recommend it in good conscience to anyone who isn’t already invested in director Suda 51’s madcap universe. And even for that audience, it can’t hold a candle to either of its decade-old predecessors.