No More Heroes 3 Review (PS5) – The Otaku Strikes Back
Do you remember that bit in The Simpsons, where Homer’s watching Twin Peaks and says, “…I have no idea what’s going on”? That’s how I feel when it comes to playing No More Heroes 3, the latest in Suda51’s nerd-fest series. Did you like that outdated pop culture reference? Get used to it, it happens a lot in the game.
The third “proper” game in the series, not including the arcade-like Travis Strikes Again, No More Heroes 3 has brought its wackiness from the Switch to just about everything else. Featuring yet another weird story, over the top action and that Suda51 brand of… actually, I don’t know what to brand Suda51 as. But this is the mind who brought us “space assassins from the moon” in Killer Is Dead, so there’s your benchmark.
Is it a fitting [potential] swansong for Travis Touchdown and his beam katana, or do we really need heroes no more? Prepare yourself for the sensory assault that follows, and let’s find out.
Space Invaders From Space!
To recap the entire No More Heroes series would be a mind-melt (including the one with Travis and Badman stuck in a video game console), so we’ll abridge it instead. The first game saw Travis Touchdown, nerd extraordinaire and wannabe assassin, reach the top of a global assassins ranking board. Desperate Struggle, the sequel, was more of the same but greater amounts of assassins. Strikes Again, the spin-off, was Travis getting sucked into a video game, as mentioned earlier.
Now, twelve years after its last fully-fledged entry, No More Heroes 3 sees Travis… assassinate his way up a leaderboard. But this time it’s against aliens, so it’s different. After coming out of exile, Travis has moved back to the fictional town of Santa Destroy. Nearly forty, the pop culture-obsessed killer is pretty content chilling with his cat, Jeane.
Which, as you’d imagine, gets disturbed when Lord FU and his gang of galactic killers arrives. Intent on setting up a new trend of superhero-ism, FU (or Jess-Baptiste VI as his official title) soon turns his attentions on Touchdown and friends. Probably because Travis’ first foe, Mr. Blackhole, puts Travis at number ten in galactic rankings.
Yes, it’s a similar premise again. But yet, while it might sound tiresome, if you’re playing the third game in a series, what do you expect?
Step Inside the Spaceship, Disrupt the Whole Scene
I should point out that to travel to the ship containing Mr. Blackhole, Travis uses a bracelet that transforms him Viewtiful Joe-style into a mecha suit. See, wacky. Anyway, upon arrival, we’re taught the basics of No More Heroe’s brand of combat. Funnily enough, this is the easiest part of the game to follow.
Much like any spectacle brawler, like your Devil May Cry’s and Bayonetta’s, combat is balletic and batshit in equal measure. Light attacks are on the square button (via PlayStation), heavy on the triangle. You’ve got your jump, for the obvious, and a dodge for stylish tuck-and-rolling out of the way. Time the latter right and you get a perfect, slow-down moment to retaliate. Put this all together and you get the standard action/hack and slash formula we know.
But No More Heroes is more than that, featuring special moves and beam katana executions. Special attacks are tied to L1 and face buttons (or respective console input), requiring a cooldown between uses. Executions are a bit… well, I want to say randomised, as I wasn’t hitting them consecutively. When they do hit, however, a quick directional nudge of the right stick will slice a foe in twain.
Then there’s some mad flurries, high combos, a whole heap of razzle-dazzle and special effects that will give epileptics a run for their money. I could elaborate, but this isn’t a combat tutorial. Half the fun is pulling this kind of stuff off yourself.
Earn Your Right to Fight
Despite how I’ve made it sound, No More Heroes 3 isn’t a boss rush kind of game. As in: players don’t fight FU’s scoreboard villains immediately after each other. Instead, Travis has to earn his way into each match, in quite the literal sense. Oh yeah, turns out the once-top assassin isn’t above cleaning toilets as well as fighting.
That’s not an exaggeration either. One of Travis’ jobs around Santa Destroy’s five hub-worlds is unclogging toilets, but it’s in wacky mini-game form, so it’s alright. Other such tasks involve doing a wave-based defense mode, which broadens the enemy palette slightly.
It can get repetitive, being the “bulk” of the gameplay between boss battles, but it’s entertaining enough. The varying enemy types gave me Power Ranger vibes; fighting colourful enemies in group battles in flashy, spectacular ways.
Roaming the hub worlds is pleasant enough, either by fast travel or Touchdown’s Akira-esque bike (complete with iconic “Akira slide” handbrake function). The worlds aren’t as densely populated as most sandboxes, but there’s enough to tide you over in the calming moments before insanity strikes in boss form.
You Say Grindhouse, I Say Dated
One of the problems of it not being a boss rush game is that in the downtime, the mind can occasionally wander. And in my case, it wandered along the lines of, “This doesn’t really feel like a PS5 game”. Now, I can give a little leeway that it’s essentially a port of a Nintendo Switch game, fine. The problem is: it looks like a Nintendo Wii game.
Grasshopper have had eleven years to make something that’ll look better than NMH2. Strikes Again is more an arcade-y affair, so I’m not throwing that into the mix. Whilst it looks improved on from the older, cel-shaded-like style of the previous ones, it still looks a bit flat. I suppose that’s why all the flair is saved for cutscenes and fights, but by contrast it makes the rest of the game look stale by comparison.
Again, that could just be a “me” grumble. Perhaps I’m not getting it, having not played the previous ones, but I thought it’d look just a bit better than it does when you’re free roaming. But then, that’s not the focal point of an NMH game. It’s the bat-shit crazy everything else instead.
So… Many… References
I wasn’t being glib earlier when I said No More Heroes 3 contains a mountainous amount of pop culture references. Again, this is nothing new to fans of the series, but to anyone else… Deadly Premonition ain’t got nothing on this. If it’s not jibes or cleverly worded puns, like above, it’s flat-out gushing over things Travis and company adore. Did you know how many films Takeshi Miike’s directed? Don’t worry, you will by the end of NMH3.
Saying that, I actually appreciate a good fourth wall-breaking/meta pop culture reference. The nod above is quite literally one of the first thing’s Travis says on camera, for instance. But far be it from me to again spoil everything, half the fun is finding them out yourself. There’s a very odd fourth wall bit later on, that even had my brow furrowed and mouth agape.
But it’s on the whole that the presentation smacks of both old and new school homage. The opening to each boss reveal is done in Saturday morning cartoon style, title sequence and all. The outro/end chapter screen reminds me of old anime OVA’s, with a filter not unlike the old Ulysses 31/Jayce and the Wheeled Warrior days. Yes, I am that old that I appreciate that kind of thing.
Admittedly, some of it might be lost on “younger audiences”, but then this isn’t a kid’s game. It looks like a kid’s game, but given a character gets their arms pulled off in spectacular fashion, it ain’t.
Thunder In Your Heart
What separates from the whole “not being a kid’s game” thing is the difficulty. Maybe it’s my creaky joints and bad reflexes, but there were moments of getting my ass handed to me. At least early on, primarily against Mr. Blackhole and some of the initial defense modes. I had it on Medium, mind. But fortunately, Travis is a tough cookie, one that can be worked on in time.
Much like previous Grasshopper titles, think Shadows of the Damned in this instance, Travis can be upgraded in several aspects. Health, attack power, beam katana energy usage, all the usual affair. These are upgraded through WESN, the game’s experience tally, and purchased through a coin-op arcade cabinet.
Yes, it is a faff to have to go back to the underground lair in the motel (spoilers: there’s an underground lair in the motel), but I wouldn’t expect anything less. It took me a few deaths to twig the level of challenge, then a few more to find out how to upgrade Travis. The game isn’t very forthcoming in telling you how to do that, but I guess that encourages players to go and look around.
As I said earlier, I haven’t played any of the main No More Heroes. So I can’t tell you if the awkward-at-time controls or bland downtime moments are par for the course. I’m not to know that the bike controls are deliberately awkward when it comes to doing anything other than ride in a straight line.
In terms of performance issues, I didn’t experience any crashes, bugs or single-digit framerate issues. In that regard, NMH3 runs well. But then, not being a graphically intense game, I couldn’t see it doing much to strain the PS5/Xbox Series S|X. The loading times can drag at times, especially when you’re pissed off at dying and want to get straight back into the action.
In terms of gameplay (or thereabouts) the only gripe I found was the lack of pausing during cutscenes. Sounds petty, I know, but some do drag at times and it’d be nice to stop and collect your thoughts. Considering how many mad things happen at once, at times a breather could help. If Metal Gear Solid managed to incorporate it, it shouldn’t be that hard.
Otherwise… well, the only jank I came across felt like it was intentional jank. It’s hard to put in words, as well as explain to newcomers, but it felt like a hereditary part of the series. If I were to say “deliberately unrefined”, would that make more sense?
Despite my hesitance over not playing the others, and my cynicism over, “Is there all they’ve managed in eleven years?”, I really enjoyed my time with No More Heroes 3. I get most of the references (I think), the combat feels meaty and frenetic, as well as the challenge being just right for me. Am I going to go back on harder difficulties? No, probably not, but it’s there for those that seek it. The weirdos.
It’s an odd duck, that’s for sure. On one hand you’ve got crazy-ass intergalactic boss fights, mech-suit shenanigans and a talking cat. On the other, there’s driving round mostly-empty hub worlds, unclogging toilets and missing the crazy fights. Which I suppose, in a way, is a good way to encourage players to plough through the menial tasks.
For someone relatively fresh to the series (Strikes Again still notwithstanding), I can recommend No More Heroes 3 if you enjoy your DMC’s and whatnot. It’s nothing new in terms of brawling, but the madcap nature of it all is just so engaging. However, there’s a lot that happens that I’m still none the wiser on, with the game doing very little to expand on that. It’s not going to stop me topping that leaderboard though. Well, and saving the world too, I guess.
A strong third main entry in this insane series of brawlers, No More Heroes 3 is both accessible to new fans and daunting at the same time. A lot of it will make sense to fans, naturally, but may put off those just treading water. That being said, the main story is practically standalone, with some of the most colourful and creative bosses outside of a Souls game.
No More Heroes 3 is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Grasshopper Manafacture
Publisher: Xseed Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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