Grasshopper Manufacture and its founder Goichi Suda are infamous for their oddball ideas, and the No More Heroes games are prime examples of their unorthodox proclivities. The first two games are schizophrenia-fuelled mania operating under the guise of hack-and-slashes, while Travis Strikes Again utilised its smaller team and budget to craft a far more meditative venture into the past, present, and future of Suda51’s work and that of the franchise’s protagonist, Travis Touchdown.
Having released over a decade after the last numbered entry, No More Heroes III comes to us in a place where franchise revivals are commonplace and often clamoured for, but succumbing to industry trends and outside pressure is not something Suda concerns himself with, especially with what he’s said about working on Shadows of the Damned. Nevertheless, this latest No More Heroes plays it safe with the surprisingly solid core combat while leaving the rest open for Suda to toy with.
Nine years after the last numbered entry, the boisterous Travis Touchdown is back in his old stomping grounds of Santa Destroy to climb yet another set of assassin rankings to appease his object of lust turned wife Sylvia. Not much has changed on that front, but the surrounding circumstances certainly have. There’s been an alien invasion led by the belligerent four-eyed FU who’s returned to Earth to repay Damon – the boy who helped him escape the planet when he crash landed two decades earlier.
It’s an insane setup that blows the entire setting of the franchise up to galactic proportions in an instant, but it doesn’t quite fulfil its astronomical potential. Travis is given solid motivation courtesy of FU killing Travis’ comrade Badman and leaving his most ardent follower Shinobu in critical condition. Putting aside No More Heroes’ past with resurrecting “dead” characters, it’s a great setup that serves to make FU feel threatening and personally tied to Travis’s motivation.
Unfortunately, that motivation and FU’s destructive capabilities begin to fade into the background as the game goes on. After the opening sequences, FU doesn’t do much outside of having random character-building conversations with the next big bad on the rankings list right before they’re inevitably eliminated and never spoken about again. This is a character capable of levelling entire cities in mere seconds, but his extra-terrestrial abilities are never flexed outside of the game’s bombastic beginning.
Things are similarly tenuous for Travis who has substantially grown over the course of the three previous games – Travis Strikes Again especially – but his character has regressed to reinhabit his role from the first two games. He's gotten the girl, become a father, and is just shy of forty years old, but all of it is barely even touched upon – all for the sake of getting Travis back to spouting snide insults while killing things.
Thankfully, mowing through the squads of aliens in No More Heroes III is consistently enjoyable. The developers have capitalised on the groundwork laid by Travis Strikes Again, and the result is the best battling in the series. You’ve got the usual melee combat staples combined with new Death Glove abilities that give you plenty of tools to work with and options to explore. It doesn’t take long to reach an entrancing rhythm of dodging attacks, dishing out damage, and finishing each enemy off with a satisfying execution slash with Travis’s beam katana.
The standard enemy encounters do begin to grow stale by the game’s end, but the boss fights are the true star of the show and each one is a real treat. Be it a satisfying test of your combat skills or an unforeseeable surprise, the ten Galactic Superhero Ranking encounters universally have something enticing in store, but you’re made to eat your veritable vegetables before you can have any delicious boss fight dessert.
Just like the first two games in the series, you’re not allowed to progress to the next boss until you’ve completed the requisite number of ordinary enemy encounters and pay a tournament entrance fee. Getting the required funds isn’t terrible – it serves as an extra excuse to partake in the variety of amusing job minigames that have you mowing rocky lawns or picking up trash in alligator-infested waters. There are a few space battles sprinkled in too that make use of the new mecha suit, but everything else just involves driving the motorbike to your destination and completing routine battles in plain rectangular arenas.
It helps that the combat mechanics are so watertight, but it’s hard to quell the inevitable feelings of monotony No More Heroes III eventually engenders. The excitement and euphoria that results from felling the next big foe and climbing up a spot in the Galactic Superhero Rankings quickly subsides when immediately coming face-to-face with the next checklist of standard enemy encounters you’re made to finish before being allowed to enjoy the next grand set-piece or subversive surprise that pushed the capabilities of the hardware the game launched on.
Now that No More Heroes III has finally been liberated from its launch platform’s shackles, its performance problems have completely melted away. Gone are the slideshows that zooming through Santa Destroy on motorbike would frequently induce. No longer does the resolution dynamically diminish into a chunky mess in a feeble attempt to keep things responsive during combat encounters. No More Heroes III can finally be enjoyed without being forced to stomach distressing technical deficiencies, and it’s easy to sacrifice the original’s motion controls in exchange.
While maintaining a solid framerate and consistent image quality are now non-issues, there are fewer distractions from some of No More Heroes III’s other shortcomings. Its limited open world areas – drab and lifeless expanses often only populated with a handful of identical NPCs and vehicles – are even less impressive now that limited hardware can no longer be leveraged as an excuse.
The game’s visuals similarly stand out as a jarring distraction with the resolution being so drastically increased. The character models have clearly seen the most attention with the port job – the main cast looks phenomenal. The increase in character fidelity does well by the enemy designs which come across as even more otherworldly and alien in comparison, but the environments and most texture assets haven’t seen a similar facelift.
The lack of consistency between the quality of the characters and almost everything else can be especially stark in cutscenes. When you’re not being distracted by the engaging and visually busy combat, it’s hard for the eyes to miss how plain, rectangular, and plasticky the environments these characters inhabit are. It’s not necessarily surprising given the game’s initial target platform, but it’s still often distracting and won’t be able to fool you into thinking No More Heroes III was initially conceptualised on the current gen.
Quibbles with the inconsistent asset quality aside, No More Heroes III still shines brightly when leaning into its more stylistic inclinations. Battling bosses in spaceship chambers that emulate the starlit void of outer-space or slicing through enemies that engulf the screen in sprays of rainbow-colored fluids is still visually striking, especially now that more capable hardware is able to pull it all off without breaking a sweat.
Regardless of the hardware you’re playing it on, though, No More Heroes III is injected with Suda51’s patented brand of humor, eccentricities, and absurdity. Fourth wall breaks abound, references are everywhere, and its irreverence remains intact in what might be the franchise’s last instalment for another long while.
No More Heroes III's shameless lunacy surpasses even Kojima in its sheer self-indulgence. It's a game stuffed full of idiosyncrasies that can only be rationalized as things Suda put in there because he felt like it – be it the one-off 80s beat-em-up intro or each section's episodic television bookends. Almost every chapter begins with Travis talking about movies solely to give Suda a forum to air his apparent admiration for Takashi Miike's filmography. Outside of the core gameplay, No More Heroes III isn't so much a game for the player as it is for Suda himself.
Despite being a maniacal hodgepodge of things Suda has a soft spot for, it’s hard to fault the game or the man for it. Seeing Suda do whatever he wants is exactly what his already established fanbase wants to see, and he’s an easy guy to root for. His love for video games runs so deep that he has sought to celebrate his favorite works from other entertainment mediums within this one.
Even if you don’t share his cultural touchstones of things like Kamen Rider or wrestling, it’s hard not to respect Suda and his team for pouring so much effort and resources into the video game equivalent of a non sequitur for the sake of making No More Heroes III something they’re personally happy with. It’s fitting that the resulting product is a bizarre amalgamation of tried-and-true gameplay mechanics, an out of left field plot, and a bunch of nonsense that’s so eclectic it’s borderline unintelligible at times. It’s precisely what Suda wanted it to be.
No More Heroes III is a pleasant sendoff for Travis Touchdown – especially so now that it’s no longer stuck on hardware that couldn’t keep up with it. The lack of performance problems make it so much easier to enjoy its wide variety of combat encounters, eclectic minigames, and zany story sequences. It comes at the cost of its other flaws becoming more pronounced, but it’s still a brash and daring passion project from a Grasshopper Manufacture that continues to do whatever it desires.