I think I have sort of a problem with Japan. No, not in a racist way, of course, I love Cowboy Bebop, sushi and maid cafes. But I like Japan in a concerned father kind of way. I mean, almost all of my top 10 games of all time are Japanese made games and there are anime and movies by Japanese film makers that I genuinely love. That being said, I can see why people are so judgmental of those who love Japanese media because for every amazing work of art, there’s at least 100 things that make me question the mental health of everyone in the country. Suda 51 games definitely fall into this category for me because they are hard to recommend even if I love them. Sure, when I see a game like Killer 7 where the first thing that happens is you get attacked by ghost suicide bombers and then talk to a man in a gimp suit, I appreciate it because I like avant-garde and experimental things, but most people will think it’s fucking dumb. This idea extends to the No More Heroes franchise which is another personal favorite of mine, but since the switch re-release I’ve seen people playing it for the first time say that it’s obnoxious and unfun, which I want to argue with, but you aren’t going to convince somebody that something a bit out there and experimental is good if they just aren’t into it.
No More Heroes III, a naming convention that gets almost as ridiculous every time there’s a new iteration as Final Fantasy at this point, is an action game starring gaming’s favorite hygiene impaired weeaboo assassin Travis Touchdown, who returns to Santa Destroy after aliens invade earth and he must now fight them by moving up the ranks like the previous games for reasons only known to Suda. The overarching story doesn’t really matter that much as it’s mostly just an excuse to fight a succession of eccentric bosses, but for what it’s worth, the story takes place right after Travis Strikes Back which is that weird spinoff thing that came out a few years ago. I tend to be weary of these types of belated sequels because there’s a good chance that you kind of just wish it would have ended where the last game concluded, and I kind of felt that at the beginning of NMH III since I think the “Paris, Texas” style ending was a perfect send off, but soon these doubts were cast aside.
No More Heroes, like all of Suda’s games, has a very unedited stream of consciousness feel to them, as if a group of people were in a meeting room just shouting out ideas that came to their head and they all ended up in the game. This is when No More Heroes III shines the most. There are some wild and inventive bosses here as one would expect, like the boss that you have to beat at a random rhythm game and then you fight his pet alien octopus that has an instant kill death beam attack, or the golden robot that doesn’t understand magic tricks. I love it when the game is being wacky and off the wall with its ideas, I don’t however love it when the game is reverting to in-jokey meta humor as that’s always been the weakness of these types of games. While the boss that turns the combat randomly into a turn-based RPG battle is funny, it was done better in Super Paper Mario and Saints Row IV, so it isn’t exactly a fresh concept. NMH III also thinks the gag from the first game where you show up to the fight and it’s some massive, seemingly indestructible huge enemy, only for him to be one shot killed by a smaller, weaker, dorky enemy and that’s the real boss fight is like the funniest shit ever because it does it like 4 times although that might be because otherwise the list of bosses would be the length of a CVS receipt. Overall, the writing is still clever and funny, even if there is nothing as gut-bustingly hilarious as the Beefhead video store calls from the first game or the grief speech in the second one.
Gameplay-wise, I have to admit I’ve never been a huge fan of No More Heroes. It gets the job done, but it’s not exactly the most engaging, especially since most of the time is spent fighting trash mobs that are as easily thrown aside as Republican cries for bipartisanship as soon as they’re in power. But, to its credit No More Heroes 3 has objectively the best combat of any of the games in the franchise. You now get a Bayonetta Witch Time like ability that stops time so you can wail on the enemies when you get a perfect dodge, and there’s slightly less of that obnoxious button mashing that kills the flow of combat. Oh yeah, and the open world is back. In the first game, there was an open world that was an illusion because there was absolutely nothing to do in it except get from one point to the next. NMH III also has an open world, but at least this time they remembered to put some things in it. You still have to grind up to do the next story mission, but here it’s a bit less annoying because you can get upgrades that make it so the basic enemies die very quickly. While the upgrade that allows you to stun people by dropkicking their face in never gets old, I just wish they had omitted the open world altogether like they did in the second game.
Graphically, NMH III has the classic Switch look of the game trying really hard and just about succeeding at being HD. It looks fine, not great but passable, and it’s obvious they had to sacrifice visual fidelity for performance, which is fine by me since the boss fights all run at a smooth 60 FPS. The soundtrack, sound design and voice acting are all excellent, and I particularly like all the small “video gamey” sound effects they add to the combat which has always been a nice touch for me. As I hinted at before, the overarching story is not really the point, but it’s actually pretty great at times. You see Travis shifting from being an outcast loner to becoming a pretty caring parent, and there are some great moments with returning characters here. All of this doesn’t distract from the post punk, surreal nature of the game. We go from an anime-styled intro about a child returning an alien to his people only to have him come back to earth with his buddies he met in space prison to conquer the planet in a Miyazaki meets Independence Day kind of way; to Travis speaking to a talking cat and blasting off in a mech suit to fight on a UFO. This is just the opening 10 minutes of the game by the way, so you can see the wavelength of absurdity that this game operates on. Keep in mind, this isn’t just the “Lol so random XD bacon awesomeness” type of internet humor that was so inexplicably popular in the early 2010’s that I’m convinced it was a psyop to get people to buy more pork products.
Overall, No More Heroes 3 is as flawed as it is an eccentric and wholly unique experience. It’s not my favorite in the series by a long shot, but it’s exactly what I wanted and expected out of a belated No More Heroes sequel; plus, it’s infinitely better than most of Grasshopper’s recent games which mostly serve as an annual check in on Suda’s mental health state. It’s a game that takes me back to a time when AAA games could have some experimental elements and genuinely surprise me in the way that Katamari Damacy did when I had absolutely no clue what the fuck to expect when I first popped it in my PS2. I have trouble recommending No More Heroes III fully because most people won’t like it, but if you’re willing to embrace the unedited and experimental nature of the series, it’s something you will greatly enjoy.