PLATFORM: SWITCH | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It's been eleven long years since No More Heroes 2, and this third instalment has been highly anticipated by fans of the series whose appetite for Travis Touchdown's unique brand of pop culture carnage wasn't quite sated by 2019's offshoot effort, Travis Strikes Again. As Travis says during No More Heroes 3's intro, “it's only polite to accept an invitation to kick ass", so let's see if it's been worth the wait!
NMH3 immediately messes with your expectations with an intro that can't (and, really, shouldn't) be spoiled but, long story short, after a kooky minigame and slightly mental anime-style cutscene, we join Travis in his room at the No More Heroes motel. When a bunch of alien invaders turn up and destroy the city in one of the trippiest and wackiest openings you're likely to see this year, Travis finds himself having to fight his way through the Galactic Superhero Rankings, taking down each and every one of the top 10 ranked invaders in order to save the world...
Taking place across ten episodes, NMH3 is one of those games where you can never quite predict what's going to happen next. One minute you're talking to a weird-ass looking alien who wants to sell you T-shirts, then you're suplexing alligators in the river, hunting scorpions or heading underground to mine rare crystals, and then suddenly one of the game's many bizarre cutscenes will launch another all-out assault on the senses and make you question whether someone might have slipped something untoward into your dinner. The sheer wackiness will cause no end of delight for anyone who's been following Travis Touchdown's adventures over the years, as will the abundance of references and homages to culty/genre offerings past and present, both of which are some of the game's strongest points.
To rise up through the rankings, Travis needs to take part in Ranked fights but, before he can do this, he needs to pay a fairly hefty registration fee and take part in several “designated matches” which take the form of a quick fight against a handful of enemies in a small enclosed space. Earning cash is a matter of completing missions that can be found dotted around the map, where NPCs ask Travis to mow lawns, collect things, tidy up and perform other fairly mundane (yet, somehow, still enjoyable) tasks in exchange for money, and extra funds can be earned by completing “defence missions” in which Travis takes down a few waves of enemies. When his bank balance is high enough, all that's left is to throw the money into the nearest ATM and head off to the ranked battle, which is where one of NMH3's more contentious issues might appear – in previous games, ranked battles took the form of dungeons, giving you a few rooms full of enemies to work your way through en route to the boss. Here, however, you're just thrown straight into the big fight. If you enjoyed running through those pre-boss warm-up hallways and corridors in the past, you're certainly likely to notice their absence.
The overall structure of the game is also a potential stumbling block. Each of the ten episodes follows the exact same formula – travel around the city, win a few Designated Matches, do a couple of extra jobs if you need the money, then fight the boss. The enemies that you fight along the way might change, and there's no shortage of inventive and unique aliens to tackle, but after a few episodes it's hard to shake the feeling that you've been here before. Travis himself also feels quite restricted in terms of what he's able to do – he learns four special attacks within the first few chapters, but little else for the rest of the game apart from a couple of basic attacks that are unlocked through a very sparse skill tree. With its lack of variation within the missions and no additional weapons, combos or abilities to look forward to, playing through the build-up to each boss quickly feels very limited and repetitive.
Having said that, NMH3's combat is great fun – enemies explode in glorious showers of rainbow-coloured gloop when defeated, the beam katana feels weighty and absolutely monstrous to use, and the constant barrage of sights and sounds during hectic fights really gets the pulse racing. Ranked battles / boss fights shake things up nicely too, often subverting expectations in ways that are absolutely best experienced for yourself rather than having them spoiled in advance. Let's just say that if you're in the mood for over the top carnage, unconventional bosses and the most eccentric and memorable cast of characters this side of the galaxy, No More Heroes 3 has definitely got you covered.
If you've played previous games in the series, almost everything you might have expected from NMH3 – for better and worse – is present and "correct". The lifeless and mostly empty streets return, as do the swathes of barren un-used space, almost completely textureless scenery and “technical shortcomings”, but these are all things that fans of NMH and its creator SUDA51 are likely going to be able to overlook. Instead, concentrate on the garish colours, hyperactive and borderline schizophrenic use of multiple art styles, copious bad language, crazy bosses, over the top chaos and general air of unhinged insanity, all hallmarks of the series and all very much front and centre in NMH3. It can't be stressed enough that there are plenty of moments of absolute brilliance and the writing, combat, characters and cutscenes all deserve high praise indeed, but the game as a whole is held back by its repetitive mission structure and lack of variation. That invitation to kick ass might need to be one that should be savoured slowly, one or two missions at a time, rather than being something that you can binge on for hours on end.