No More Heroes III (Switch) Review
Let me be upfront and honest about what kind of review this is going to be. I have not played the first two No More Heroes games, nor have I played Travis Strikes Again. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve played any SUDA51 game. This is not a review from a series veteran, it’s a review from somebody going in completely fresh, with no expectations or exposure. If you’re a No More Heroes mega-fan, this review probably isn’t for you, and with the timing of this review embargo, you’re probably already 10 hours deep into the game anyway. If you’re new to the series and wondering if No More Heroes 3 is a good place to jump in, or if you’re interested in how it looks and plays (especially to a newcomer), welcome! This is the right place for you. Let’s get stuck in.
No More Heroes 3 tells the story of a young boy, Damon, who stumbles upon a cute little fuzzy alien called FU. Damon deeply cares for FU, they go on adventures and read comics together — but FU is an alien, he yearns for a return to his homeworld. After some time has passed, he’s able to contact his people, and gets picked up to return to outer space, never to be seen again. Or not so much, because decades later, FU returns to planet Earth a sexy, psychopathic monster with some uh, twisted ideals of becoming a “superhero”. Together with the help of an adult Damon, FU (now going by the name of Prince Jess Baptiste VI) decides to set up the Galactic Superhero Corps, a ranked organisation of similarly psychopathic aliens intent on dominating the near and far reaches of space, starting with Earth.
And that brings us to our true hero — though that might be stretching it a little bit — Travis Touchdown. A grumpy, jaded, retired assassin/otaku with a talking cat, who’s frankly a little bit pissed that aliens have rocked up and decided to start messing up the place he lives and the things he likes. He’s given the opportunity to rise through the Galactic Superhero Rankings by defeating members of the organisation. And, well, he’s an assassin, and killing big baddies is kinda what he does best, so he steps up to the challenge and starts hunting them down.
It’s a fine enough story, and it certainly gets the job done of pushing the game forward. It’s got a surprising amount of depth to it, too, with some big, emotional moments and a good amount of twists and turns. As a newcomer, jumping into a third (technically fourth) game in a series, I was definitely expecting that there’d be a lot that went right over my head… and I was 100% right with that expectation. There’s next to no explanation for just about anything that happens between what I’m assuming are series regulars, very little backstory to catch you up to speed. It just jumps right in, with the assumption that you’re well aware of what’s happened before and how it pertains to what’s happening now. It took me a pretty considerable amount of time to realise that Sylvia, the game’s mysterious librarian-like quest-giver and seemingly complicit in the actions of the Galactic Superhero Corps was actually Travis’ wife — that’s the kind of background information you’re missing when you go into NMH3 completely blind. I can’t fault the game for assuming that players jumping into the third game in a series would be at least somewhat familiar with the characters and history of the series, but some kind of optional explainer wouldn’t have gone astray, either.
What I wasn’t so hot on was the game’s writing. Look, I know that part of No More Heroes’ appeal is its nonchalant, piss-taking approach to writing, and that’s fine in small doses or when handled with care. There’s an argument to be made that this type of writing satirises and parodies the “very serious work of art” that certain games stumble over themselves to try and push, with mixed success over the years. The problem is, with No More Heroes 3, so much of the writing leans so hard into mid-2000s teenage edge that it flies right past parody and satire and into a place where it’s hard to take anything that’s happening seriously. I won’t say that it’s all bad, there’s some wonderful, meta, in-joke games and comic book discussion that I thought was absolutely hilarious, but for every well-written moment in the game, there’s another where the whole point of the scene is that Travis just dropped the F-word, and isn’t that just hilarious? It grates on you, after a while, even if each moment would probably be fine in isolation, and edgy or stereotypical gags frequently overstay their welcome. Again, it’s not all bad, there’s some genuine moments of hilarity and soul and terror here, but it’s a shame it’s sandwiched by hours upon hours of edge-for-the-sake-of-edge.
I have similarly mixed opinions on the gameplay itself. There’s a surprising amount of things to do in NMH3, from combat encounters to motorcycle racing, and a tonne of silly little minigames like mowing lawns, picking up garbage while avoiding alligators, unclogging toilets, and catching scorpions around the city. They’re silly little bits of fun, but they break up the main gameplay loop in a satisfying enough way. Unfortunately the rest of that gameplay loop is frustratingly linear and repetitive, with each section of the game presented as a chapter in an anime or manga. Here’s how each episode goes:
- Go to a new area in the city.
- Complete a set amount of combat encounters in that city.
- Earn money to enter into a fight against the next boss.
- Fight the boss, then return to step 1.
Those set encounters in step 2 are kinda brutal, and not exactly in the “this is a difficult fight” way. There’s a decent variety of standard enemies, each with their own abilities and quirks, but the way you fight them is going to be almost identical no matter which enemy you’re up against — chain attacks and abilities until they die. The combat is fluid and fun, and managing the charge of your beam katana in the midst of battle is a genuinely exciting and thrilling aspect to fights, but the fights themselves are just the same thing, over and over and over again, and the satisfying combat only goes so far to keep you interested. On a positive note, however, the boss fights against ranking members of the Galactic Superhero Corps are genuinely fantastic. Each one is rife with interesting mechanics, new ways to approach combat, and puzzle-y aspects that will keep you on your toes — and that’s in addition to the solid combat mechanics throughout the rest of the game. Honestly, I’d probably have enjoyed NMH3 a lot more if it was more focused on those kinds of unique battles, even if a boss rush was all there really was to do in the game.
And so we get to the unfortunate part of this review, the visuals and performance. You’ll be pleased to learn that the frame rate is pretty solid, especially in docked mode, which is really important for a game like this with fast, fluid combat. There are dips here and there, especially when speeding through the open world or in a combat encounter with lots of particle effects, but for the most part there’s not much to worry about. Unfortunately, that solid performance comes at a very heavy cost to the game’s visuals. I’m not much of a pixel-peeper, and I can generally forgive a low resolution if the art style is strong enough, but NMH3 is running at such a low resolution that it’s hard to ignore. It’s muddy and unclear, aliased to hell and back, and any detail in the image drops off HARD once an object gets about a meter away from the camera. In its busiest moments, the game becomes a blur, with combat encounters sometimes reduced to two nondescript blobs clashing while other nondescript blobs circle on the outside.
I’m being slightly hyperbolic there, but only slightly — it’s hard to overstate just how genuinely terrible this game is to look at 90% of the time. Even the cutscenes, traditionally a place where developers can optimise a lot by culling anything that isn’t in shot, don’t look particularly great. It gets a little better in docked mode compared to handheld or the Lite, and the day one patch improved things a teensy bit, but not much, and not enough. Even on-screen text is sometimes heavily compromised by the low resolution. And honestly, it’s a shame, because I absolutely love the character design in this game, they’re genuinely some of the best-designed characters I’ve seen in a game like this for a long long time. And the art style seems like it could be really striking… it’s just held back so significantly by whatever’s going on with the visual fidelity here. If there were ever a case to be made for a Switch Pro, NMH3 would be Exhibit A.
I wish I could be a bigger fan of No More Heroes 3. There’s a lot to like about it, from its enjoyable combat to its solid character design, and even the story setup is absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately for every given thing I liked, there was just as much that I disliked, and its visual fidelity holds it back for far too much of its runtime.If you’re like me, jumping into the third game in a series you’ve never touched before, there’s probably more than enough to turn you away. However, mega-fans of the series will likely find a lot to love.
+ Frame rate is surprisingly solid
+ Combat itself is fluid and satisfying
+ Boss fights are fantastic
+ Episodic structure is frustratingly repetitive
+ Looks dreadful visually
+ Writing tries a little too hard to be edgy