No More Heroes III is a Game Out of Time, But Better Late Than Never

Travis Touchdown's third(ish) outing feels old. But that's okay.

About 20 minutes into playing No More Heroes III, I realized something was off. I was playing on handheld mode with my Switch, and the experience was certainly serviceable, but something was missing. I realized this didn’t feel like the No More Heroes I used to know. I put my Switch into its dock, turned on the TV, and started playing with the Joy-Cons removed so I could use motion controls like I did when playing the original Wii game 13 years ago. Then it all clicked. In making it feel exactly like the old games, No More Heroes III became what I’d been waiting a decade for.

That first No More Heroes was probably my favorite game on the Wii. I still have many fond memories of taking the absolute trashbag disaster that is Travis Touchdown up the ranks of the United Assassins Association, facing some of the most memorable boss fights of its time. When No More Heroes III is at its best, it matches that same rowdy, gory chaos and then some. But when it’s at its worst, it feels, well, exactly like a game that would have launched shortly after No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle did in 2010.

No More Heroes III escalates the already excessive sensibilities of the series by replacing the assassins Travis once fought with an intergalactic force set on taking over Earth. Travis isn’t trying to just be the best assassin in the city of Santa Destroy; he’s also trying to become the best killer in the entire galaxy. And hey, maybe he’ll save the world along the way. The lengths No More Heroes III goes to make those boss fights distinct surprised me, even when it felt like it was intentionally trying to annoy me or subvert what it knew I wanted out of them. Admittedly, only a handful of the space-faring killers I fought climbing the ranks of No More Heroes III hit the same tonal highs of past games. For me, No More Heroes has always been at its best when its hack-and-slash action keeps its feet (mostly) on the ground and reveling in its trademark bloody, stylish, and personality-driven violence. While some boss fights certainly have opportunities to shine in the ways assassins like Bad Girl and Holly Summers did 13 years ago, I’m not as big a fan of the otherworldly spin No More Heroes III takes.

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But beyond that? No More Heroes III is more No More Heroes, exactly as you remember it —  a blast full of memorable characters and set pieces that always looks for new ways to shake things up with each subsequent ranking Travis climbs. The combat can get as repetitive as that of any character action game, but putting the motion controls back reminded me of how stupid and special it could be. Whether it’s through flicking the Joy-Con to one side to do a finishing slash or swinging both over my head to do a suplex, No More Heroes III captures what made the original fresh in an era where I wish there were more games like it. As for what happens in between those? That’s where No More Heroes III shows its age, and it’s got me thinking about what it means for No More Heroes to come back after a decade of being gone.

No More Heroes III feels cohesive alongside its predecessors. Travis still rides around the game’s open-world hubs doing odd jobs like mowing lawns and picking up trash to collect an entry fee before each boss fight. Our hero still saves the game by finding the closest toilet. And short of the addition of the Death Glove from Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, which gives you a handful of new abilities, and the new Full Armor mode that lets you take on some light shoot ‘em up space battles, it’s much of what any seasoned fan would expect a third No More Heroes to be.

But that same cohesion means No More Heroes III feels old. It looks old. The open-world sections are some of the ugliest things I’ve seen on my Switch (especially in handheld mode), and some of these segments run about as well. A patch has helped performance across the board, but even when its framerate isn’t studdering, the world clips in and out as I drive through it. It’s been a decade since I was last in Santa Destroy, and I’m honestly amazed it looks exactly as I remember it, for better and worse. When No More Heroes III is in combat segments, it pops and looks great in motion, bringing vitality to a game that looks lifeless in nearly every other instance. This is a series brimming with style and personality at every turn, so it’s a shame that its world looks like a dusted-off Wii prototype from a decade ago when the game probably should have come out.

But do any of its dated aspects really matter? I don’t think so. No More Heroes is a series that has been dormant for a long time, and the excitement that comes with its resurgence is that we’ll get to experience something like it again. When we hope for a video game series that has been locked away in a vault somewhere to come back, do we envision that it will have evolved in the time since it’s been on a shelf? Or do we simply hope we can experience something like what we experienced before?

No More Heroes III was something I didn’t expect to exist until it did. Despite a cliffhanger ending, director Suda51 has said he’s more interested in new IP. There’s not much reason for me to expect No More Heroes IV is on the way any time soon. Games that manage to come back after a decade-long hiatus do so on the hopes that we can experience their magic once more. And as easy as it would be for me to nitpick all the things that make No More Heroes III feel like a game a decade out of time, I think I’m just happy to have been able to play a third game at all. If you’re looking for the next evolution of the nonsense Travis Touchdown gets into: temper your expectations. But if you just want to pick up where it all left off, No More Heroes III delivers that in spades.