PIctured in the header: No More Heroes III running in a fairly-playable-with-a-catch state on Steam Deck. More on that later!
Good evening, dedicated GamersDirector readers. This is the beginning of a new segment of GamersDirector that I’ll be calling “Contra May Critique”, so there are going to be some preliminaries while I establish the format and my critical voice for your enjoyment. You may find yourself surrounded by preliminaries as you progress through your favorite games or challenges in general: trust that this is part of the process.
What is Contra May Critique?
Contra May Critique is the culmination of over a decade of years spent writing about PC hardware, general technology, and PC gaming with only the rarest forays into…I can’t even say it here. Nobody wants to be a “**** reviewer”. That’s disgusting. I also have a YouTube channel, I guess.
What is No More Heroes III?
No More Heroes III is the latest installment in the No More Heroes series, which started back in 2007 on the Nintendo Wii.
No More Heroes III is currently available on all major platforms. It launched on Nintendo Switch, but also saw ports to both current and last-gen PlayStation/Xbox consoles. And PC through Microsoft Store and Steam. Fun fact: most MS Store titles are near-direct Xbox console ports, to the point that the MS Store version of NMH3 is actually the Xbox Series S/X version! That version comes with some visual updates out-of-the-box, but these can mostly be met and exceeded with .ini tweaks in the Steam version.
I am reviewing the Steam version of NMH3 today, but not talking about anything too specific to the PC port besides what was just discussed until the end.
Table of Contents
Is No More Heroes III Good If You Haven’t Played No More Heroes?
In the era of clumsy waggle control party games for Wii, No More Heroes stood apart due to its intuitive understanding of High/Low stances in both actual combat and silly video game conventions. Any High or Low attack was a mash of the same A button, but High or Low was determined by the orientation of the remote.
Image Credit: Boss Fight Database
While the Wii’s motion controls were known to be somewhat sloppy and inaccurate without the MotionPlus accessory, No More Heroes 1 and 2 were both built around the original system’s limitations. That meant the use of sword swings to punctuate moments of enemy or boss execution were of Particularly intense intent, punctuated with Picasso-esque explosions of raining blood and golden coins.
All of this visceral fundamental appeal of No More Heroes is present in No More Heroes III, even if you happen to be playing it without access to motion controls. For example, on the PC platform instead of on the original Switch release.
Is No More Heroes III Great If You Have Played Travis Strikes Again?
Absolutely! In most regards, anyway.
Truthfully, while Travis Strikes Again is arguably the true prequel to No More Heroes III, it’s still a very substantially different experience. TSA is so different from No More Heroes III that even fans of the first two games largely couldn’t get into it, especially since it was such a major departure from what the behind-the-back cinematic action series had established prior.
However, coming back to Travis Strikes Again from No More Heroes III instead paints it in an entirely new light. If you’re coming from TSA and already young and cynical enough, even NMH3 could feel like a downgrade in some ways due to differing customization focus and no co-op or other playable characters.
Ironically enough, Travis Strikes Again ends up feeling more like “The No More Heroes Game” if you’re familiar with past titles, whereas NMH3 ends up feeling like “The Travis Game” in the present.
Contra May Critique: Fundies
Let’s start by talking about No More Heroes III’s “fundies”.
Fundies in this context refers to the fundamental mechanics of the game’s combat and how they feel in the hands. I’m going to write around the current controls assuming a standard gamepad, but in my experience with the first 2 NMH titles, the motion controls should work just as well, if not better. There are few things as visceral as actually “Swinging” the sword to punctuate the Death Blows at the end of every enemy encounter.
One of the best fundamental techniques in the first two games is called the “Dark Step”. A Dark Step was performed by flicking the stick left or right in the instant of blocking an attack, resulting in the world entering slow motion, allowing Travis to deal a rapid series of strikes, usually into a punctuating Death Blow.
In No More Heroes III, the “Dark Step” has been replaced with the “Perfect Dodge” and “Mustang Dodge” systems. Perfect Dodge works pretty much how you’d expect it to, slowing down time around you like Dark Step once did. Unlike Dark Step, however, the Perfect Dodge does not require holding a lock-on input, so you’re allowed to use it for simple movement purposes instead of Just retaliating on an enemy.
Mustang Dodge is where things get much more interesting, and a little (satisfying) frustration if you’re a perfectionist gamer like I am. Basically, Mustang Dodge works exactly the same as Perfect Dodge, but briefly triggers the new “Mustang Mode” (normally triggered by the series-staple slot machine, a la Crisis Core’s DMW system).
Mustang Mode also time slows, but exponentially increases the speed and power of all of Travis’ attacks. Additionally to the time slow effect, Mustang Mode also enables a full-blown Flash Step/Slide that dramatically improves Travis’ overall mobility and makes for even more stylish moments of high-adrenaline action, including weaving between impossible walls of projectiles.
Besides the change to the dodging system, No More Heroes has also chosen to trade the previous High/Low attack system into a Light/Heavy attack system. Manual punches and kicks have been removed in favor of a dedicated jump and dodge button, and the jumping aerial attacks are an obvious stable of high-end play in NMH3 compared to the incredibly limited leaping attacks of past games, sans TSA.
Contra May Critique: The Garden of Insanity
Now, let’s talk about No More Heroes III’s “presentation”.
I’d say No More Heroes III’s Presentation pretty much speaks for itself, considering the supreme chaos that dominates pretty much every clip and screenshot of gameplay. That it is, it comes off like it’s completely ******* insane for no particular reason, but when you listen long enough and play the game enough times it just kinda starts to make sense. It is quite a lot to take in visually, though, even in the moment-to-moment gameplay.
Contra May Critique: The Pure Madness
To say the least, No More Heroes III’s user interface wasn’t designed with subtlety in mind. However, I find it to be one of its most appealing elements in the long run, due to the way it can blend diagetically, as if part of the environment, and my own experience with high-adrenaline-but-high-focus situations as a longtime competitive gamer. Being able to tune out a bunch of extraneous details is one of the most important things to practice for achieving a “Zen” state, but you can’t ever stop being mindful of others.
Fortunately, the game rewards you in spades if you’re willing to accept it for what it is and engage with it on its terms.
Like NMH1, III is something of a pastiche on modern open world game design at large while dangerously straddling the lines between “stylish action” and “action RPG”.
Contra May Critique: The Enlightenment
To be honest, coming into No More Heroes III as a fan who didn’t complete Travis Strikes Again, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But what I found delighted me. The open world formula abandoned in NMH2 was back in full force, albeit including several compromises to visuals and performance for the Wii hard- Switch hardware.
The goofy side job minigames built into the art style and mechanics of the rest of the world have returned without losing the appeal of the combat missions and setpiece Ranked Battles that dominated the pacing of No More Heroes 1.
However, there is one key compromise in No More Heroes III that becomes obvious in comparison to NMH1 and NMH2.
There aren’t really any dedicated “Boss Levels” to speak of, because now pretty much every enemy encounter is a boss encounter against 2 or more mini-bosses. For the pure action gaming experience, this means that there are far less unique environments to fight your enemies within, but also more meaningful options and player expression capabilities than in past games.
Fortunately, all boss arenas are completely unique. And while many Defense Missions may re-use similar looking rooms and assets, they do tend to be in meaningfully different arrangements per-mission, including destroyable barriers. Unfortunately, most boss encounters and combat encounters in general are going to feel very “flat-footed” in that even while you have a jump button in this game, true extended juggles are rare and elevation differences are almost removed from combat level design.
…except No More Heroes III still finds way to sneak in its innovations when you aren’t looking. My main criticisms of the game’s structure still apply, but the WESN Mining Side Jobs are tightly-detailed mixed combat-exploration stages with actual meaningful stage hazards and elevation differences to spice things up. I hope No More Heroes IV or whatever Goichi Suda makes next takes more queues from this!
Contra May Vibe: Travis Strikes…Back?
As a longtime gamer and true lover of the No More Heroes characters and franchise, I’ve always wondered how No More Heroes III could ever live up to my expectations. In some ways, it didn’t, but in many other unexpected ways, it exceeded them in ways I had never quite imagined. This complete absurdism piece of a video game has become a crowning jewel of the entire medium for me personally, despite its technical issues (especially on Switch), due to the truths of both action game design and the human experience that still shine through all of it.
My favorite way to play No More Heroes III is however I’m feeling that day, including turning off the BGM and dancing in the game to my own playlist (embedded below, should you wish to dabble). Make no mistake: NMH3’s soundtrack is easily one of its best aspects, but the chaos of the gameplay can stand on its own, too. While there are limitations to No More Heroes III’s overall design choices that steer away from my stylish action mentalities, many of those same choices are completely inverted in Travis Strikes Again.
If No More Heroes III still leaves you wanting for more No More Heroes, play Travis Strikes Again as a pseudo No More Heroes 4 or the Real No More Heroes II. I love NMH2, but the Suda directed games of this franchise (1, TSA, III) form The True Crown of No More Heroes.
Contra May Critique: Typical Travesties(?) of This Game
- The PC port has an odd bug where if you don’t properly exit from the title screen, the game will create a crash dump in its local files that can accumulate over time. Be sure to exit the game as intended or periodically clear this folder!
- In my first playthrough of No More Heroes 3, I experienced a curious bug in Perfect World where I had acquired Travis’ combat moveset in the open world, and the ability to wander…slightly out of bounds. The implications of this for the NMH3 modding scene may prove promising in the long run…
- The game’s PC version does not work particularly well on Steam Deck. This is mainly down to an issue with cutscenes. If you’re in postgame and not starting a new game, you can safely do most combat missions and minigames without worry as long as you don’t trigger sidequest cutscenes.
Overall, I’d consider No More Heroes III an incredibly solid game. But let’s break down the final scoring into three mini-verdicts.
If you’re unfamiliar with No More Heroes but love great-feeling combat systems, NMH3 is a natural fit for you, though the UI and other visual design decisions can be very loud on the first playthrough. The older games target a more Tarantino-esque visual flair on top of Travis’ otaku aesthetic, whereas NMH3 breaching into outer space boosts the absurdism factor significantly.
If you love the No More Heroes series but skipped Travis Strikes Again, consider playing Travis Strikes Again! Especially if you enjoy co-op games in other contexts. NMH3 will be good without having played TSA, but I’d recommend a TSA summary video at bare minimum for old fans.
If No More Heroes has treated you well so far, No More Heroes III is an incredible culmination of the franchise’s work…and an even more cutting-edge look at the mindset of modern game developers and gamers in a supposedly post-pandemic world.
It has its compromises, but if you don’t understand why an artist or game may compromise on your sensibilities, go play Travis Strikes Again! For real, it’s a great game, and they put it on both Steam and Switch. That one is considerably better as a co-op game, though.