When the first No More Heroes game was released in 2008, it was described by critics and fans alike as a one-of-a-kind game. The game stars Travis Touchdown, a slacker nerd who loves anime, giant robots, and professional wrestling. One day, on a whim, he buys a “beam katana” from an online auction, and his life is forever changed when he bumps into a dangerous assassin.
Travis’s ascent up the assassin ranking leaderboard has formed the backbone of two titles now, though the storyline is chaotic enough that the leaderboard is really just there to shuffle you from boss fight to boss fight. The series’ trademark boss battles are where it shines.
The newest entry, No More Heroes III, does not disappoint on that front. This time, instead of facing off against assassins, Travis fights a cadre of “superheroes” from outer space who are set on taking over Earth.
In the first ten minutes of the game, you play through a delightfully-retro sidescrolling beat-em-up section, an irreverent battle in front of the motel Travis calls home, and then dive straight into a tough-as-nails boss fight with an alien called Mr. Black Hole. That fight culminates in Travis summoning his suit of mecha armor (don’t ask) and defeating Black Hole in a sequence that would look at home in Zone of the Enders.
Oh, and Travis’s cat, Jean, talks now. And while Travis thought she was a girl in the first two games, it turns out Jean speaks with the voice of an adult human man. Seriously, don’t ask. The game isn’t interested in answering questions because it’s too busy teeing up over-the-top set-piece battles and cheeky homages to all the little things that the director, Goichi Suda, finds interesting.
If you’ve ever wanted to hear two nerds expound at length about their love of the films of Japanese director Takashi Miike, you’re in for a treat: Travis and his pal Bishop do just that between all of the game’s boss fights.
Games as Art
The No More Heroes franchise has always used its lowbrow humor and rough presentation to disarm players and convey a very strong sense of identity. Between boss fight levels, Travis has to do odd jobs, tiresome minigames that reward him with the money he needs to enter the next battle.
This mechanic was present in the first two games, and its return here seems to once again poke fun at gamer’s obsessive tendency to try to complete every little task in a game, even when they’re not having fun anymore.
The game suffers from some technical issues. The framerate dips in the overworld, and there are several bugs that can pop up during the course of normal play that range from amusing to game-breaking.
But, with a game like No More Heroes, seeing the engine crack at the seams is less jarring and more endearing. It’s like seeing the boom mic dipping into the frame in a schlocky B-movie: it’s all part of the charm.
No More Heroes III is a crude, ugly, inscrutable game with a plotline that can be defined as “unhinged” at best. It’s also beautiful, profound, and extremely fun to play. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s weirder than most other major releases have the guts to be in the modern era.
For some gamers, NMH3 will be the perfect blend of acid-soaked punk rock weirdness, and for others, it will ring as pretentious, repetitive, and actively disrespectful of their free time.
What I’m saying is, this game is art. And, for my money, it’s perfect.