This post is part of a ten day series on my top ten games of 2021. You can find previous entries here.
5. No More Heroes 3
If you spoke to me at any time in the last two years or so, I would tell you my most anticipated game was No More Heroes 3. The first No More Heroes is one of my favorite games of all time. No More Heroes 2 was a huge step up in gameplay and a huge step back in story and personality, mainly due to the increased amount of bosses and then Travis Strikes Again was all personality (due to Suda returning as the sole director) however, the gameplay was incredibly stripped back and tedious. With Suda51 back in the directors chair once more and the game returning to the gameplay style found in the first two entries, No More Heroes 3 looked to be a complete return to form for the series and – for the most part – it was.
No More Heroes 3 once again places you in the shoes of the certified weaboo mess Travis Touchdown as he fights through the ‘Galactic Superhero Rankings’ to repel an ongoing alien invasion led by Jess-Baptiste VI or ‘FU’. The setup to the game is familiar to anyone who has played the original NMH games. Travis must do odd jobs around town to make enough money to enter battles where you will fight a higher ranked assassin to move up the board.
No More Heroes has never felt like a game that is focused on gameplay. Sure, the action is strong, but it’s very basic compared to its contemporaries like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. However, NMH3 is the best the series has ever felt. Taking the smoother feeling combat of NMH2 and layering the death glove mechanic from Travis Strikes Again on top of it makes the combat flow in an incredibly satisfying way. Which makes it even more of a shame that the improved combat is wasted on the almost complete removal of level design.
Typically in an NMH game you would do quick assassination missions where you are confined to a room and get paid on how fast you can eliminate them. Afterwards, you would enter a level to fight your way through and eventually reach the assassin at the end. NMH3 opts to remove the pre-boss levels entirely and instead just has the player do three of these basic assassination missions to unlock the boss fight. Don’t get me wrong; the level design of the first two games is hardly anything incredible – and in the grand scheme it’s a superficial change – but it feels sort of anticlimactic to just go straight to the boss without any build-up. Other than that minor gripe, the general combat as well as the boss encounters are the best the series has seen.
Like I said, NMH has never been too focused on gameplay, what it lacks in mechanical depth, it makes up for in spades, through story, and just pure style. Outside of Persona 5, I don’t think I’ve ever been so instantly struck by how stylish a game is as I am with No More Heroes 3. From the moment you boot up the game and you are faced with the Death Drive boot-up screen and the playable Death Man mini game, you can tell NMH3 is out to make an impression. This is followed up by an animated short telling the backstory of the main villain in a homage to E.T. It’s about 20 minutes in before you actually take control of Travis. When you do finally take control and face off against the first boss, Mr Black Hole, the game makes a hell of a first impression with a bombastic boss fight that feels ripped out of the finale of a Platinum game.
The series has always had good music, and again, this is another place where NMH3 blows the others out of the water. Nobuaki Kaneko – drummer for the band RIZE – knocked it out of the park with this game. For whatever reason, it feels so fitting that one of the best songs in the series is a song about ramen used for the games shop screen.
No More Heroes 3 feels like Suda 51 is completely unchained and uncompromised in making the game he wants. Even if the resulting game has a few major hitches, this type of directorial vision feels so refreshing. Especially since it’s not something you get too often these days outside of independent games and whatever Kojima cooks up. NMH3 is a goodbye to Travis Touchdown; He may not have gone out on the highest note, but it certainly was the loudest one, and in a way that feels way more fitting.