This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews No More Heroes III.
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I'm confused, Suda51; I was under the impression there were no more heroes three games ago. Then, you had a desperate struggle trying to find a few to carry the sequel, the way one roots around in a stubborn nostril for the last few scraps of tasty bogey before anyone notices. Then the series went quiet for so long, and I feel like I'd finally come to terms with there being no more heroes, only for you to find a few more lying around for another sequel. Were there ever no more heroes, Suda51? Final Fantasy never fucking ends, Mega Man is blatantly not old enough to shave; I don't know who to trust anymore.
Yeah, I know Psychonauts 2 is out; I'm doing No More Heroes III first because, while both games are my jam, Psychonauts is my jam spread conventionally on a piece of tasty bread, and No More Heroes is my jam running down the inner thighs of a high school music teacher who was almost in a successful band and never shuts up about it. Yes, the first kind of jam might be tastier, and a generally more hygienic experience, but the second captures my interest more; as you might've guessed from the Cruelty Squad review, I love surreal, post-punk games stitched together from the singular vision of one very easily bored person. I love stream-of-consciousness shit; that's why I've been inventing swear words for the last fifteen years and making stupid pictures of obscene acts being committed by jars of Branston Pickle on legs.
No More Heroes III opens with a cartoon of a young boy befriending a baby alien and helping them escape back to their home planet, with a "Miyazaki does E.T." sort of vibe. Then, the mood swivels on a fucking dime when, twenty years later, the alien comes back as a frat boy dickweed wanting to mooch off the planet Earth, along with a horde of alien allies that all look like their colour schemes were decided by randomly chucking crayons at a centrifuge. Nerd assassin with poor anger management, Travis Touchdown, is forced to leave his motel room and standard routine of anime, gaming, and masturbating enough that his wrist action could power the Eastern Seaboard, then puts on a flying robot suit to confront the alien aggressors in yet another countdown of ranking battles. So that's, like, nine genres touched upon, and we've barely wanked the surface.
Like Travis Touchdown himself, No More Heroes has been in a sort of masturbator's hermitage for a few years, popping up only for that Travis Strikes Again thing, which I think had a really introspective vibe; felt like Suda51 trying to get back in touch with something, possibly his penis. And Some More Heroes III feels like a return to confidence, with perhaps the most elaborate instalment yet; I just wish it wasn't exclusive to the fucking Switch. All my Switch Pro controllers have the galloping stick drift, so I had to use the standard Joy-Con housing where the positioning of the right stick makes it feel like trying to get to second base with someone who keeps one of their tits in their handbag.
But I digress. No More Heroes III brings back the open-world sandbox of the first game, but unlike the first game, remembers to put some fucking stuff in it; unfortunately, not including a "Jump" button, so you do still occasionally have to go fifty yards out of your way to get past a knee-high fence. I'm also confused as to why about half the areas shown on the game's map are permanently blocked off and inaccessible; if you had to make cuts, why not redraw the map? Or would that have cut into the recording time for the prolonged conversations about Takashi Miike films?
You know what? The map is a metaphor for the whole game, because it's a kaleidoscope of ideas, but at the same time, seems to be weighed down with a lot of unnecessary baggage. For its flaws, No More Heroes 1 was a fresh and breezy experience about an angry, foul-mouthed nerd, who couldn't avoid getting dunked on even in victory because he couldn't grasp that he was fundamentally isolated from humanity. But as he drifted in an author insert sort of direction, he now alternates between "angry, foul-mouthed nerd", "angry, foul-mouthed warrior poet", and "angry, foul-mouthed self-aware video game protagonist". And if there's a point where the game loads its shopping basket with a few too many slightly tiresome pastries, it's when it's doing the "nudge-wink, self-aware video game" bit.
Like, fairly late in the game, one of the bosses insists on fighting you as a turn-based RPG battle, which I admit was pretty funny, in the two or three other subversive, self-aware comedy games I can think of that did the same gag. Not here; here, it falls completely flat by having the characters bang on about it for ten minutes. "Oh, I don't want to do a turn-based battle! Fuck, fuck! Hey, what's going on? Why can't I move? What's that menu doing there? Masturbate, masturbate! This isn't what serious gamers want, do they, kids?" Oh boy, how self-aware and quirky! Don't look away, Travis! I'm so close! Meanwhile, we defeat one of the other bosses in the game by beating them at musical chairs, then we fight their cartoon octopus friend who can only say one word and can shoot an instant-kill death-laser from their mouth. See, this is the shit I wanted, Suda51: the constant barrage of weird ideas and hard-left turns, not the smug in-jokes. Stream of consciousness, not stream of self-satisfied ejaculate.
There are many moments when the game feels like it's waddling about with its overloaded trousers 'round its ankles; the series has picked up a few running gags. You know that gag in the first game where it spends ages establishing a new boss and building up to the fight, and then PSYCH, some other character jumps in and insta-kills them, and you fight them instead? Yeah, No More Heroes III does that about five times. I kind of predicted as much, when the game shows you all ten boss characters at the start; to paraphrase Murphy's law, "No best-laid plan survives contact with Suda51's attention span."
It's disappointing, because the one thing Suda51 games shouldn't be is predictable. But don't misunderstand me: No More Heroes isn't just random bollocks from beginning to end; it's actually tightly structured in the classic "broomstick up the arse" Japanese open-world fashion. Can't just whip out your glowing erection anywhere and menace the knee-high fences; combat is strictly regimented, and can only take place in closed-off dedicated areas that have registered with the city and gotten cleared by an officially licensed murder-box inspector, and you have to grind up a few generic fights before you can buy into the next ranking battle. And I've never liked No More Heroes combat much.
The flow keeps dying a hideous, squealing death every time you get knocked on your arse and have to mash a button to stand up, or when you have to mash a button to recharge your sword, or when you're mashing buttons to whittle down the constant damage-sponge enemies, or to walk across a room or breathe in and out, because mashing buttons is your life now. And when we buy the upgrades that improve our health and attack power, it doesn't feel like we're getting stronger; it feels like we have to do it just to keep up with the ever-increasing levels of damage-sponginess the enemies have. But a new feature in combat is special super-attacks with longish cooldowns, including a super drop-kick, which stuns most enemies and knocks them out of basically any attack. I used that shit as much as I could, 'cos it's essentially a special, dedicated button for when you're bored of mashing and just want to kick something in the face very hard, which both I and my dog were grateful for.
In closing summary, No More Heroes III is exactly the big, juicy new instalment us Suda51 fans were hoping for after Travis Strikes Again, and is like taking a bath in Suda51's head: it's self-indulgent, generally interesting to see what rubber ducks are going to float up for us next, but every now and again, something inappropriate touches my leg.
- Dog on a string: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I liked that minigame where you have to unblock a toilet to reveal all the icons on the map but I wonder if there's a deeper metaphor going on there
- Sadly NMH3 isn't bad enough for me to use the "Travis Letdown" joke