Had things gone according to plan, a review for No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle would’ve been one of the first articles on this website. I actually still have an in-progress review from over ten years ago, where I started jotting down my thoughts, but alas, nothing ever came of it. Which considering how far I think my writing has come since being *checks notes* twenty years old, it’s probably for the best.
Released for the Wii in January 2010, NMH2 was, like its predecessor, an outrageously violent and stylized hack and slash action-adventure game tailor-made for the platform’s unique motion controller. Grasshopper Manufacture tweaked little of the simple, yet oh-so-satisfying action, but did away completely with the first game’s barren open world, making for more of a straightforward action romp. Professional assassin Travis Touchdown still faced off against ludicrous foes for ludicrous reasons, so y’know, absolutely no change there. Topping it all off was what remains one of my favorite soundtracks. A mixture of mostly instrumental grunge, metal, chiptune, and so-called J-death techno, its music best suited to listening at MAXIMUM volume.
Although that review never came to fruition, and this site wasn’t around when the first game released, I did manage to publish my impressions of that game’s enhanced port to the PlayStation 3. Featuring a spate of minor adjustments and additions, it seemed to be the premier version of the first game. As Nintendo transitioned from the Wii to the Wii U, and motion gaming waned, Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 maintained the prolific output they’d exhibited since their 1998 founding, sans No More Heroes (with the exception of a Japan-only mobile game released in 2012).
And then, a tease from Suda51 during Nintendo’s January 2017 reveal of the Switch hinted at the return of Travis Touchdown. After a couple years of trailers and previews, Travis Strikes Again debuted on the Switch in January 2019. More of an homage to retro and indie games than a full-on follow-up, TSA was a co-op hack and slash whose action was most often viewed from the top-down perspective. Playing it with a friend made for an enjoyable experience, in spite of the tedium caused by the game’s too-long stages. Looking forward to another installment, I ended that review hoping that “Grasshopper Manufacture would better marry the qualities that made their past works not only unique, but fun to play.”
As such, it pains me to say that while No More Heroes III arguably succeeds on those two metrics, it nonetheless never clicked with me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the button-mashing combat and that the only thing I could predict was its unpredictability, but I just never had the urge to plop down on the couch and power through it. I’d like to think it was just that I was never able to devote the proper time, but I’ve made the time for other games recently, like Suikoden III. I felt like a session of thirty minutes or less wasn’t worth it, and so I played across a handful of sessions, sometimes a week apart, which made it hard to remain fervent in seeing Travis’ quest through to the end. And it didn’t hurt that this was a rehash, of sorts, of what occurred in the first two games – a ranking list of assassins.
No More Heroes III retained the devil may care attitude and absurdities prevalent in the rest of Suda51’s work, and like most of his output, it also acted as a love letter to the media that shaped him. This time around, Suda’s adoration of Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike sucked the oxygen out of the room. You couldn’t go an hour without hearing Travis and his buddy discussing Miike’s vast filmography on their couch. It’s one of the endearing aspects of his works – Suda’s like us, inspired by those who create and eager to share what he’s into. Elsewhere, the references came rapid fire in brief emails, item blurbs, and cutscenes. As a collage of homage, this is something that could’ve only come from Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51.
And this is undoubtedly their work. Despite the gap between core releases and my playing of them, it feels like there’s been little change to combat or progression. What little has changed comes as improvements, top of mind being the special moves brought forward from Travis Strikes Again in diversifying combat. I can’t say combat ever grew stale though, even when it just consisted of me mashing on the light attack button. I swear, the feedback from Travis successfully striking an enemy with beam katana was a pure shot of dopamine. A lightning blast of them, with special attacks and dodges mixed in, capped off with a motion activated execution swing where I physically swung one of the Joy-Con controllers offered an unmatched adrenalin-riddled high. This is one of the few games where I’d recommend playing with the Joy-Cons over the Pro Controller.
With such a satisfying combat feedback loop, the time I spent with the game seemed to fly by. I was eager to find the few battles that served as a prerequisite for facing off against the assassin just ahead of Travis, and even then I did more than was necessary. As such, I never had an issue meeting the entry fees required to battle ranked assassins. Nevertheless, I did dabble with a couple of the odd jobs that could be undertaken around this game’s sparse open world. Mowing lawns, fending off kaiju-sized alligators with a canon, these minigames were enjoyable enough, but when I realized they were financially superfluous because of my penchant for battling, I stopped seeking them out altogether.
The payoff for my efforts, was a title match against a ludicrous alien assassin, summoned to Earth as a member of an insane, conquesting alien prince’s posse. These fights almost never went according to plan, which is where they shined. Rarely did they even entail engaging with the fast-paced hack and slash combat. Instead, they tasked Travis with exploring a haunted school, winning a rap battle, and even surviving a turn-based RPG battle system – that for better or worse – called to mind Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. The cinematics that surrounded these moments, and just like, every other cutscene in the game, featured Travis mouthing off with a cocky, vulgar bravado that disregarded the stakes of the moment, and often put a big dumb grin on my face.
Recalling the events of No More Heroes III and writing about it now, I’m reminded that despite it never “clicking” with me, I had a great time every time I played. It may be an experience summed up by the song Dr. John is best known for, “Right Place, Wrong Time.” Had I played this game a decade ago, when I was a responsibility-free twenty year old, I probably would’ve been just as smitten with it as I was the previous two. But even now, as a thirty-one year old father, I’m interested in revisiting the series as a whole, and having whatever context or subtle nods to previous entries fresh in my mind. It wouldn’t be an act of nostalgia or pure enjoyment or for better understanding either, at least not totally. I think it’d be a way of keeping that youthful version of myself, that Travis within me, alive.