No More Heroes III is an absurdist retro hack-and-slash that is very, very good in some ways, and very, very not in others. Realistically, it’s a ladder of distinct and inventive boss fights that surprise and delight, glued together by cutscenes with more surprise and a lot less delight.
The combat hits good, and the “game feel” is through the roof. Snappy and responsive, with fantastic sound design, intuitive UI, and great boss variety. The thread of retro design that carries through from the opening frames permeates the fights, with menus and UI popping up with pixel art elements that explode with satisfying showers of colour and sound. The combat itself, beyond feeling great, is balanced in a way that provides a low bar for entry but a high bar for mastery. It’s not extreme but gives those keen to sink their teeth in enough to grapple with.
Now, it can’t be understated how absurd No More Heroes III is, and very, very intentionally. It’s brash and bold and always manages to surprise you no matter how much you’re guessing at the next dash of absurdity. It’s not striving for sense, and it’s great. There are plenty of otherworldly character designs that aren’t intended to make sense and are all the better for it. And while I’m on the praise train, the voice performers are doing a legitimately good job with some questionable dialogue. It’s not going for realism, like everything else about the game, and it’s much better for embracing the insanity.
While absurdism gives the narrative a free pass on making sense, I wouldn’t extend it to extend to all aspects of the characters. I won’t be coy; I’m talking about the one black character calling the white protagonist “master” and an adult woman babbling and screaming like a 6-year-old. It’s unbelievably jarring to cut from a fast, fluid, and fun boss fight to a cutscene packed with brazen racism and misogyny that makes me suddenly very conscious the neighbours might be able to hear.
I don’t like being too harsh on games. They’re hard to make, harder to make well, and easy to tear down. But not being racist and treating women as people is a low bar to clear, and No More Heroes III doesn’t clear it.
NMH III nails the action hack-and-slash combat, but as it’s rounding the bend for the finish line, it faceplants into a cutscene laced with the writer’s barely disguised fetish. Knowing a boss fight is coming to a crescendo has me on edge as I grit my teeth and prepare for the next extended dialogue, hoping they don’t unveil some new unpleasantness I couldn’t have anticipated.
Over a year after its worldwide Nintendo Switch release, No More Heroes III comes to PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One, and Windows PC on October 11 in North America, and to the EU on the 14th. Whether or not you check it out is entirely your call.
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