No More Heroes 3 is made out of a number of messy items. It’s a hyperviolent and crass hack-and-slash motion recreation with mediocre fight. It’s an open-world recreation with a barren, flat world. It’s a pop-culture reference fest at a time when crossovers between main franchises aren’t all that particular. It’s crammed stuffed with dissonant aesthetics, with pixels and VHS tape decay rubbing up in opposition to anime and photomontage artwork. That messiness may be jarring and sometimes tedious, however it’s additionally what makes No More Heroes 3 a captivating and off-kilter recreation.

In its first hour, you watch a surprisingly lavish animated sequence chronicling the backstory of the primary antagonist, intergalactic warlord Jess-Baptist VI, often known as FU. As FU’s alien armies invade Earth, No More Heroes 3 throws you right into a fight tutorial. The remainder of the intro (and the complete recreation) performs out like an anime sequence, full with a tremendous opening title sequence and chapters divided up by credit sequences that finish with a Netflix-style “next episode in 3… 2… 1…” After the intro “episode” performs out, you watch protagonist Travis Touchdown and his good friend Bishop nerd out about their favourite Takashi Miike movies for some time. Then you’re thrown into the sport correct. It all seems like some multimedia artwork venture that simply occurs to incorporate interactive parts.

Which is sweet, as a result of most of what you do between these entrancing stylistic prospers is bog-standard hack-and-slash fight and open-world aspect missions. Instead of working his means up the United Assassins Association rankings simply to develop into the world’s best killer, Travis has to stave off an alien invasion by working his means up the rankings once more, now stuffed with FU’s high cronies. He nonetheless has to pay to enter every boss battle, although, which suggests he has to earn money within the recreation’s open world by finishing minigames and preventing off alien fodder.

These fights and part-time jobs, together with some open-world exploration, make up the majority of the sport’s run time. Most fight missions have you ever going through off in opposition to two or three waves of two to 5 enemies apiece. Early fights take as lengthy to enter and exit as they do to finish, because of each the brevity of the fights and longevity of the transitory animations and loading screens. During the precise fights, it feels good to string collectively gentle and heavy assaults, throws, and particular “Death Drive” strikes to soften down enemy well being bars, however the fight may really feel finicky. Special strikes typically whiff, and enemies can hit you when you’re knocked down and even in the course of the cool-looking slowdown impact that occurs everytime you dodge an enemy’s assault.

The huge draw of earlier No More Heroes video games was the rating fights, the massive boss battles that bookended the open-world and fight grinds. In No More Heroes 3, they’re not the primary occasion. Even although the brand new crop of assassins is made up of outlandish aliens, they’re fairly bland in comparison with previous video games’ villains. A couple of of them spark some genuinely novel fights — one entails a rendition of musical chairs, for instance — however they’re typically dwarfed by the overarching battle between Travis, his associates, and FU.

Travis rides a motorcycle through the barren streets of Santa Destroy in No More Heroes 3

Image: Grasshopper Manufacture through Polygon

The city of Santa Destroy isn’t what it was once, both. It’s been changed by 5 smaller open-world areas that parody different recreation franchises; for instance, one space stuffed with bombed-out buildings and trenches is named “Call of Battle.” The textures in these worlds look muddy, and the surface sections look uninspired and lifeless, which makes exploring these areas to seek out all of their secrets and techniques really feel boring.

So the fights, minigames, and open-world exploration aren’t compelling. But No More Heroes 3 is so good about making every part you do really feel cool that it virtually doesn’t matter. I by no means dreaded scrounging up funds for the following rating battle; the sport makes the act of mowing lawns, choosing up trash, and elevating “traffic safety awareness” by ramming vehicles in racing occasions surprisingly trendy. The trash gathering minigame even enables you to suplex a number of alligators as you wade by submerged landfills. I wasn’t into fight for the precise preventing so much as how vibrant it seems and sounds — a robust stinger ends every encounter with the phrase “KILL” written in large, daring, pixelated textual content as a shredding guitar riff performs. The soundtrack is mainly all bangers. These disparate bits of cool are small, however the recreation is so full of these unbelievable touches that it’s a pleasure simply taking in its vibes. The extra mechanical parts listed here are like scaffolding to assist the supply of these vibes, and by some means, it works.

Throughout it all, you’re watching Travis and Bishop espouse their love for his or her favourite films, comics, and TV reveals by the sheer variety of references on show. That love of nerd tradition, one of many linchpins of No More Heroes’ type, resonates in a different way in 2021. When the unique recreation was launched in 2008, the concept of a trendy motion recreation wherein you performed as an unrepentant otaku like Travis nonetheless felt novel. His cramped motel room house stuffed with posters, luchador masks, and anime statues stood in distinction to the puckish affectations of quite a few different “everyman” murderers like Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. Having an interlude wherein you performed a shoot-’em-up recreation primarily based on a fictional magical lady anime was a real shock. It was a recreation about how cool it was to be a nerd that hit proper earlier than the primary MCU film, Iron Man, got here out. Nerddom wasn’t marginal, however it was going to take slightly longer for it to be really mainstream.

Travis in his apartment in No More Heroes 3

Image: Grasshopper Manufacture through Polygon

Nowadays, Doja Cat is a gaming ambassador for her followers. Henry Cavill builds his own PCs and isn’t shy about it. You don’t should be sly about how much of a nerd you might be. The sorts of references No More Heroes makes are downright refined in a world the place Superman is throwing down with Master Chief in Fortnite, RoboCop is firing rockets on the Terminator in Mortal Kombat 11, and Ready Player One exists. So when an enemy in No More Heroes 3 hatches from the identical eggs that birthed Alien’s Xenomorphs, or information character Sylvia Christel reveals up as a Captain Marvel or Bond Girl knockoff for no explicable motive, the novelty barely registers.

No More Heroes 3 works finest when it’s delving deep into its personal explicit rabbit holes. When Travis and Bishop geek out about their shared pursuits, for instance, it performs out like a chat present; you watch them chat by an old-school TV, with Akira Toriyama-esque caricatures popping up because the dials flip. They wax at size in regards to the genius of Takashi Miike, name-dropping Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins, and Visitor Q. They speak about tokusatsu sequence; they casually deliver up Armored Trooper Votoms. These sections illustrate the eagerness that comes from loving a chunk of artwork, and you’ll inform these references are there not due to some company tie-in, however as a result of the folks making this recreation actually love these things and need to share it with the world.

The references don’t at all times land, although, and since the sport is throwing them out so steadily, No More Heroes 3 is usually solely nearly as good because the final intelligent trick it’s pulled off. At its worst, it can seem to be a condemnation of the very sort of otaku tradition it’s attempting to rejoice, as if developer Grasshopper Manufacture caught me making a popular culture reference and compelled me to smoke an entire pack of them. At occasions, the deluge of references will get so frequent as to develop into meaningless, particularly when in comparison with the sport’s extra elaborate nods.

A robot enemy gestures to the camera in No More Heroes 3

Image: Grasshopper Manufacture through Polygon

When its novelty and elegance put on off, No More Heroes 3 doesn’t have much to fall again on. Because the sport is so obsessive about exhibiting you the way different issues are cool, there’s nothing to carry onto when the time comes for its finale to money in on the story that it was too distracted to actually inform with its personal characters and world. Characters from earlier video games are joined by brand-new ones who present up out of nowhere, solely to be tossed apart and forgotten moments later. The ending falls utterly flat as a result of, in its haste to get you to recollect how much you like a bunch of different films, music, reveals, and video games, the sport forgets to let you know to care about itself.

But you don’t play a No More Heroes recreation for its story. You play it for its type, and No More Heroes 3 has type in spades. The smartest thing I can say about No More Heroes 3 is that its fight and open-world design keep out of the best way, letting its type take heart stage, often facilitating some really nice one-off moments. Its clashing kinds, methods, and references are a testomony to the highly effective draw of the superficial — but by some means, it manages to be earnest about its love for popular culture and artwork in a means that also feels particular, even amid our present metaverse hellscape. I do know it labored as a result of I’ve began trying into Takashi Miike movies. They sound fairly cool.

No More Heroes 3 launches Aug. 27 on Nintendo Switch. The recreation was reviewed utilizing a pre-release obtain code offered by Grasshopper Manufacture. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.