Ranking the Boss Fights in No More Heroes III
There were numerous aspects of the original No More Heroes that made it special, and most would agree that the most significant of these were the boss fights. An incredible amount of work went into making each boss encounter feel memorable, impactful, and mechanically engaging, to the point where even today, few games have managed to top No More Heroes’ boss lineup in these regards. The same can be said of the game’s sequels, although not for lack of trying. In particular, No More Heroes 3, the latest game in the series, boasts a remarkably consistent set of boss encounters that occasionally rivals even the best of what the first game had to offer. This consistency makes the task of ranking all of No More Heroes 3’s boss fights something of a tall order, but this list nonetheless attempts to do exactly this. Every assassin is worth highlighting, but only one can come out on top.
11. Destroyman: True Face
Many fans of the first No More Heroes often consider Destroyman to be among that game’s most memorable assassins, and for good reason. The inventive cinematography during his introductory cutscene perfectly conveyed his sleazy, unhinged lunacy, and his goofy, over-the-top mannerisms both distinguished him from the rest of the cast and made him ridiculously entertaining to watch. His positive reception naturally led to him reappearing in every numbered installment since then, but his later appearances have never managed to leave anywhere near as much of an impact. This is especially true in his No More Heroes 3 incarnation, even though the concept of an army of mass-produced Destroymen is admittedly a fun idea. Fighting his clones is at least amusing thanks to their slapstick antics, but the encounter with Destroyman proper feels disappointingly formulaic. His dialogue is not written as sharply as it once was, and his boss fight does not differ much from his prior ones, at least conceptually.
None of this is to say that the actual quality of his boss battle is low. On the contrary, there is a decent case to be made that, on a purely mechanical level, this is the best Destroyman fight the series has had. At the very least, he presents more of a challenge than his fight in the first No More Heroes ever did. But whereas the original encounter was both hilarious and unsettling in equal measure, this new fight does not manage to evoke any kind of strong emotion within the player, which is a massive shame.
10. Henry Cooldown
Some may understandably question why Henry is placed this low on the list. After all, his fight, at least mechanically, is one of the absolute best in the game, as he boasts a challenging moveset with incredible speed and power that still manages to feel fair and learnable. Needless to say, managing to consistently perfect-dodge his attacks and take full advantage of his vulnerability periods is immensely rewarding. And while his sudden change in character compared to previous entries is certainly jarring, it at least sets up a fun mystery for players to speculate over long after the game ends. Additionally, the ending of the fight directly leads into one of the most insane and bizarre sequences in the game, which helps the encounter stand out more.
Despite all of these strengths, however, the Henry fight ultimately suffers from the same problem as the Destroyman one in that it feels like a lesser version of an impactful moment from the first game. The final fight with Henry at the end of the first No More Heroes is one of the most electrifying moments of the whole series. Its fast, frenetic pace was perfectly punctuated by the insanely climactic soundtrack, and it beautifully tied up that game’s themes. No More Heroes 3’s Henry fight certainly tries to live up to the original, at least partially—it even takes place outside Travis’s motel much like before—but it feels weirdly lacking in energy, which is not helped by the strangely subdued soundtrack. It goes in a different direction from the original fight, but not enough to where it truly stands out on its own. As a result, the Henry encounter ultimately comes off as somewhat hollow despite its solid mechanics.
The true final boss of No More Heroes 3, Damon works exceptionally well from a thematic standpoint. The previous game in the series, Travis Strikes Again, serves as an allegory of director Goichi Suda’s career in the games industry, specifically when it came to the creative struggles he endured when working on projects after the first No More Heroes. Damon, who was introduced in Travis Strikes Again, immediately brings to mind the kinds of corrupt corporate CEOs that likely stood in the way of Suda’s creative endeavors in the past. Since both Travis Strikes Again and No More Heroes 3 mark Suda’s grand return to the director’s seat, having Damon be the final boss of the latter essentially serves as a victory lap of sorts, a giant “fuck you” to the corporate bigwigs that have wronged Suda as well as so many other developers.
This alone elevates the Damon fight quite a bit, but most players will appreciate it mainly for being an obvious homage to Super Smash Bros. This is already amusing by itself, but it becomes about ten times funnier when realizing that Suda has gone on record saying he wants Travis to join Super Smash Bros. This section is basically Suda saying “if Nintendo is not going to put Travis in Smash Bros., then I will do it myself.”
All of this being said, the actual mechanics of the Damon fight are incredibly straightforward. He only has a handful of attacks that he can dish out at any given time, and all of them can be simply blocked rather than dodged. It is a perfectly fine encounter on its own, but it simply does not compare to the complexity of fights found even early on in the game. Damon mostly relies on the novelty of his Smash Bros. homage and his thematic relevance to make an impact, so while he serves as a fun climax, he does not take advantage of the game’s combat system as much as he could have.
8. Midori Midorikawa
For diehard fans of Suda’s work, the addition of Midori Midorikawa came as a pleasant surprise. She was first introduced in Red, Blue and Green, a rather obscure collection of short stories that built upon the narrative of The 25th Ward: The Silver Case. This already makes her inclusion quite novel, but her entire encounter is chock full of references to Suda’s past work. The school that Travis explores before the fight begins specifically references Moonlight Syndrome, and the end of the fight reveals that Kamui, a major character from The Silver Case, is her boyfriend. Of course, these callbacks will inevitably leave newcomers feeling left in the dark, but they are fun to see regardless, and they serve as neat little rewards for players who have been following Suda’s career for years now.
The first-person horror segment in the school is definitely the standout moment of Midori’s encounter. It is an unexpected and jarring shift in gameplay, but that is exactly what makes it memorable. Slowly trudging through hallways and classrooms while witnessing mannequin-like alien bodies in various configurations is unnerving in all the right ways, and the section mercifully avoids cheap jump scares in favor of raw atmosphere.
If anything, the horror segment is so good that it makes the actual fight with Midori seem relatively tame by comparison. Functionally, it is about as well-designed as the rest of the game’s boss battles, and it features a neat mechanic in which Midori’s wind-based attacks become more powerful when they pass over the trails of fire that she leaves around. But she ultimately lacks the complexity found in the game’s other fights. The main reason for this is that Travis stays in his Full Green mech armor for the whole encounter, and this transformation disables his Death Glove skills as well as the perfect-dodge mechanic. This means that there are not many ways in which players can experiment with Midori, and to make matters worse, her fight on the normal difficulty settings ends a little too quickly. Thankfully, higher difficulties make the fight both longer and more enjoyable, but they do not fix the encounter’s relative lack of interactivity.
7. Mr. Blackhole
The first boss of No More Heroes 3, Mr. Blackhole evidently has a more straightforward moveset than many of the other bosses. Several of his moves have a wide area of effect and cannot be perfect-dodged, so his fight is less about quick reflexes and more about careful positioning. But despite its relative mechanical simplicity, Mr. Blackhole’s fight leaves a fairly strong impression, especially since players do not get to fight many enemies before encountering him. With such little time to grow accustomed to the combat, Mr. Blackhole can easily throw players off guard with some of his more extravagant, high-damaging attacks. He is also an interesting character in that he seems to be fully on board with FU’s plan to take over Earth at first, but it turns out he is afraid that FU will kill him if he disobeys. This revelation is minor, but it gives the fight a bit more weight than it would have otherwise.
What makes him stand out even compared to later encounters in the game is that he is the only boss with three separate segments dedicated to him. At first, players fight him as they normally would, but soon afterward, they are dumped into a unique section where they must enter the correct black hole lest they receive damage. After this short diversion, players take on Mr. Blackhole one last time in a 3D space shooter segment vaguely reminiscent of games like Zone of the Enders. None of the segments on their own are particularly ground-breaking, but together they make for a climactic opening to the game that is both memorable and surprising.
6. Velvet Chair Girl
It is safe to say that, out of all of the boss encounters in No More Heroes 3, Velvet Chair Girl is easily the most unique. Not only does her introductory cutscene boast a distinct, manic art style done by the artists behind the Pop Team Epic webcomic, but the battle itself completely ditches the standard hack-and-slash gameplay in favor of a quirky rhythm minigame. In this fight, Travis must compete against Velvet Chair Girl and a handful of goons in a deadly game of musical chairs, which sees players timing button presses to the beat of an irresistibly charming rap track. Once the music stops, players have to make a mad dash toward one of the chairs in the center of the area, lest they get instantly killed by the pink flying octopus Ohma’s gastro cannon.
As one might expect, this fight does not exactly serve as an intricate mechanical test of players’ skills. Thanks to the generous timing windows and the overall lack of punishment for missed button inputs, it is unlikely that players will find themselves struggling with this section. But it is hard not to crack a smile at the sheer irreverence of it all. Even for a game that regularly throws curveballs at the player, this section is remarkably out-of-left-field, and the image of Travis standing in a goofy pose while donning his usual serious facial expression is too funny to pass up. Even more so than the unique Speed Buster encounter from the original game, the Velvet Chair Girl “fight” adds more character to the game precisely because of its radical departure from the standard gameplay loop.
Of course, the musical chairs segment is not all there is to the boss encounter, as players have to contend with an oversized Ohma shortly afterward. Aside from the slight tension this fight instills due to Ohma’s instant-kill laser beams, the encounter is deliberately simplistic, as Ohma has a small amount of health and an even smaller pool of attacks. This does not hurt the overall encounter as one might expect, however, as Ohma is clearly meant to be something of a palette cleanser after the sheer absurdity of the musical chairs segment.
5. Kimmy Love
It is a fairly uncontroversial opinion amongst diehard fans of the No More Heroes series that the boss lineup of No More Heroes 2 is fairly forgettable compared to that of the first game. Having said that, Kimmy Howell, the high school student with a double-sided lightsaber and a bizarre obsession with Travis, stood out as one of the more memorable bosses from that game, if only because she had more screen time and development than the others. It seems that the No More Heroes 3 team agreed with this sentiment, as she is the only boss from the second game to return and fight Travis in this new installment.
Out of all the returning bosses, Kimmy is easily the best handled. Whereas the fights against Destroyman and Henry feel like they are trying to recapture their original encounters on at least some level, the new Kimmy fight is a radically different experience that manages to completely supplant her prior battle. This can largely be attributed to her new pop idol aesthetic, which lends the fight a degree of energy that the original encounter simply does not have. But the fight itself also benefits from a stronger, more challenging moveset as well as a notable gimmick in the form of stage hazards. At any given point during the encounter, players may have to deal with lasers shot from giant stuffed animals, streams of fire coming from the ground, or even a camera drone that completely shifts the perspective.
These stage hazards add an extra layer of multitasking that makes the fight surprisingly challenging to perform well on. While it can feel frustrating in the moment to have Travis’s combos interrupted by one of these hazards, it ultimately still feels fair, as players are not punished for briefly retreating from Kimmy to catch their breath. The camera change during the third phase can even be countered by having Travis attack the camera itself when it gets close to the ground. Doing so will destroy the drone and revert the camera back to normal for a short time. This hidden strategy is deviously clever, and it plays with the perspective in a way that few other games do. This alone makes the Kimmy encounter a highlight, but it certainly helps that the rest of the fight is as well-executed as it is.
4. Gold Joe
The second boss encountered in No More Heroes 3, Gold Joe leaves an incredibly strong impression almost entirely due to his boss fight mechanics. That is not to say that Gold Joe is a flat or uninteresting character, though. His flamboyant personality makes him entertaining to watch in just about every scene he is in, and his pre-battle and post-battle cutscenes feature some fun interactions between him and Travis. But it is in his boss fight where Gold Joe truly shines. His magnetism gimmick is one of the most clever boss mechanics in the whole game, and while it can be tricky to understand at first, switching polarities at the right time to send Gold Joe straight into the electric fence never stops being fun.
Additionally, despite being encountered so early on, Gold Joe poses a surprisingly stiff challenge for newer players. The fight really demands players to quickly learn the magnetism mechanic and pay close attention to his attacks, as mistakes are punished quite heavily. But not once does the fight feel unfair, and with a solid grasp of the mechanics as well as clever use of Death Glove skills, players can absolutely bully him, especially if they rematch him with all of the Death Glove skills available. The fight really starts to feel like a playground for player expression once mastered, and reaching that point is immensely satisfying.
The central antagonist for the vast majority of the game, Jess Baptiste VI, or FU, has so much going for him right from the outset. The first few cutscenes that feature him do a fantastic job at establishing him as an eccentric, unhinged threat to humanity, and the game does a lot to build up to the inevitable showdown between him and Travis. His cocky, narcissistic attitude as well as his killing of both Badman and Sonic Juice make him easy to hate, and by the time players finally reach Damon Tower, they will likely feel eager to finally take him out for good. And thankfully, the fight that follows more than delivers on the catharsis factor.
At first, the fight against FU seems overwhelming and even a little bit restrictive. Not only does he have a large pool of extravagant, devastating attacks, but he also has a protective shield that almost always stays active while he is on the offensive. This barrier, for the most part, only deactivates for an extremely brief period of time after he finishes certain attacks. This opening is already difficult to take advantage of, but even if players manage to successfully attack him, they have to make sure not to extend their combo for too long. If they do, then FU’s shield will immediately reactivate, which can set them up for a devastating counterattack.
The fight’s quirks can easily lead to frustration, but as players experiment, they will likely discover several extra opportunities for damage that do not seem obvious at first. For instance, in contrast to every other boss in the game, every successful use of the Death Kick, Death Slow, and Death Rain skills will immediately stun FU, which can be used to set up extensive combos and damaging wrestling moves. Additionally, several of FU’s more flashy attacks can be countered using specific Death Glove skills. His energy waves can be interrupted with a Death Kick, he can be knocked out of his spiked hair attack with a well-placed Death Rain, and his massive energy orbs can be sent back at him with Death Force. When players learn to consistently take advantage of these attack opportunities and optimize their damage output, the fight has a flow and rhythm that is immensely rewarding to maintain.
The fight is so good that it is easy to forget that FU actually has a second form. This form is much simpler than the first one, as all players need to do is perfect dodge the hands and feet that come out of the walls and wail on them as much as possible. Some may understandably feel disappointed by this section, but it serves as a nice bit of spectacle after the raw mechanical challenge of the first form. Seeing all of the characters that Travis has connected with throughout his adventure team up against FU’s grotesque new form is incredibly satisfying, as is the finishing blow where Travis socks him straight across the face. In short, FU more than lives up to the hype, which is fortunate considering how much work the developers put into the character.
2. Sonic Juice
Even in a game chock full of interesting, striking alien designs, Sonic Juice stands out. The character himself may essentially just be a funny-looking elf dude in a leotard, but he spends most of the game controlling a humanoid avatar made of water that is brilliantly minimalistic in appearance. The avatar’s elongated body, oval-shaped head, and massive slanted eyes all make for a wonderfully strange design that feels truly alien.
But Sonic Juice is not just fun to look at, as out of all of FU’s alien lackeys, he is easily the most interesting character. Despite being described as FU’s right-hand man, Sonic Juice is vocally opposed to his leader’s invasion plan, as he sees good within the human race. But much like with Blackhole, Sonic Juice feels like he is forced to fight Travis out of fear of retribution from FU. This fear ends up getting tragically confirmed when FU kills Sonic Juice at the end of his boss fight. What is arguably even more interesting is that he has a surprising amount in common with Travis, as they both share a love for gaming. This leads to what is easily one of the funniest exchanges in the game, with both characters conflicting over which genre is fairer and even dissing the character designs of an unknown gaming franchise (context clues suggest they are talking about Final Fantasy here).
Sonic Juice’s love of RPGs specifically is communicated in the first phase of his battle, which takes the form of a turn-based parody of the genre. The Final Fantasy-inspired music, the text that displays when the player selects certain commands, and Sonic Juice’s dramatic exclamations all make this section incredibly amusing, but what makes it even better is how players go about completing it. If players try to attack Sonic Juice head-on, then the section will last an extremely long amount of time, even if they select the command that powers up Travis’s lightsaber. But if players explore their options a little, then they will likely discover that they can attack the command window instead of Sonic Juice, which will end the segment much faster. It is a clever moment that plays around with the structure of classic JRPG battles to communicate Travis’s distaste for the genre, which makes the segment feel like more than a simple parody.
The more traditional, action-oriented fight that follows is about as exhilarating and engaging as one would hope. Being one of the larger bosses in the game, Sonic Juice dishes out attacks that are slow on startup but cover an extremely wide area. This means that, much like with Mr. Blackhole, Sonic Juice’s fight sees players focusing more on positioning rather than reacting quickly to attacks. But the Sonic Juice encounter tests this skill much more effectively than Blackhole, as nearly all of his attacks require different strategies to avoid, such as carefully moving in a circle or running to the very edges of the area.
The developers really went all out in making the Sonic Juice encounter as memorable as possible. His backstory and personality, the trippy aesthetics of his arena, the ways in which he plays with gaming conventions, the mechanics of the fight itself, all of it has been executed on a level rivaling that of original No More Heroes’ best encounters. And yet despite having so much going for him, one boss manages to barely surpass him.
1. Native Dancer
To some, Native Dancer may seem like a strange choice as the best boss in No More Heroes 3. After all, he is fought relatively early on in the game, does not have much relevance to the overall plot, and is less challenging than many of the fights that happen later on. But not only is the experience of fighting him downright electrifying, but in many ways, he arguably best represents the spirit of No More Heroes 3 as a whole.
In general, the game has a very devil-may-care attitude when it comes to both story and gameplay. Twists and turns occur a mile a minute, one-off gameplay scenarios are frequently thrown at the player, and about half of the villains established at the start of the game get unceremoniously killed off. In particular, that last point is important for why Native Dancer leaves such a lasting impression, as his fight marks the first major “boss switcheroo” in the story. Players are meant to encounter Black Night Direction at this point, but Native Dancer kills him before he can utter a single word at Travis. This kind of twist has happened in the series before, but never this early on. It suggests that whatever expectations players had with the story up until now can safely be thrown in the trash.
Later on, the bosses that get killed off early are replaced largely with returning faces from previous games, but Native Dancer sticks out due to being a completely original character. The visual of a futuristic ninja with a zig-zagged headscarf is appealing enough on its own, but what makes him even better is how the game establishes his personality. The very end of the game reveals that he is Travis’s grandson from the future, an endearingly outlandish twist that is pretty easy to figure out since he repeatedly refers to Travis as “Grandpa.” But his relationship with Travis is further established by the subtle mannerisms they both share. Even though Native Dancer is considerably more reserved and serious than Travis is, he still belts out words like “sweet” mid-battle and curses like a sailor much like his grandfather. These traits are a fun way to lend some legitimacy to the relationship without beating players over the head with them.
But of course, the gameplay of the Native Dancer encounter is what truly makes it shine. Before the actual fight begins, though, the game pulls another one of its many gameplay switch-ups, although this one is nowhere near as drastic as some of the later ones. During this section, Native Dancer hides in the streets of Neo Osaka, and players have to wander around looking for him. Once they find him, he gives Travis a new Death Glove skill and summons a clone for him to practice on. Not only does this moment further allude to Native Dancer’s relation to Travis, but it also serves as a fun, cerebral bit of gameplay that allows players to gather their bearings after the unexpected bait-and-switch. This section is not exactly challenging, nor is it meant to be. It simply adds a bit of flavor to the encounter that makes it feel like more than just a run-of-the-mill boss battle.
Once Travis and Native Dancer finally clash for real, the intensity skyrockets. The relatively calm music track that played in the previous section gets replaced by a more pulse-pounding version of it. Native Dancer himself moves briskly across the area while relentlessly coming at Travis with quick, damaging strikes. He continuously jumps off the nearby tower and throws electric shurikens to throw Travis off, and later on, he starts cloning himself in an effort to further overwhelm his grandfather. Once players get into a rhythm of perfect-dodging Native Dancer’s attacks, taking advantage of his openings, and managing his clones, the fight feels exceptionally exhilarating. Native Dancer’s subversion of expectations, characterful prelude section, and fast-paced boss fight all come together to create one of No More Heroes 3’s most impactful moments. Whether or not this game’s boss lineup beats that of the original No More Heroes is still up for debate, but when fights like Native Dancer are this well-executed, it is easy to forget about that discussion.