Suda51 is a weird game developer. That is a broad statement, but anyone who has ever played one of his titles knows there is rarely anything else like it. While I have found myself on both ends of the spectrum on whether I enjoy his work (Lollipop Chainsaw, Shadows of the Damned), or downright loathed it (Killer7, No More Heroes), it has always been a unique experience. Killer is Dead is just that; something I stepped away from more than once proclaiming, “Well, that was weird”. Still, I couldn’t help but keep going back for the gorgeous art style and to see just how weird this experience would get.
Killer is Dead drops players into the shoes of Mondo Zappa (awesome name) who is an assassin for hire. He spends the entire game hunting down ridiculous targets all while stopping to take time and ogle the ladies for upgrades. His trademark glasses and skinny physique may not make him look like the typical, large-jawed killer, but he definitely gets the job done in style. Each of the 12 missions has Mondo taking on some insane characters, and reminded me of classic anime titles like Ninja Scroll with their eccentric styles.
As a game, Killer is Dead is a familiar hack and slash title that focuses on sword combat, with a mechanical arm that obtains upgrades throughout. The arm is the diverse part of the experience doubling as a drill, a gun and just about everything else I could imagine. The focus was clearly on the sword combat though, and slicing through enemies felt OK, though tighter controls would have definitely been appreciated.
The biggest problem is the combat falls victim to its lack of depth. Mashing away on buttons on easy would get me through, but normal and above only required one other tactic, dodging. Early on, I learned a sidestep maneuver that, if timed correctly, would allow me to lay waste on opponents by mashing the attack button. I spammed this attack. It was the best way to get through some of the more frustrating bosses, and it rarely failed me.
In addition to the main missions are some challenge levels and the much talked about Gigolo missions. These are…uncomfortable to say the least. Played off as a type of suave way to woo ladies, they come across more as digital uncomfortability. I squirmed in my chair when these came up if my wife was in the room, they are simply creepy. They consist of me attempting to stare at a female character’s “sexy” parts when she is not looking. Fill up a “Guts” meter and then offer them a present.
If I managed to fill all the hearts, I “won” and then sex was insinuated. There are no racy cut scenes or steamy moments, just a whole lot of awkwardness. Normally I wouldn’t mention these or even care they existed, but if I wanted some of the best upgrades for my bio-arm, I had to complete them, and complete them with high rank. It is not the strongest aspect of the experience by far.
One area I adored though was the visuals. The comic-book inspired feel really stood out to me. Scenes were more interesting to watch, even if they made little sense. The levels are also out of some twisted nightmare. Unicorns, staircases on walls and half-naked bodybuilders are scattered throughout the levels, and only seem to fit because of just how weird everything else is. There is even a level on the dark side of the moon.
The music feels a bit forced in some areas, while brilliant in others. Some of the jazzy pop tunes really stuck out and made it feel like a Suda51 joint. The voice work ranges from decent to awful. My sidekick/assistant is one of the most annoying characters I have come across in a good long while. Her adolescent-sounding tone and overreacting to every minor detail wore thin less than halfway through the already brief adventure.
Killer is Dead is a Suda51 game. If that makes you smile, there is probably something here you will enjoy. If not, then its mediocre combat and weird direction are not going to carry you through the whole experience. Still there is always something to be said about games that dare to challenge the norm. This is unlike almost anything else I have played this year, and I certainly won’t forget it anytime soon. I just wish his experiences carried a little more polish from time to time.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.