Over the course of the past few days, I have explored a mansion on the moon, battled a tiger tattoo sprouting from a man’s back, seduced a vampire, rode a talking unicorn and pulverized giant insects in a house made out of candy. It’s been an insane ride; one only possible in a game like (Goichi) Suda 51’s latest offering, Killer is Dead.
There are few game directors who leave their mark on a project quite like Suda 51--best known for games like Killer 7, Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw-- and his presence is positively dripping off of Killer is Dead. From the stilted dialogue and overly cheesy voice acting to a distinct noir edge, silky sax playing in the background and a story that’s just barely comprehensible, Killer is Dead bears all of the traditional Suda trademarks. And like many of his previous games, all of those elements snap together Voltron-style to create a machine of unbridled awesomeness.
In Killer is Dead, you take on the role of Mondo Zappa, the latest operative to join the Executioner Office, an organization dedicated to assassinating the most evil baddies the world (and its moon) have to offer. At your disposal are a katana and a biomechanical arm called Musselback, a nifty enhancement that can take on four sub-weapon functions to help you off enemies, solve puzzles and discover hidden areas.
Sort of a mix between The X-Files and No More Heroes (another Suda 51 joint), Killer is Dead plays out like a television series featuring 12 main episodes, complete with cold openings and intro credits. Your missions and the characters that drive them are bizarre (to say the least), leaving Mondo to seek out each monster of the week while killing pretty much anything that stands in his way.
The hordes of enemies you’ll be facing are varied, each offering their own strengths, weaknesses, attack patterns, etc. Like most action games, it’s entirely possible to muscle your way through most of the game’s combat by simply mashing on the basic attack button. But where’s the fun in that? Between the katana, sub-weapons and unlockable additional maneuvers, Killer is Dead’s deceptively simple combat engine boasts a decent amount of depth for those who are willing to dig down. The more style you put into you kills, the more gems will pop out of the enemies as a reward, replenishing your life, energy and upgrade abilities. The first time I managed to fend off four goons simultaneously and finish them off with back to back executions was an absolute thrill. By the time I performed a similar feat for the 20th time, it still felt amazing.
As I said, everything about Killer is Dead is reminiscent of previous Suda games, including the highly stylized graphics that look like they were pulled straight out of a comic book. No two areas look the same and all are a veritable feast for the eyes. And those executions I was just talking about? Land one and the visuals will shift to black and white, accented only by the geysers of red that pour out of your enemy. If your eyes need a sugar rush, Killer is Dead can provide it.
And then there are the boss fights, the over-the-top battles that serve as the game’s crowning achievement. Well-constructed and lovely to look at, each of Killer is Dead’s title cards is unique and, most importantly, a hell of a lot of fun to play.
Completing a main mission usually unlocks a side mission or three, serving as a nice way to break up the strictly stabby-stabby nature of the main campaign. You’ll man a turret in one side mission and defend a group of torches or cruise around on a motorcycle in another. They’re a nice distraction, but not necessary to completing the game. Still, you’ll want to tackle most of these as they’re decently fun, offer more delicious gems and, without them, Killer is Dead would run a bit on the short side.
Finally, I have to mention the Gigolo missions. Or, as I like to call them, the “I hope my girlfriend doesn’t walk in and wonder what the hell I’m doing” missions. When Mondo isn’t murdering monstrosities, he’s something of a playboy on the side. Money earned in regular missions can be spent on presents, which are necessary to pull off a successful Gigolo mission. You and a lovely lady are sitting side by side and the object of the mission is to ogle her body without getting caught.
Look her in the eyes when the beauty is looking at you to earn some points. When she looks away, score even more points by staring at the rest of her body. There’s even a pair of glasses that lets you view her underwear and, every time you score a high number of points, you’re rewarded with a moan of ecstasy. Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of these missions or their objectives but, thankfully, you only need to complete three of them to unlock the Musselback sub-weapons. You’re able to keep earning stat boosts with additional successes if you like, but it’s not required. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s just something about staring at a woman’s panties and then presenting her with extravagant gifts to coax her into bed that doesn’t sit well with me. The Gigolo missions are certainly a strange inclusion but, in a game like Killer is Dead, "strange" means it also feels right at home.
Gripes about Gigolo missions aside, the meat of Killer is Dead lies in the constant reward loop of skillfully offing hordes of baddies in order to receive a fountain of gems, and that seldom fails to satisfy. Earning new abilities and facing the occasional new enemy type keeps things from getting too repetitive while the fantastic boss fights add a cherry to the top of this street-rat-crazy sundae. If you’re itching for a fun action game that resides to the far left of what’s typically expected out of the genre, Killer is Dead provides a thorough scratching.
This review was based on a free copy of Killer is Dead provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: XSEED Games
Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.
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