Killer Is Dead Review: What the #$%@ Did I Just Play?!

Killer Is Dead Review: What the #$%@ Did I Just Play?!There are certain concrete truths in the whole of video gaming: Bowser will always kidnap Princess Peach, and Mario will always go after her; Master Chief can always be awakened when the stinky stuff hits the fan to fight the good fight; and any game created by Suda51 is bound to be an insane collection of ideas, a train wreck amalgam of different genres, and characters that push the boundaries of good taste, common sense, and button-mashing combat that is either too hard or too easy.

Killer Is Dead definitely holds true to the latter. Goichi Suda, or Suda51 as he’s known in gaming circles, has made a career out of stylish, twisted games involving assassins. Starting with Killer 7 on the Nintendo GameCube and then expanding those ideas with No More Heroes on the Wii, and its sequel, Suda51’s fascination with killers-for-hire and their motives is clearly evident.

And his games are never straightforward affairs. It’s not just about a hired killer doing a job. In Killer 7, the protagonist had seven different personalities, each stranger than the last. In No More Heroes, the lead carried an energy sword (Beam Katana) that he won on Ebay and then uses it to climb the ranks of assassins by hunting and killing the top ten killers in the world.

Killer Is Dead Review: What the #$%@ Did I Just Play?!

In Killer Is Dead, the protagonist is Mondo Zappa, a James Bond-like character who kills for an organization that is subsidized by “the state” (our tax dollars at work). Mondo answers to his boss, a large black man named Bryan, who has cybernetic appendages and who constantly chomps cigars. Mondo also has an assistant, Mika, who is the very epitome of every young Japanese schoolgirl/teenage girl character ever created. She speaks in annoying octaves and on the surface seems to be more of a nuisance than a helpful member of the team. Mondo is new to the job and is out to prove himself. He also wants to sleep with every woman he meets.

The game is presented in episodes, and there are story episodes and side quests, which involve Mondo trying to get laid. Yeah, you read that right. These side quests are virtual mini-games where our hero tries to woo women into bed. You use your assassin’s earnings to buy gifts to try and sway the women (the better and bigger the gift, the better the chance to score), and the in-game controls execute the flirting. It’s a nice break from the third-person hack and slash that makes up the rest of Killer Is Dead, even if it does border on bad taste.

Combat starts off with the mashing of one button, and as the story unfolds, more buttons and button combinations are added until Mondo becomes a katana wielding badass of the highest order. The problem is that the combos are quickly forgotten once they are revealed (usually in a pop up box on the screen) and then a certain move is needed to, say, kill a boss, and the whole thing becomes an episode of pure frustration. After the first few big boss battles, the combat controls do begin to settle down, but that initial learning curve is a bitch. This is a constant problem with Suda51’s games. Combat is either too easy, or way too complicated. I’m sure one day he will get it right, but until then, prepare for some frustration.

Killer Is Dead Review: What the #$%@ Did I Just Play?!

Mondo also has use of a ranged weapon in the guise of his own cybernetic arm. As he kills baddies, here known as “wires,” he collects blood. Blood fuels everything from insane combat moves, to the ammunition of his arm cannon. There is also plenty of customizing options that can be purchased for better moves, weapons, and life/strength enhancements.

Graphically, Killer Is Dead follows the cell-shaded styling of Suda51’s previous games, and it works here splendidly. This game is over-the-top violent with tons of blood and gore, and the use of black against stark color contrasts, and the weird buggy eyes of the characters help to remind the player that this is a game, even as you are chasing a target on the surface of the moon, or battling a large boss monstrosity whose carapace is made up of the spread legs of a young girl. Again, not kidding.

And this is where Killer Is Dead goes off the charts. The story is so far out there that I’m not even sure what is going on anymore. The first episode, which was undoubtedly designed to be a tutorial, though only three things happen (walk forward and then hit a shoulder button twice), for which you are graded and scored at the end, was hard to follow and not the best set up.

Killer Is Dead Review: What the #$%@ Did I Just Play?!

By the third episode, in which Mondo’s mission has him hunting Alice in Wonderland (seriously), I had completely given up on trying to follow what was happening story-wise and was just enjoying the quirky, off the wall presentation, spotty voice acting, and cliche-riddled writing. And fans of classic Noir stories may find even more to enjoy, even if the characters can vacation on the moon and all have some kind of cybernetic parts fused to their bodies.

Killer Is Dead is not a game for everyone. It is so far out there that it can literally turn people off. It’s not a bad game, mind you; it’s just aimed at a specific group of gamers. Veterans of Killer 7 and No More Heroes will find comfort here as Suda51’s fingerprints are all over this game. From the great music and stylish graphics to the head-scratching, nonsensical story, and over the top violence this is definitely a Grasshopper Manufacture game and fits perfectly with the other two franchises to create a subgenre all its own. And maybe that was Suda51’s plan all along.

Killer Is Dead was reviewed on PlayStation 3 via a code provided by XSEED Games for this review. It was released on August 27, 2013 and is also available for Xbox 360.

Killer Is Dead Review: What the #$%@ Did I Just Play?!

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