Killer is Dead is the latest crazy concoction brought together by the legendary Suda51 and his team over at Grasshopper Manufacture. Playing as a one armed assassin you’ll venture on various locations relative to the moon slaughtering demonic enemies and seducing the slim cast of female characters one by one on the way. It’s not quite as sublime as previous Suda51 releases and often feels to be grasping at its own insanity and insecurities to remain interesting, instead coming across as a little desperate and a proof of concept that was ultimately under developed.
The combat is tight and demonstrates many of the lessons learnt to this point by Grasshopper Manufacture. Mostly an all offensive affair, you’re pushed to counter attack with well-timed blocks and stringing along lengthy combos, instead of playing a defensive and retreating from enemies. With each enemy you vanquish you’re rewarded with experience via skill points you can use to unlock new abilities, increasing your total health or increasing your total blood capacity.
Your blood meter is the most interesting of the available upgrade mechanics as it allows you to perform sudden instant kill manoeuvres and use your long ranged weapon. Even final blows to kill bosses and generally larger opponents require a certain amount of blood to perform at all, although filling up your gauge is as simple as spilling the blood of your enemy over a few slices. Executing these blood kills feels fluid and extremely stylised, as the screen fades to black and white whilst time appears to halt followed by a quick slice and sea of blood filling the screen.
Whilst common enemy types become quickly repetitive there are a good handful of boss encounters littered throughout the campaign that are grand, varied and keep you on your toes. They’ll require you to avoid new attack types, which vary as the fights progress, and range from fighting near-naked men in what can only be describe as a golden metal body thong to a literal train… an actual train.
The art style on the most part is fantastic, with a unique cel-shaded style that is mostly reminiscent to Suda51’s own No More Heroes and Killer7. Whilst not the most technical capable, with a low polygon count and quite heavy asset reuse, it’s refreshing to have such a unique style and fittingly dark tone to the graphics that suit the music arrangement well, with a mix of jazz and rock music composed by Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame.
Familiar to past Grasshopper Manufacture creations, Killer is Dead feels like a haphazard mash up of ideas and concepts that have been never quite fleshed out to fruition. More of a prototype than a fully-fledged retail offering, there’s a wealth of dissatisfaction to be found. Be it the extremely confused and dull story, the shallow and under developed cast, the plethora of repetitive and unrewarding mini-games or the downright odd gigolo side missions.
The story follows that of Mondo Zappa, a stick figure of sexual masculinity. With samurai sword in one hand and mechanical gun-arm-thing on the other you’re a contract assassin killing targets for the greater good and a heavy paycheque. When not wading your way through waves of the same enemy type finding your way to (admittedly engaging and varied) boss fights, you’re trying to hit on the clientele and sleep with women in order to unlock new mechanical gun-arm-thing weaponry in odd ‘Gigolo Mode’ mini-games.
The aim of the mini-games is simple enough, stare at a females sexual body parts for as long as possible without detection, then shower them with gifts in order to get them into bed… it’s mind boggling and moronic, with absolutely no context and sensibility with how such actions acquire new weapons. But ultimately that’s the point with a Suda51 game, to dare to do different and often extraordinarily strange. Heck there’s even a pair of Gigolo Glasses you can acquire that’ll strip the females of their clothes during the missions.
The cast of characters develop very little as the story progresses and ultimately the story boils down to a weak attempt at adding reason and logic to killing fairy-tale enemies in weird and wonderful encounters from the moon to candy created bugs in a dream like haze. As you can imagine it’s very confusing and hops between memories and dream states that only further complicate matters. There’s a twist that’s revealed towards the end of the game that’s glaringly obvious from the start, and the one lined protagonist who is meant to ooze sexual tension simply comes across looking more silly than sexy; as do the equally lifeless pin-up models he seduces or the handful of helpless seductive females portrayed throughout.
Even Killer is Dead’s best asset, being the combat system, isn’t without its flaws. Most prominent of which is frustrating camera control, which frequently likes to get caught behind the environment, and imbalances in the skilling system that makes failure almost impossible if you favour the health regeneration options available.
It’s a crying shame, as Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 have some original and creative genre blending concepts with a moderate to high production values but like those before it, falls short of a full package and muddled in confusion of their own design. A little more sensibility and focus could have brought Killer is Dead, with its tight combat system, to sit alongside the genre greats such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising. For now that it’s probably best kept to a rental, unless you’re a deep and devoted Suda51 fan, or happen to be a young teenager swayed by the dry, dull and hazy virtual love scenes.