Killer Is Dead is the latest action title from crazy mastermind SUDA51. Known for his incredibly risky Killer 7, to his excellent No More Heroes, he’s now here to bring the next unique vision. Published by XSEED Games and developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and Kadokawa Games, is this his craziest creation yet or is this killer already dead?
When it comes to SUDA51 games, you kind of have to take a backseat on trying to make logical reasoning behind the story. Basically, you won’t have the slightest idea of what’s going on initially, but if you’re aware of his style, it becomes easier to grasp. Killer Is Dead has you follow the executioner for hire, Mondo Zappa, as he’s contracted to kill the most devious of villains that pollute the Earth. Working with a group known as the Bryan Execution Firm, contracts are brought in by victims of specific heinous acts. Upon the contract being signed, Mondo goes out to fulfill the deed.
Cutscenes are littered throughout the game’s 12 episodes, helping tie-in the scenarios at hand. Normally, SUDA51 crafts some outlandish stories, which is fine. Unfortunately, unlike his previous standout titles (No More Heroes, Killer 7, Shadows of the Damned), the story doesn’t really tie itself as well here. The story feels like you’re watching an episodic anime, and while the plot tries to tie itself together, by the finale you’re still left wondering about why certain elements were integral to the story. “The job…KILLER IS DEAD”. The reason Mondo says this? No idea, but it’s catchy. There’s a lot to do with the moon in this game, and unfortunately, it’s not explained well as to its importance. Overall, it’s an entertaining story for sure, with some very unique flair and interesting characters (Mika being the utmost exception…she’s an annoying mess for a majority of the game) that all help bring the plot together.
Killer Is Dead is in a sense, a spiritual successor to two of SUDA51’s cult favorite titles, Killer 7 and No More Heroes. From a gameplay perspective, it has not the slightest attachment to Killer 7’s style but rather, more like No More Heroes. Controlling Mondo, you’ll partake in 12 episodes of the story, venturing through alleyways, a demented house straight out of “Alice in Wonderland”, a soundscapes building, a beautiful Japanese garden and even the moon, just to name a few. When starting the game, it will introduce players gradually into the mechanics within the first 2-3 episodes. Mondo wields a Japanese sword in his right hand at all times, while his left hand is a biomechanical augmented arm that can shoot projectiles and be used to melee combat.
The combat is the main focus in Killer Is Dead’s mechanics, and thankfully they work very well and different enough from other hack-and-slash titles on the market. There are no combos to memorize here, as the combat system rewards the player automatically by nailing as many hits without getting taking damage or losing the combo meter. When you start attacking an enemy (known as “Wires”), the Combo Counter will appear on the top-right of the screen, with a time gauge attached directly below that. However, you’ll notice another number attached to the left of the Combo Counter. This is your Combo Level. Basically, the more hits that you achieve without getting hit or losing the combo time will reward you with an extra Combo Level. The higher the Combo Level reaches, the faster and more insane Mondo’s combos will be, both visually and effectively. When at the highest Combo Level, you’ll see the four face buttons of your controller appear on-screen when finishing off an enemy. This is known as Final Judgment. You’ll watch Mondo eviscerate his foe in different ways depending on which button you press. Each button represents a certain attribute you can gain out of it: Health Gems, Bloody Roses, Moon Crystals and Health (which heals you immediately). Collecting Health Gems will increase your overall vitality, while Bloody Roses will fill up and increase your Blood Gauge. Additionally, dodging is absolutely integral, and a core mechanic that leads to one of my favorite combat features in the game, Burst Rush. You’ll notice that enemies will flash red during some of their attacks. When you see this, dodging at that exact moment will trigger the game to enter slow-motion for a few seconds, alongside an attack prompt appearing on-screen. Once this appears, you’ll mash the attack button as fast as you can and witness Mondo enter a wickedly awesome state where he’ll be slicing a Wire down like a madman, showcasing shadows of his body while slashing and at the final slice, watch the Wire dismember. This is a fundamental mechanic to the combat and one that is immensely rewarding to pull off. Occasionally, enemies may not have a health bar hovering over their head, meaning that no matter how much damage you dish out to them, you can’t kill them. However, weaken them enough and a button prompt will hover over their head. When you see this, Mondo will enter Adrenaline Rush mode, where he’ll speed dash to the enemy and slice his head off instantly. You can enter Adrenaline Rush as long as your Blood Gauge (which is filled up by collecting roses that enemies or objects drop) is substantial.
Mondo’s biomechanical augmented arm can be used for a variety of elements as well. You can guard break an enemy if you can’t land any slashes on it, as well as fire projectiles such as Bullet Shots and Freezing Shots, or even attach a drill to pummel through enemies. However, sub-weapons will drain your Blood Gauge. You’ll enter an over-the-shoulder view when aiming with your arm to fire projectiles, giving you the precision you need to place shots. Head shots will reward the player with a stylish camera following the projectile that results in the foe’s head splattering. Now earlier I mentioned that you can collect Moon Crystals. These will be used to upgrade Mondo’s abilities: Attack, Sub-Weapon and Special Skills. Attack abilities grant Mondo new moves, as well as upgrading the amount of Combo Level needed to unleash maximum damage. Sub-Weapon skills will increase the amount of damage and speed the projectiles will dish out, and can also obtain a “sniper” ability to zoom in on your shots. Special skills will grant Mondo abilities such as Auto Cure, transferring Blood to heal yourself quicker, increased dodging, etc. Many of the skills in each area may have upgrade levels within them as well (i.e. Dodging Lvl.1, Dodging Lvl.2). In terms of the game’s combat and mechanics mentioned, everything here works well and is quite engaging.
K.I.D. is a hack-and-slash at heart, but does bring variety into the missions that you would expect from a SUDA51 title. Aside from the main story, you’ll be able to tackle side-missions on the World Map, as well as Scarlett Missions and Gigolo Missions. Side-missions provide specific objectives in previously explored areas, each with unique stipulations. For example, one mission may require protecting a damsel in distress utilizing only a stationed turret, while another mission may require you to go on a bug hunt through a demented and twisted house. There’s even a mission where you’re riding on a motorcycle, which is a nice change of pace. Then, there are the Gigolo Missions. These mission types will have you trying to impress the girl with presents, but Mondo has to build up the courage to do so. So how do you build up the courage? By staring at the girl in a variety of locations. I’m not kidding. You’ll play in first-person mode, looking at the beautiful girl right next to you. You’ll have to “stare” with the L1 button, which makes Mondo zoom in on what he’s looking at and you’ll build up an adrenaline meter that’s represented as fluids going through your head. Careful though, as the girl may become shy if you’re staring her down too much. To avoid this, you’ll use the right analog stick to look to the side, causing her to deviate her eyes away from you, which in turn gives you the opportunity to stare again. It sounds worse on paper than it is in execution…honest. Upon building the meter, you’ll be able to offer a present to the girl and depending on how much she likes it, the hearts meter will fill up. Score the maximum amount and you’ve scored with the girl. So what’s the grand purpose of this? Well, achieving this will earn you a new Sub-Weapon to utilize (like the Drill or Freeze Projectiles) that I mentioned earlier. Lastly, there are Scarlett Missions. Throughout the campaign, you’ll find the nurse Scarlett hiding in breakable objects. Finding her scattered throughout each episode will unlock challenge missions to tackle, whether it be survival, combo or trick missions. Each have their own stipulation but only upon completing her hidden challenges can you have the opportunity to try and score with her. Naturally, doing so will unlock another Sub-Weapon. There’s no question that the game has variety within its mission structure, helping keep the game fresh.
Now one of SUDA51’s creative devices has always been within the boss battles. Every boss in this game is unique and provides interesting tactics to tackle with. Whether it be a yakuza boss with a tiger tattoo that comes alive, a demonic train, or a 10 story (rough estimate) radioactive giant, each boss is interesting and fun to explore patterns. Some get even downright weird, in particular when fighting a boss from a dream-state world and when she catches up to you, you’ll view the fight from her eyes, with her hands creepily coming at you. It’s these moments where you know SUDA51’s creative touches are implemented as bizarre, yet compelling. However, there are some issues with the game that hurt the score a bit. First off, the camera can get finicky, especially during boss fights. There were times where I was getting annoyed at some cheap hits from bosses because I’d be trying to retreat a bit and the camera wouldn’t stay focused on them. Also, the game is short. While this may turn many off, I personally found the length to be quite right (about 5-6 hours on Normal) as there’s plenty of replayability here. Once you complete the game, you can tackle any episode over again, as well as any of the side-missions, to achieve a higher rank. Additionally, you can tackle the missions/episodes on higher difficulties (including the unlocked Very Hard mode) with all the upgrades you’ve earned. There are even multiple characters and costumes to unlock.
Killer Is Dead’s visuals are easily the best thing it has going for it. Although powered by Unreal Engine 3 (and I’ve been pretty outspoken about how much I dislike the engine), the visual representation matches exactly what you’d expect from a SUDA51 title and is incredibly reminiscent of Killer 7. Relying on cel-shading, as well as heavy dark tones, Killer Is Dead looks like a gritty anime that’s popping out of the screen. Characters are all nicely detailed, as well as the villains, and animate very well. Watching Mondo enter Burst Rush mode and slice like a madman, to only then see your opponent split apart, is always satisfying to see in action. The game runs at about 30 fps, but there are some occasional hiccups where it drops during cutscenes (which is odd) and some screen-tearing during gameplay. Nothing dramatic or detrimental to the experience, but noticeable enough to dock a point off. Other than that, the visuals are very appealing.
How do you make the audio for a game match the craziness of SUDA51’s direction? Sign on Akira Yamaoka of course! The famed composer is very well known for his incredibly eerie compositions for the Silent Hill franchise (except for Downpour and Book of Memories) and what’s here is no different. The soundtrack consists of a mix of jazzy, electronica and ambient tunes. It’s a pretty solid soundtrack that accompanies the game well, but never reaches the point of sticking with you after finishing or stepping away from the game. Well, aside from Episode 6, which had some pretty memorable songs. Voice acting is precisely what you would expect from an anime nowadays. Mondo’s voice is done well, providing a sense of mystery and coolness to the character, as is Vivienne’s voice actress. It’s not too bad or campy honestly, but Mika’s character…well, even with the reasoning for her, I wanted to mute the game often when she spoke. Yes, her line delivery is that bad 95% of the time. Sound effects are well done, with the sword slashing sounding painful and piercing, melee attacks pounding and shooting effective. The overall audio package is good, but nothing great or overly memorable.
Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10
Killer Is Dead is without question, a bizarre game, but in a good way. When playing through a SUDA51 game, you know there’s some very “out there” elements and that’s what makes him standout as a visionary. Visually, the game harkens back to Killer 7 while gameplay wise is reminiscent of No More Heroes, all while being its own game. Overall, it’s a very good game for sure, just not as revolutionary as Killer 7 or refined as No More Heroes. Regardless, Killer Is Dead is a must-play for any SUDA51 fan and one that grows on you the more you play it.
+ Great visuals; style reminiscent of Killer 7
+ Engaging combat system
+ Varied and replayable missions
+ Some very good audio
- Camera during boss battles gets finicky
- Music, while good, is nothing great (aside from a few noteworthy tracks)
- Story is interesting, but ultimately unmemorable
- Mika’s voice…seriously
A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Killer Is Dead! Copy reviewed based on PS3 version.
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