When I started playing Killer is Dead I didn’t really know what sort of madness awaited me in this latest offering from Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda 51. Having played some of their previous titles such as Killer 7 and the more recent Shadows of the Damned, as well as being familiar with the premise, style, and attitude of No More Heroes, I kind of knew that this was going to be something... And Killer is Dead sure is something. Whether that something is to your liking depends on whether you are up to the task of taking out demonic trash in this tripped out cel-shaded hack 'n' slash fest.
Killer is Dead’s protagonist is Mondo Zappa, a katana wielding assassin who works for an agency that eliminates all sorts of twisted and vile monsters that infest the seedy underworld of human society. As the story progresses we learn a little bit more about Mondo’s past, as well as the motivations of the people around him. The whole thing is fairly convoluted and hard to describe without crossing into spoiler territory. Imagine James Bond on LSD mixed with punk rock and you might be somewhere close to what Killer is Dead is.
The story, nonsensical as it may be, serves as a backdrop to the main attraction of Killer is Dead; the action. And there’s bucket loads of it. Mondo travels around the world in the missions, and each level has its own distinct design, art style, and atmosphere to it. Populating the missions are the “wires”, the game’s main basic enemies. They hail from the dark side of the moon and come in various classes. They provide a good challenge, and like any decent hack ‘n’ slash game they get progressively tougher and are thrown at you in greater numbers as you go through the story.
The combat is tight and challenging, and at times almost carpel tunnel syndrome inducing. At first it seems a bit simplistic, but once you get past the first few missions and start upgrading your skills, and gaining new weapons and attacks, a considerable depth is added to the fray. A special “blood” meter fills up as you cut down foes and collect red crystals, and can be used to power Mondo’s projectile weapons as well as using the “adrenaline burst” skill. The adrenaline burst enables Mondo to go into an overdrive mode where he can cut an enemy in two at the cost of one blood bar. In order to land the adrenaline burst you first stun the enemy, then go to town. It is immensely satisfying to use it within your combo’s once you get the hang of how it works, and learn to spot when which enemy type is vulnerable.
A game like Killer is Dead would not be complete without a few crazy boss fights, and these fights end up stealing the show. The demons you fight are of a wonderfully twisted design that really makes you want to murder them good and proper. Each boss has a few different stages where they usually change form and switch up their attack pattern. This keeps you on your toes throughout the fight, and I found myself looking forward to facing the boss at the end of each level. They are not as grand in scale as in games like God of War or Bayonetta, but they are just as engaging and enjoyable.
Aside from the main story missions there are a number of different side missions, mini games, and challenges to keep you busy. The side missions are mostly short endeavours set in environments from the story missions that task you with retrieving items, flicking switches and whatnot, but they still provide some fun. “Mondo’s girls” is a fairly obscure mini game that you need to play in order to acquire some of the additional weapons. You meet a “beauty” in some location and build up enough guts to give her a present in order to win her heart. To fill your guts meter you need to ogle the beauties as they look away. Yeah it’s pretty stupid, and not really any fun at all. But they’re worth the grind for the rewards. One of Mondo’s girls is a nurse by the name of scarlet, and she presents you with a sort of challenge arena that tasks you with disposing of enemies under certain conditions, like only landing headshots or scoring x number of adrenaline rush kills. These challenges are a lot of fun and most of them are truly challenging. It would have been cool if the rest of the girls threw something like that at you, instead of the lowbrow ogling mini game.
There is no multiplayer to speak of apart from leader board high scores for all the missions, story and side missions alike. That’s fine as Killer is Dead isn’t really a game that needs a multiplayer component. Still, the combat mechanics and swordplay could have lent itself to a decent duelling mode.
Aside from the strong combat and action packed story, Killer is Dead’s biggest draw is its presentation. Cel shaded graphics tend to add a certain spice to games, and it really works in Killer is Dead’s favour. Combined with the fantastic soundtrack, a great blend of jazz and drum ‘n’ bass electronica, the visuals and direction of the cut scenes create a very unique film-noir/anime/comic book feel. In-game the action is fast and fluid, and the music hits all the right notes as you slash down the Wire minions. During the most hectic battles it can be hard to catch everything that’s going on, but once you start to get used to the madness on-screen, one can really appreciate it all. There are a few rough edges like occasional screen tear, and the lip-synch is plain awful most of the time, but it is all very forgivable unless you are a total graphics nazi.
Killer is Dead is a great action game that will satisfy the bloodlust of most hack ‘n’ slash fans that aren’t afraid to get weird every once in a while. With an enjoyable campaign, plenty of extra missions and content, and a unique style and attitude that only Grasshopper Manufacture could pull off – It’s worth the attention of any gamer that want something different from the typical action games we see released each year.
|What's Good? High-octane combat, visuals and soundtrack, a lot of content & great boss fights|
|What's Bad? Story is occasionally too nonsensical, some annoying characters & lame ogling mini-game|