Much like the movies and TV shows of David Lynch, the music of Primus frontman/solo artist Les Claypool, and the writings of Mark Leyner, the video games made by Suda-51 are esoteric, never generic, and always unique. And his latest, Killer Is Dead, is no exception. But while this means his detractors will hate it and his acolytes will love it, what about the rest of us? What indeed.
Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, and published by XSeed for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Killer Is Dead is a stylized hack & slash action game in which you’re a sword-wielding assassin with a gun for an arm and a penchant for saying “Killer Is Dead” a lot for some reason.
But while its aesthetics — which employ lots of comic book-y strong lines and dark shadows, as well as a strong grindhouse feel — recalls Suda-51’s 2005 divisive action game killer7, the action in Killer Is Dead is actually faster and more fluid, and the controls more intuitive, make it feel more like 2012’s Lollipop Chainsaw or even 2008’s No More Heroes if the latter swapped out the Wii’s motion controls for more traditional sticks and buttons.
This is not to say Killer Is Dead is conventional, even relatively. While the controls may be more straightforward, the rest of the game usually isn’t. One early level, for example, looks like Alice In Wonderland if it was illustrated by M.C Escher. It’s not for nothing that your character is named Mondo Bizzaro I mean Frank Zappa I mean Mondo Zappa.
Though it could be argued that Killer Is Dead could actually use more convention. Take, for instance, Mondo’s gun arm. It’s practically useless at first, save for shooting ceramic cat statues. But even when it’s upgraded enough to hurt someone, it’s still far more difficult to use mid-battle than guns usually are in these kinds of games. It’s not, for instance, as deadly or effective as the ones Dante uses in the Devil May Cry games. That said, it does have a helpful ability to located enemies and other shootable things, albeit sometimes in a vague way.
Another convention that Killer Is Dead could benefit from employing are combos. Because Killer really only has one attack button — others just modify your attacks for special occasions or are used to stop an enemies from blocking — this is far more button mashy than some might like. And I say this as someone who is bad at pulling off complicated combos and usually just button mashes his way through these kinds of things, hoping he’ll occasionally hit a cool combo by accident once in a while.
There are, thankfully, some moments that break up the monotony, though not for long. In one instance, you find yourself hacking and slashing while riding on a motorcycle, and have to be mindful of hazards on the road. But, sadly, this sequence doesn’t last very long and ultimately ends up with you in a hack & slash boss battle.
Killer Is Dead also gets bogged down by the storytelling, with enough cut scenes to make Metal Gear Solid mastermind Hideo Kojima want to hit the “skip” button. This really comes to a head in Mission 5, which just has you walking from one weird cut scene to another, with the only real action coming when you finally arrive at a bizarre boss battle.
There are also some technical problems that can be really annoying. Your character sometimes gets hung up small things on the ground and can’t move for a moment, while at other times he has to stand in just the exact place to get the button prompt he needs. Neither are a fatal flaws, mind you, ones that forces you to restart the game or even your system, but getting stuck on something in the middle of a battle can be aggravating, even fatal, while not being able to get your reward from the pretty lady after you survive a battle can be just as irritating.
And then there’s the optional side missions where you’re supposed to help Mondo woo some women. Which you don’t do by being a good listener or an interesting person, but by leering at her boobs when she’s not looking, staring into her eyes when she is, and then giving her a present when enough blood has rushed to your head. Though, oddly, the real issue isn’t how creepy this is — we’re talking about a game where women are dressed like such fetish stereotypes as a sexy nurse and a schoolgirl — but how these side missions aren’t fun or challenging. They’re just kind of there.
In the end, Killer Is Dead is an obvious must for Suda-51 fans, while those who’ve found his earlier games to be ludicrous or overly weird or just annoying will think this is just as ludicrous, overly weird, or just annoying. But for those of us who are somewhere in the middle — say, those who enjoyed Lollipop Chainsaw and the first No More Heroes but hated the controls in killer7 — this is a fun grinder that’s (no pun intended) kind of hit and miss.
What do you think of this game (or my review of it)? Please let me know in the comments below.