Killer is Dead Review
There are some good elements here, but most of the game is fairly standard
I had an awful dream last night. After finishing up my business on the dark side of the moon, I had to stop a runaway steam locomotive from crashing through Moscow. Hard enough, but it was also a demonic train and it had eyes on huge stalks which it tried to crush me with. Luckily I was able to slash them off with my sword and eventually prevent the destruction from happening. Also there was a talking unicorn and my left arm was a weird alien gun which could also turn into a drill. Except it wasn’t a dream, I was playing Killer Is Dead, the latest game from Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda 51.
Now look, I’m all for surrealism. I have a canvas print of The Persistence of Memory hanging on my bedroom wall, but when it’s just piled on like this I have a hard time coping. I’m still having a hard time understanding the plot to Killer Is Dead, if there is one. As far as I can tell, you play as Mondo Zappa, who works for a shady government organisation that assassinates monsters. I could be wrong though. The voice acting for the main characters is good, for the most part. Mondo is suitably deadpan, rarely showing any emotion. His larger than life boss could easily be played by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie of the game. His second in command is an icy, sassy English lady, only out for the money. Finally you have Mondo’s remarkably annoying sidekick, who you just wish you could take your sword to, if she wasn’t so helpful at reviving you when you die. .
The game is trying to disguise itself as a competent hack and slash game in the vein of Devil May Cry, but in reality it lacks the complexity and variety for it to even come close. Sword swings are resigned to one button, with another button for dodge, removing any real nuance. Your weird and wonderful secondary weapon arm acts as a ranged weapon which can be aimed, and is useful for taking out unreachable targets. You also have a button to break through an enemy’s defenses, but it’s not really necessary as nearly every type of enemy will let its guard down eventually. Combat devolves into hacking away at an enemy until they flash red, and then you dodge. Occasionally you will parry the attack, sometimes you will perform a counterattack where you once again mash on the attack button. I feel like the differentiation between the two was never fully explained, but I suspect it is down to the timing of the dodge. .
As is to be expected from the developer, the art style is truly fantastic, and for me was the strongest part of the game. It ran fairly smoothly, but there was occasional slow down when there was a lot of action on screen. High contrast, cel-shaded graphics make for some really stylish moments, and some of the character design is fairly interesting, if somewhat over sexualised on the female characters. This could be passed off as simple pandering, a lot of games have sexy girls involved, but when I was faced with some of the side missions Killer Is Dead has to offer, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. These awfully named “Gigolo Missions”, have Mondo attempting to steal secret glances at the more taboo parts of “Beauties” while she isn’t looking. Doing this enough raises his guts, and he eventually plucks up the courage to bestow an expensive gift on her. If she likes it, she might even take you upstairs. It is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had the displeasure of taking part of in a videogame, and I was praying that no one would walk in on me while I was playing it, in fear that I would actually have to explain what was going on. What’s worse is these are the only ways to gain access to new secondary weapons, so if you want to completely avoid these sections for moral reasons (and you are within your rights to), then your already limited gameplay options become even smaller. .
It’s a shame because this could have just about gotten away with being called a “decent action game”. Now, it’s a decent action game which is degrading to women, and seemingly proud of it. The combat itself is never really boring, it’s just not all that engaging. The story just about manages to be intriguing enough amongst all the silliness. Each level of fighting through a few rooms of enemies, and pressing a few buttons, culminates in a boss fight. These require tactics up to a point, but aren’t all that hard. Each boss you defeat seems to know something Mondo doesn’t, and perhaps everything is connected to him in some way. It made me want to complete the game, just to see if anything at all got explained. What I wanted to find out most was why the main character would hilariously repeat the nonsensical title of the game at least once per mission. .
You have two meters, one for your health, and the other for your blood, which is used up when you use your secondary weapon. You don’t really have to manage it though, as blood charges up quickly enough simply by bashing on your enemies. Also, pickups pour out of enemies when you kill them, replenishing your health and blood, and also granting the currency you can use for upgrades. These do things like upgrade your secondary weapons, give you extra dodging abilities, or make you attack a bit quicker. At the end of each mission, you are granted money based on your performance. I particularly appreciated the “Cool Kills Bonus” that you receive for performing stylish takedowns when your combo meter is high enough. However, the money is solely used for buying the gifts for the seedy side missions. .
My face got a full work out while playing Killer Is Dead. I frowned at the confusing story. I smiled at the silly situations. I might have enjoyed the game more if it weren’t for the scrunched up face I made when I played the Gigolo Missions. It’s certainly not a bad game, but parts of it made me feel uncomfortable, and I’m sure there are people out there who are properly outraged by some of the themes on show here.