Review: Killer Is Dead (360)

Killer is Dead bursts at the seams with an iconic style of its own, but after hitting on several women and spilling countless gallons of cel-shaded blood, is there any actual substance to this game, or is this just a dry and deranged assassin-fantasy better left alone?

Killer is Dead
Score: 7.9/10
Release Date: 8/27/2013 (USA)
Platform: 360, PS3
Developed by Grasshopper Manufacture
Published by XSEED (USA)

Killer is Dead is the most recent title to come from the warped minds of Suda51 and the rest of Grasshopper Manufacture: Players take the role of Mondo Zappa, an assassin and ladies’ man “gifted” with a cybernetic left-arm, who works for the Bryan Execution Firm- a private group hired to execute supernatural criminals around the world. Most of the story is presented through cut-scenes and in-game conversations with Mondo’s superiors- Vivienne and Bryan- and women that he may have seduced along the way; while cut-scenes are marred by the pacing of dialogue, it creates an atmosphere very reminiscent of classic film-noir and older James Bond films. Without spoiling any key elements, most of the plot is given without any context outside of the current mission at hand, and players aren’t granted an explanation for many events until the second-half of the game; it turns into a convoluted mess for those who might miss the slightest of details.

Those who are familiar with the No More Heroes series may notice a similar gameplay style in Killer is Dead; most of the game centers around sword-play and evasive tactics. Mondo has basic sword strikes which can be upgraded by purchasing extra abilities from yellow gems dropped from defeated enemies, including dash, aerial and spin attacks; his left arm can be used to break an enemy’s guard, as a blaster, or a drill for melee attacks and breaking down barriers to otherwise inaccessible areas. Players who have a methodical approach to combat will find that Mondo also has a standard block, and if timed correctly, doubles as a parry. By narrowly dodging attacks, Mondo enters the red-white-and-black “Adrenaline Rush” mode, which slows down time and allows him to unleash a flurry of slashes on a single enemy; Adrenaline Rush can also be used to execute enemies with finishing moves, such as slicing an enemy in half vertically, or decapitation. When certain criteria are met in combat, a brief prompt will appear when Mondo is about to deliver the final blow to an enemy: Depending on which face-button is pressed when Mondo delivers the final strike, the item of the player’s choice will drop upon death; blue gems to increase health, yellow gems to purchase upgrades, red roses to restore Blood for Mondo’s arm, and “Wire Synapses” to restore health. Outside of the standard “hack-n-slash” approach, Killer is Dead offers several moments that deviate from the standard gameplay, including turret sections, a few puzzles, finding hidden items, and timed escape sequences.

Like its spiritual predecessor No More Heroes, Killer is Dead features bosses that vary dramatically among themselves, and are possibly the highlight of each Story Mission; select bosses include an Eldritch Abomination, a possessed locomotive, a woman who invades dreams, and a samurai capable of summoning a tiger from a tattoo on his back. After each Story Mission is completed, players can return to them at any time to grind for extra currency and a higher score if they wish, but other alternate versions of the stages become available, and feature different objectives for Mondo to complete, such as defeating a set number of enemies or finding a certain amount of items.

While there are no “collectibles” to be found in Killer is Dead outside of purchasing costumes in the shop, players who search every corner of each stage will come across one of the many “Mondo Girls” in the game- Scarlett- who restores Mondo’s Blood and will unlock various Challenge stages. After completing certain stages, “Mondo Girls” missions will unlock, where the player must seduce a woman; in order to do so, Mondo must increase his “Guts” by catching a specific shot of her face, or by stealing glances at her breasts using the “Gigolo Glasses” whenever she isn’t looking. Once his Guts meter is full, Mondo must present her with a gift that matches her interests; interests are displayed when the Gigolo Glasses are in use, and it’s up to the player to remember which interests correspond with each woman. While these missions may not contribute to the story of Killer is Dead, players are given extra weapon abilities and upgrades if they successfully seduce each Mondo Girl; Scarlett is the one exception to this, as she cannot be seduced.

Killer is Dead may not be a masterful showcase of what current hardware has to offer, but it oozes with stylish cel-shaded graphics partnered with incredibly smooth animation; each one of Mondo’s attacks plays out like a skillfully executed dance. Dialogue animations are a little stiff during cut-scenes, primarily because mouthing of characters is synced with the Japanese voice acting; setting the dialogue to “English” results in a clash of animation and sound. The soundtrack is once again composed by Akira Yamaoka, who was featured in two other Suda51 titles; Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw. The soundtrack is amazingly diverse, reflecting aspects of each individual and stage including eerie ambient strings, minor-scale toy-box chimes, and even a hip-hop influenced track.

Killer is Dead boasts a solid combat system, along with gameplay elements that vary between stages, however the main story is very convoluted; motives that drive the plot aren’t revealed until the second-half of the game, and even then, key elements are presented in several cryptic pieces. The Mondo Girls missions are an awkward tie-in, and might have been better off as additional DLC, but the promise of extra abilities gives the player an incentive to complete them. Killer is Dead may not appeal to a mainstream audience, but fans of Suda51 games and darker “noir” titles will appreciate the dark nature of this warped tale of love and violence.

Images courtesy of Grasshopper Manufacture

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