Killer Is Dead Review

By Shawn Collier on October 16, 2013

Suda51 has been known for producing quite a number of quirky, under-the-radar games in the past. Recently games like No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw have come under this banner. Each of his games has its own flaws, but they are usually covered up with interesting gameplay twists and unique art styles. Suda51's latest insanity trip is Killer is Dead, which borrows gameplay ideas from his recent action games and attempts to take things up a notch with some impressively done cel-shading.

Modeled after the classic James Bond films, Killer is Dead takes place in the not-so-distant future where cybernetic augmentations are commonplace and where monsters and demons run rampant. Also, people can easily travel to the moon. The main character, Mondo Zappa, receives jobs from the Bryan Execution Firm, an assassination firm who will kill anyone for the right price. Armed with a sword in his right hand and a cybernetic left arm that can switch between various weapons (including a gun among others), he takes out the people he's contracted to kill.

On paper it seems like an interesting enough story, but in practice it falls apart somewhat. Killer is Dead introduces new characters and plot points frequently enough but never really capitalizes on them and instead uses them as a means to an end to advance the core storyline, leaving some pieces to feel like filler material. The ending, without delving into spoiler territory, also feels somewhat formulaic compared to Suda51's previous works.

Thankfully, though, the gameplay elements fare much better in Killer is Dead and it's pleasing to see that it tries to build upon previous titles. At first the player is limited to basic attacks which gives off a mash-heavy slant, but early on in the game you gain the ability to use your cybernetic arm to block attacks as well as morph your arm into various weapons to spice things up.

While you can use the arm to block, Killer is Dead also rewards players who properly utilize the game's dodge mechanic. Similar to Bayonetta's Witch Time ability, you can activate a time-slowing mode where you can mash the attack button and cause considerable damage. This ability becomes paramount in the higher difficulties as enemies will punish you if you don't master it quickly.New features, such as new moves and upgrades, are available by spending in-game money. These abilities use a "blood" meter, similar to an RPG's MP gauge. It allows the player to do actions such as healing Mondo, using abilities and use a sub-weapon ammo via his cybernetic arm.

All in all it's still a button-masher at heart but these twists help to keep things fresh throughout the game. One disappointment, though, is that the end-stage bosses are a bit lacking when compared to the ones in No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw. But this is primarily due to the aforementioned narrative issues.

Graphically Killer is Dead is impressive enough, but it's certainly not a showstopper. For an Unreal Engine 3 game, it doesn't take on the typical "brown and black" stigma. Instead, it has a unique cel-shaded look with neon colors and motion blurs that bring memorable designs to the characters even if their backstory isn't that well developed. Musically the score is fitting for the game and a few tunes fall into earworm territory after playing the game but it isn't a perfect score by any means. That isn't to say it's bad, it just works better in the game than outside of it.

Probably one of the most infamous and well-known aspects of Killer is Dead are the Gigolo Missions in which Mondo tries to woo over various women he encounters throughout the game. Mondo is a talented assassin, but he's not so smooth in the womanizing department. He struggles to talk to women, so the goal of these missions is to stare in their eyes as they're watching and stare elsewhere when they're not. You can also give them presents, which vary depending on their own unique tastes.

The whole scene is a bit tongue-in-cheek and absurd and doesn't actually show "the act" itself, but it's understandable that some people might balk at how juvenile it all is. While they are optional, the bonuses gained by completing them are important enough not to skip them. It would have been better to make those bonuses available via purchases or some other method for those who would be turned off by this mode.

Final Thoughts

Killer is Dead is a flawed, but decent action game. There's issues that could have been fixed, it's a tad on the short side and the game lacks that Suda51 charm in some instances, but it there's still some decent qualities deep down. This killer isn't dead, but don't go expecting a flawless execution.

Some interesting gameplay mechanics are present here.
Graphics are impressive for an Unreal Engine 3 derived title.
Some of the music tracks are pretty catchy.
The Gigolo Missions are technically but not really skippable for those who object to them.
The character development falls flat compared to Suda51’s prior works.
The story falls short of what it could have been.
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