Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: XSeed Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacturer
Killer is Dead won’t be the best game you play all year, but it will definitely be one of the more stylistic experiences you’re likely to have. If developer Grasshopper Manufacturer and head honcho Goichi Suda do anything well, it’s their ability to deliver a unique sense of style to everything that bears their logo. And Killer is Dead absolutely oozes style from start to finish, even if it comes up a little short in other areas.
In this eclectic action title you’ll take on the role of Mondo Zappa, a government sanctioned killer working for the secret Executioner Office. Killer is Dead divides its story into 12 missions, most of which assign specific hits for Mondo to kill as the story fleshes out. A lot of missions assigned serve as stand-alone tales, with the occasional bit of info doled out to help connect the pieces of the narrative together. This isn’t a traditionally told scenario, time jumps back and forth to build the bigger picture, but it’s not too confusing to follow.
The characters featured throughout Killer is Dead, both on the good and bad side of the scale, are pretty memorable. Mondo is sort of a blank slate, but a lot of that stems from his missing memory issues. The only aspect of his personality that felt shoehorned in was the womanizer vibe delivered during the juvenile Gigolo Missions. Mondo’s sex appeal doesn’t really carry over into the rest of the game, despite every preview I’ve seen attempting to play up some sort of James Bond comparison.
But what Mondo lacks in personality he makes up for with action. This is a faster paced action game than Grasshopper’s last entry, Lollipop Chainsaw. Killer is Dead feels more akin to top-tier action titles like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, but comes up a little short on depth. There’s an emphasis given to blocking and dodging, with mastery of both mechanics being the key to overcoming most boss battles and tougher late game enemies. Some variety is added via Mondo’s left mechanical arm dubbed Musselback, but the subweapons available are underutilized outside of the primary projectile ability you use from the onset.
Outside of the 12 missions you’ll gain access to additional challenges and the aforementioned Gigolo Missions. The challenges are unlocked typically after completing one of the main story missions, and usually see you revisiting completed chapters but confining the challenge to particular sections of the mission map. The goal for challenges varies, and provides some decent objective based tasks to break up the typical mission structure. Some challenges are a little frustrating, but they can be revisited at any time and certainly aren’t required to finish the game.
The Gigolo Missions are a little more important, since they serve as the primary way of unlocking the additional functions for the Musselback. These missions are scenarios involving various women, some of which are encountered via the main story. What they boil down to is this: Stare at a woman from a first person perspective, glance at either her boobs or butt, and try to not get caught. If you stare long enough, you’ll be able to present a present, which in turn fills up a heart meter. Max out that meter and you win the mission, which ends with constantly escalating sexual escapades that fall a little short of late night Cinemax quality.
They’re basically dumb, juvenile attempts to titillate players with digital women in their underwear. I can’t imagine that this is going to get any guy geared up that’s over the ESRB age limit for Killer is Dead, and it sort of devalues the positive elements here. I’m certainly no stranger to Grasshopper Manufacture’s previous work, Lollipop Chainsaw focused on a lot of sexually suggestive moments but at least mixed that with humor. Killer is Dead doesn’t have that going for it, and the just off-screen suggested fellatio sequence that appears when I manage to carry a “relationship” to AAA status is bad enough to make me cringe.
Basically, if you want to shoehorn sex sequences into a video game meant for adults, at least try to treat us like adults. This is pandering fan-service at its worst that adds little to the game other than a tedious way of unlocking gameplay elements and needlessly padding the experience. It’s not a serious misstep; I’m pretty confident you could skip it entirely and still enjoy the game considering the sub-weapons unlocked don’t add much (outside of the drill). But I’m sure there are resources here that could have been better spent elsewhere.
On a positive note, Killer is Dead is an absolutely great looking game. It re-adopts the high contrast cel shaded look seen in No More Heroes, but with some glossy HD shine to go along with it. The various stages all stand out as very unique experiences compared to one another, with some gorgeous scenery accompanying the fluid animation and stylized character models. This is, for me at least, the best looking game that Grasshopper Manufacturer has produced.
The only downside comes from the persistent amount of screen-tearing encountered. We only had the opportunity to play the PS3 version of the game, so I can’t speak for the Xbox 360 version, but on PS3 screen-tearing is a near constant issue and an unfortunate eyesore on an otherwise great looking game.
Again, I don’t think Killer is Dead will land on any top 10 lists this year, but it’s still a solid effort out of Suda 51 and Grasshopper. There’s a lot of unique style and charm that comes from the characters and story, and the action based portion of the game compliments the plot nicely. It’s fun to play through despite not feeling as instantly memorable as No More Heroes or Killer7.
But Gigolo Missions are an unnecessary addition that is less offensive in its portrayal of women than it is in how little it thinks of the collective intelligence of gamers as a whole. And while the action elements in Killer is Dead are solid fun, it doesn’t elevate the genre in any meaningful way. Overall this is a middle of the road experience out of Grasshopper Manufacturer, and I hope to see something bolder and better for their next effort.