Suda51 has become one of those popular, yet niche developers over the years. His games have a unique art direction to them. All blending the cel shaded look of an anime with the gritty, dreary look of 1940’s film noir. At the same time his stories are filled with bizarre moments, weird plot points, and over the top characters. Yet somehow he manages to keep many people invested long enough to see the end. He also seems to really love dark humor. Many of his stories, and characters feature jokes that revolve around themes that would otherwise be depressing. There’s also off-color humor thrown into his games.
PROS: Really cool art direction. Responsive controls. Boss fights!
CONS: Terrible, horrible, stupid, insulting, dating simulators.
REALLY?: KFC was founded by an extraterrestrial being.
Killer Is Dead is no exception to this. The first of his games to see release on PC, Killer Is Dead plays almost exactly like No More Heroes, No More Heroes 2, and Lollipop Chainsaw. Stages are linear hack n’ slash fare. You will be taking upon waves, and waves of crazy looking enemies. Slaughtering them by the hundreds as you try to get to the end of the level to face a boss. But Killer Is Dead doesn’t simply end there. It follows the trend set by Suda51’s earlier games by implementing some over the top finishers.
Performing the finishers gives you more currency you can use to upgrade your weapons, and more. You can also find items by smashing crates throughout the stages. The game also gives you two meters to keep tabs on during game play. One is a meter made of diamonds which is essentially your health. The other is a blood meter. This is signified by roses. Killing bad guys keeps this up, which you will need to do. You can sacrifice some of your blood to restore health. The meter also determines how much firepower your arm cannon can use.
Some of the aforementioned finishers also let you determine what rewards you will receive. Based on the Xbox 360 pad layout, you can choose X,Y,B, or A. Each of the four results in a different bonus. Some of the stages also break up the hack n’ slash action with some on-rails moments or turret gun sections. In these sections your character’s allies show up with heavy back up. One of them is a motorcycle chase section, while the others are turret horde mode sections. They aren’t as varied as they could be. But they do work for what they are.
Stages also do give you a pretty nice range of locales. Army bases. Castles. Dungeons. Inner city streets. A mansion. All of them with a really nice aesthetic that fits the game very, very well. The soundtrack, and audio effects go along with them fairly well. While there aren’t any songs that will thump around in your head, they fit the theme of the stages. Interestingly enough the art style does change during certain cinema screens. These panels are very well done, and look beautiful. Sadly, they seem to clash with the rest of the game’s aesthetic. But that is only a minor nitpick.
Bosses are one of the biggest reasons to play a Suda51 game, and Killer is Dead is no exception. Bosses are as over the top, as ever featuring an American McGee’s Alice inspired monster. A giant monster inspired by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, along with several others I won’t really ruin for you here. Character designs are decidedly Suda51. Featuring some really cool concepts that are twists on androids, vampires, and even mercenaries. Then there are the hyper-sexualized characters.
This is where I have to address the elephant in the room. The dating games. Running alongside the main game’s quests are dating mini games. Along the storyline you will meet some female characters. In the main game they have character. They have a modicum of personality. In these dating simulators (If you can even call them simulators) all of that is thrown out the window. The object of the gigolo missions is to get the various women to go home with you. There are a number of problems with these missions. First off, the way you win these missions involves using X-ray specs to look at their underwear when they look away from you. Yes, you read that right. You put on X-ray vision sunglasses so that you can look at your date’s underwear. If you can consistently do this you can fill up a meter. If you manage to fill that meter before time runs out you can give your date a present. Give them enough presents before time runs out, and you win.
Now the women don’t just hop into bed with you if you win. You actually have to win several times for that to happen. And while it never gets to the level of a pornographic movie or even an R rated movie, the entire thing feels out of place. Moreover, it ends up sending out a message that women can be bribed into dating or sleeping with somebody. I am not saying people who play this game, are going to be vapid enough to believe that. But it isn’t a theme many people will be comfortable with. Regardless of their political or ethical leanings.
It also, feels out of place because it doesn’t tie into the storyline at all, save for the rare cell phone voice mail you might hear in a mission. Some might bring up Travis Touchdown’s attitude in No More Heroes. In that game the attitude made more sense because we were laughing at him. The joke was that Travis was immature, and didn’t have a grasp on reality. Here, Mondo (Yes that’s the name of the main character) ends up looking like an unfunny jerk who juggles people around.
Not much, if any, of the rest of the game sets this up. In fact, a lot of it tries to make him more of a sympathetic loner. He rescues a kidnapped girl named Mika. He fights a crazed disc jockey because the DJ cut off a woman’s ears. He has flashbacks to witnessing someone drowning, and being unable to save them. There is a moment near the beginning where Mondo has to leave a night with his girlfriend early. But there is little to lead into the gigolo missions.
Fortunately, if you don’t want to play the gigolo missions you don’t have to. They are optional. You can clear the entire main game without playing it a single time. Unfortunately, it makes the game harder because the rewards for winning the mini games enough times are major upgrades for your arm cannon. And while you don’t need them to win the game, there are secrets in stages requiring their use.
Some of those secrets are another character named Scarlett. Dressed in a pin-up nurse costume, finding her unlocks training missions. Again, you don’t need to do these to win the game, but things are easier on you if you do. Completing these missions will give you items, and currency as well.
That isn’t to say I think it should be censored or banned. Games, like everything else should be able to say pretty much what they want. But I also needed to bring this up. For many people it’s going to be off-putting. Which is a shame because everything else in Killer Is Dead is honestly pretty good. The combat is flashy, play control feels fast, responsive, and fun.
The story while not as memorable as the ones in Suda51’s other games, will likely hold your interest. At least long enough to see it through. Mondo is part of a government agency that works almost like a Private Assassination firm. Clients come to the firm asking them to go after dangerous criminals. Some of these are revenge missions. Some of these are pleas to save a city or town. As the firm sends Mondo on these quests, over time he begins to ponder why he lost his arm, and tries to remember his past. Many of the answers are entwined between the different missions. Clues are uncovered. Rivalries answer questions while bringing up new ones. Mondo has to figure out how to beat the threats, and what the moon has to do with all of it. All with the odd stuff you would expect.
There are also a few genuinely funny moments that do show up from time to time. They don’t happen as often as they did in Lollipop Chainsaw or No More Heroes. But when they do happen they tend to hit their target. I did find myself chuckling at a few of these gags. I only wish there could have been a few more effective ones.
Missions are set up in an almost Mega Man fashion. Sometimes the game will let you pick the order of stages as you progress. It also gives you the opportunity to do the aforementioned gigolo missions, training missions, or other bonus sections. You can also exit out of the mission map screen to buy gifts for the gigolo missions (should you decide to play them), put unlockable skins on NPC’s, and upgrade your arsenal. Completing the game also gives you the option to replay missions, and getting whatever you weren’t able to buy or unlock before.
The PC version of Killer Is Dead is branded as a director’s cut called Nightmare Edition. It’s essentially the exact same game that appeared on the PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The difference is that PC gamers get an extra difficulty mode that allows for only a miniscule number of attacks to take down enemies. It also makes boss fights harder. On top of the extra difficulty level, The Windows release has a couple of PC features included. Do note that they are pretty bare bone though. You can change the resolution of the graphics. You can change your key binds. There is a very limited quality selector for graphics too. But it won’t go into many deep options. Those are about the only additions. It runs on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. But unfortunately blocks access to the console. So you really can’t do much else to the game for performance. That said, if you meet the requirements for the game it will run fairly brisk, and smooth. It isn’t a very demanding title for most machines built over the last 5 years.
Overall, I would say that Killer Is Dead is certainly worth looking into if you enjoyed previous Suda51 games. It has all of the same hallmarks, and tropes his games generally have. It’s a well made game, and has some of the coolest art direction yet. It’s unfortunate then, that a bad, and out of place dating sim has to bring the package down. It is also fairly shorter than previous games made by his studio. Hopefully future titles will remedy these issues.
Final Score: 6 out of 10