Suda51. What do you think of when you hear that name? Maybe niche games with over-the-top violence? Scantily clad female characters? Uniquely stylized art and action? Raunchy humor? All of the above could be used to describe many of the games coming from Goichi Suda, aka Suda51. The Japanese dev has found a warm spot in many gamers’ hearts with the games he has created. So when fans heard of Killer is Dead, a degree of excitement was to be expected. Did Killer is Dead live up to the legacy? Or was it dead on arrival?
Let’s face the facts: Most of Suda51’s games fit into a very niche category. Killer is Dead is hardly an exception to that rule. I realize that different types of people will be reading this. So in this review, I’m trying to keep three perspectives in mind: 1) Those fans who fit in that niche, 2) regular gamers who may otherwise be interested in the title or a new game to pick up, and 3) a critic’s view on gaming in general.
To begin, Killer is Dead is very Suda51-ish. It has his trademarks written all over it. Although it’s not directly related to these games, it features similar elements to previous games such as Killer7 and No More Heroes. In fact, I would look at it as almost a cross of No More Heroes and the game Wet (which is actually a Western game without Suda origins… but that’s beside the point). With that said, I had no idea what the game was about. At least, most of the time I didn’t. Let’s compare a bit. This is an official description of the game, which gives a fairly general idea of the story:
“KILLER IS DEAD is set in a cyberpunk world where biomechanical augmentations increase the power of criminals and executioners alike. Players control Mondo Zappa, a professional ‘Executioner’ who wields a sword in his right hand while brandishing interchangeable weapons in his left artificial arm. Mondo encounters all manner of violent adversaries in his global trek to fulfill contracts for ridding the world of its most nefarious criminals.”
Now, this is what I got out of actually playing the game:
There’s a guy named Mondo, who seems to be a hit man. People are coming to his company, hiring them to kill (what appeared to be) random individuals. He fulfills his job and then, something about the moon? Men with golden crotches and unicorns? Yeah. Killer is Dead MAKES NO SENSE! The game opens rather normally, you are an assassin, running down some man, and you kill him. I thought, “Hmm, okay.. Where’s this going?” 8 out of 12 episodes (or levels) later, I had no idea. The story has a good premise, but terrible writing, and terrible direction. It was not until the last 2-3 episodes that things started to make sense. Not because of an “aha!” moment where all the pieces of the story’s puzzle fit together. No, but because it was the one part of the game that was actually coherent. But even that bit of lucidity didn’t last long and by the end of the game again I was confused, thinking, “What? Why?!”
The general overtone of the story was serious and the pacing wasn’t good. Bits and pieces of misplaced humor didn’t add anything beneficial to the story. Instead it just made it seem awkward, like a bunny rabbit in a snake pit. The cute and the deadly don’t always mix. Or like that analogy I just used. Yeah, I should have probably left that out. Anyway, in comparison, No More Heroes, from start to finish, was obviously not a serious game. It was supposed to be ridiculous. It was supposed to be outlandish. It was supposed to be raunchy. There’s no mistake as to what kind of game it was supposed to be. I’m still trying to figure that out for Killer is Dead. So, needless to say, the story definitely wasn’t Killer Is Dead’s strong suit. I could follow No More Heroes; I could follow Lollipop Chainsaw, but this? Well, there’s always the sequel! Maybe.
Now that the story bit is out of the way, we can move on to the gameplay experience, which is usually where Suda’s games shine. Killer is Dead was okay in that respect. It mixes a bit of gunplay with hack and slash sword action. You can perform combos, level up and unlock new gun weapons for your mechanical arm. It wasn’t really anything new that we haven’t seen before and it wasn’t really anything overly fun. Unfortunately, the controls were a little clunky and at times unresponsive. Targeting specific enemies with the sword can be difficult in an all-out brawl as well. Plus, camera controls and placement could be a bit annoying. One thing that constantly annoyed me was the fact that my mind kept telling me to do air combos, or jump over enemies, up on ledges, etc. but there’s no jumping, or even hopping in this game. Yeah, keep that in mind.
One positive to tip my hat to, is the fact that the game still was challenging. I love a good challenge and this challenging gameplay stays in line with the Suda way. Although it is a hack and slash game, it’s not exactly a button masher. Different enemies may require different combos, attacks, or defensive moves. In addition, some enemies were downright difficult to beat. I found myself dying quite a bit on Normal mode in the game (47 times according to the scorecard at the end of the game). Fortunately, you have a partner in the game who revives you if you have enough “tickets” (which can be purchased before and after levels). There are three basic difficulty settings, Easy, Normal, and Hard, any of which can be picked from the start and changed during the game. After completing the game, Very Hard mode is unlocked for that extra challenge. Another plus: The final boss battle. It didn’t last long, but it still felt satisfying.
The campaign was a little short though. I found myself quite alarmed at how fast they passed on the whole. Only 12 episodes, I completed the story in about 11 hours. This included quite a bit of time spent on side missions, challenges, and mini-games. The story levels had a spark of creativity but ultimately left me wanting something better. Most episodes were short and I feel like this game could have been so much more. In all actuality, the meat of the game can be found, not in the main story, but in the challenges that can be unlocked during the story.
Throughout the different levels, you can find hidden missions and unlock extra challenges to play after at your leisure. These extras give you the option to fight enemies in time challenges, survival, kill counts, special circumstances (such as surviving while only killing a certain type of enemy even though two or three types of enemies are attacking you), a kind of hide and go seek challenge, and more. Each story level has challenges you can come back to, and also unlocks challenges elsewhere in the game (if you find the hidden sexy nurse).
Considering this is a very Japanese game, there’s also a series of dating mini-games which are rather shallow and pervy. The game consists of sneaking a peek at your dates “goodies” while she’s looking away, then buying her gifts to “bag” her. Yeah, not exactly a highlight of the game; but maybe there’s a lonely someone out there who will want to try it. *ahem*….
Overall, challenges, and side-missions are the places in the game where you’ll probably spend the most time. Hacking and slashing away at enemies through all of the various challenge maps and missions will keep you occupied for hours upon hours. Likely longer than the time you spend in the campaign modes. I must admit, I found those challenges somewhat more enjoyable than the rest of the game.
Graphically, Killer is Dead also left me wanting. The game was filled with performance problems. Screen tears, terribly low framerate drops, and a new cell-shading that made the game way too dark in places it shouldn’t have been. At times, the game looked gorgeous. It was a fair attempt at change, but it didn’t work out too well in execution. It’s a little disappointing, because I really loved the art style in No More Heroes (why do I keep mentioning that game?). As for the voice acting and sound, I would probably keep in on the Japanese voice option with subtitles (which is readily available to change between throughout the whole game). The English voices seemed tacked on and dull. At the very least, some of the music was nice. Some was a little captivating and entrancing, but rarely was the music emphasized in the game.
You really have to appreciate companies like XSEED/Marvelous, who bring us a lot of games that other publishers wouldn’t even give a thought to localizing. I respect them for that and I am looking forward to some of the other titles that they have lined up for localization. However, when all is said and done, Killer is Dead boils down to a game that is at best, “okay.” A game with potential on paper, but was poorly executed. If you’re a Suda fan, you’ll still probably like the game and forgive the quirks within. You’ll get your fill of challenging gameplay, gratuitous violence, and cleavage. For regular gamers, if you want a good hack and slash game, you can probably find a better one elsewhere. Heck, I would even recommend Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge. If you have already played that, well, I won’t protest if you rent Killer is Dead.
[Note: A free digital copy of Killer is Dead was provided for review by XSEED]