Review: Killer is Dead
It seems like only yesterday that the video game industry was introduced to the last wacky and stylish Grasshopper Manufacture title, created by the Robert Rodriguez of video games, Suda 51. Last summer brought us Lollipop Chainsaw, a zombie hack & slash game featuring a bubbly cheerleader and her decapitated boyfriend. This year brings us Killer is Dead, a game about an assassin with a cybernetic arm that loves soft boiled eggs. It all sounds like the making of yet another quirky success from the studio that’s known for such odd and entertaining games, but that is unfortunately not the case this time. Killer is Dead is an uninspired, contrived, and an overall lackluster game. Grasshopper has outdone themselves but in the worst way possible.
Killer is Dead stars a government assassin by the name of Mondo Zappa. Mondo is equipped with a vampiric, cybernetic arm that assists him in battle. He also has a pretty nice suit. Other than that, he, like the rest of the cast of Killer is Dead, are uninteresting cardboard cutouts that so desperately wish they had the charm of Grasshopper games of the past. The story, if you can call it that, is a mess. Mondo begins work at an assassins agency where he’s tasked with killing cyborg demons from the Moon called Wires. Eventually, Mondo discovers that the assortment of execution contracts he’s been assigned to and the influx of Wires activity on Earth are related to a sole antagonist and Mondo’s past; but don’t expect the story to be as digestible as that sentence, it takes a good while to even know what this game is about.
Killer is Dead‘s narrative parades itself around as if it’s something more than it truly is. The dialogue and nearly every scene is filled with unnecessary fluff and artificial symbolism as if there is some sort of depth to the whole thing. The game is almost on the verge of being pretentious, with it’s abstract storytelling and loose exposition. Now, I’m not one to explicitly demand a fully coherent story—being someone that enjoys psychological stories—but Killer is Dead’s is just not as interesting as it might believe it is. Its attempts at being mysterious or captivating fall flat. When the game does introduce some form of exposition as a revelation or plot twist, it’s hard to muster up any interest at all, because there’s no reason to be invested in the characters or story. Even the English cast, filled with some fairly prominent voice actors, feels dull and lifeless–except for incessant chatter from Mondo’s assistant Mika.
Where Killer is Dead‘s narrative fails, its combat system picks up some of the slack. As with past titles from the developer, the combat can start off a bit funky and work its way up into something serviceable, but Killer is Dead cuts out the wait time considerably until the player is able to accomplish a variety of attacks and counters. Don’t expect Mondo’s move-set to be on par with Bayonetta or a God of War title, but it’s more accessible and functional than Juliet Starling’s from Lollipop Chainsaw. Mondo’s attacks circulate around the use of his sword, his cyborg arm, and dodge abilities. The game’s combat especially centers around using dodge to circumvent shields of counter and attack and then slashing away madly. Mondo’s adrenaline meter, powered by blood he acquires when striking enemies, allows him to go into an uninterrupted flurry of attacks. Adrenaline can also be triggered to take down vulnerable enemies in a one-hit-kill.
Mondo’s arm comes with sub-weapons that alters its uses. The default mode is a standard gun that is used for shooting enemies from afar and interacting with some obstacles. The remaining firing modes, such as the drill, can effectively help in combat, as well as potentially open up hidden areas throughout the game’s levels. Mondo’s arm also has a secondary use of breaking enemy blocks, which can be strengthened in the skill purchase menu. There are a limited number of skills available for Mondo, placed into three categories: Attack Skills, Sub Weapon Skills, and Special Skills. Mondo’s health and blood meters naturally level up over the course of the game by collecting combat experience. Upgrades can be purchased at a quick pace using Moon Crystals. Overall, the game is fairly easy on Normal difficulty, so one could expect to feel empowered early into the game.
Along with campaign, Killer is Dead features several challenge missions that either pit Mondo against waves of enemies, repeat a segment from the story with different parameters, or simply reach an objective within a time limit. Along with bonus missions, which can be a plus to those that thoroughly enjoy the game, there’s the Mondo’s Girls missions. Mondo, being the uninteresting character that he is (as with the rest of the cast and story) likes to flaunt his masculinity in as many ways as he can. Whether it be asking for a kiss or proclaiming that trains are a man’s passion, Mondo is the vehicle for most of Killer is Dead‘s pathetic assertion of machismo.
Mondo’s Girls missions are essentially dates where the player needs to score points by swooning a woman with eye contact and then sneaking looks at her chest, crotch, and anywhere else without her noticing. Once enough points are accumulated in the Guts meter, Mondo can present the lady with a gift. Once enough gifts satisfy the lady, she will fall for Mondo, the screen will go white, and you’ll be presented with your very own gift for use in the campaign. Might I add that each time Mondo successfully steals an eye full of the lady, sounds of passion will play. Depending on how well you did in the mission, you can also expect repeated and horribly repetitive calls from the ladies during your missions. As if dialogue wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, receiving calls from lusting ladies adds the icing to the cake. Lastly, for added creepiness, Mondo can acquire X-ray glasses that will let him see the underwear of the girls he’s dating. It’s just an asinine gameplay mode.
The one element of this game that I positively adore would have to be its art style. Grasshopper games are known for their stylistic visuals, incorporating deep and vibrant colors and cell-shading, and Killer is Dead is no exception. Combat, while decent on its own, greatly benefits from the visual style of this game (although there are occasional framerate dips)–in terms of visual appeal. A bevy of contrasting colors and particles can at times be a bit hectic to the eye, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. There may be some instances where the visuals impede the search for mission-specific goals, but not for long.
Killer is Dead is an OK action game with a horrible plot that seeps desperation from its developer to outdo themselves. It’s also filled with an awkward amount of cheesy gender stereotypes. Grasshopper Manufacture has taken all of the elements from their past Suda 51 titles and threw them at a wall without much thought, in hopes of creating yet another success. Instead, they’ve managed to create an empty shell of what fans could expect from a Grasshopper title.