Killer Is Dead Review
If ever there was a such thing as a textbook Suda51 game, then ladies and gentleman, please meet Killer Is Dead.
It has the hack and slash gameplay, collectible crystals, bizarre enemies, a confident sense of style, unlockable moves, unlockable costumes, upgrades, a demented storyline, cultural riffs and a pervy sense of humour.
Its main character is Mondo, a gigolo assassin with a metal arm that can be used as a drill or a freeze-shooter, amongst other things.
A gigolo assassin with a metal arm.
That’s Suda51 through and through – this is a protagonist few other directors would dare to imagine, let alone bring to life with the verve and style that we see from Mondo in Killer Is Dead.
Killer Is Dead – Big Bosses
And Mondo needs to be a larger-than-life character because he has to stand up to an impressive array of bosses.
These boss battles are the obvious highlight of Killer Is Dead. They range from an Alice In Wonderland-esque girl who sprouts demonic arms and legs, scuttling around a room full of cupcakes spitting acid at you, to a yakuza riding a tiger through a bamboo forest as you give chase on a motorcycle.
What’s great about the bosses here is they all require legitimately different tactics. One of the key mechanics in Killer Is Dead is dodging just as an attack is about to land on Mondo. Successfully dodging in that small window gives you an opportunity to trigger Burst Rush, a series of uninterrupted slashes as the screen turns crimson red.
Yet the bosses tend to circumvent this with attacks that either crush dodging attempts or by hovering at range, demanding a different approach. Learning your way around bosses by studying their attack patterns, experimenting and then applying what you’ve learnt is something that’s been around since gaming began.
While it’s refreshing to see Killer Is Dead has kept that tradition alive, it’s an exhilarating game because it’s been done so well.
These boss battles are also the perfect stages for visual flourishes that help Killer Is Dead stand out as particularly stylish – silhouettes framed by the moon, a collapsing tower as the fight develops and so on.
Killer Is Dead – The Non-Boss Bits (And Staring At Boobs)
The main problem is the downtime between each boss fight drags the pace to a crawl.
Each stage sees you slice your way through Killer Is Dead’s collection of twisted creatures with Burst Rush but Mondo’s arsenal of moves is surprisingly linear, restricting creativity. You can make things more interesting by unlocking moves such as dodge mobility (that lets you zip from enemy to enemy while attacking) or upgrade attacks so they gain extra properties (which opens up some combo opportunities) but it’s not as free-form as Suda51’s other titles, or indeed, other titles in the hack-and-slash genre.
The distinct aesthetic style also undermines the combat when there’s more than one enemy on screen, because there’s often too much noise to spot visual cues for attacks. When this happens, dodging attacks to trigger Burst Rush relies on guesswork rather than skill, which means it’s not quite as satisfying to slice your way through an army of enemies.
Compounding the problem is that these sections have tedious goals attached that need to be met before you can proceed. One section sees you lurching forward in a forced walk towards the moon until the boss battle triggers. Another sees you hunting five scrolls to unlock a door, hidden around the environment with only a beeping noise when you get close as a clue. There’s a music shop of sorts that’s dull and confusing to navigate and a sci-fistyle base that’s… well, also dull and confusing to navigate.
You also unlock weapons between stages by winning a girl’s heart, which is done by staring at her boobs until a meter fills up so you can give her a present. It is literally how it’s just been described and it’s a bizarre, awkward distraction from the main game.
It just about fits with Killer Is Dead’s tone because the entire thing feels like a B-movie – this is a game where you talk to unicorns and fight enemies from the dark side of the moon, after all – but strictly from a gameplay point of view, it’s a boring and unnecessary way to unlock weapons.
Killer Is Dead – Better The Second Time Through
While the pace of the game frequently bounces from exhilarating (boss battles) to crushingly slow (the regular stages), there is something that helps swing momentum back in Killer Is Dead’s favour.
Completing each stage unlocks that area for bite-sized challenge arenas that often prove more interesting than their story equivalent – these arenas have a goal that demands you explore Mondo’s moveset in ways the main game doesn’t bother with, and so these often prove more interesting than slashing through the storyline.
The abundance of these helps make up for Killer Is Dead’s slender playing time – you’ll get through the entire thing in roughly six hours – but this is also a game that is far better the second time through. When you have more moves unlocked and the difficulty is cranked up, the boss battles become even better, morphing from stern challenges into dramatic 1-vs-1 showdowns as every blow landed feels like a minor victory and every hit taken is a huge setback.
That the game improves on a second play-through is another Suda51 trademark – Lollipop Chainsaw is also a much better game the second time round when the majority of moves are unlocked and the difficulty is increased to match Juliet Starling’s new arsenal – and even the fluff between Killer Is Dead’s boss battles become tolerable, as you will have learnt how to get through them with the minimum of fuss and the increased challenge at least makes those sections marginally interesting.
Killer Is Dead – Hit Or Miss?
Killer Is Dead is a strange title to assess.
Its boss battles are brilliant and a lesson to other game designers on how to make these types of encounters interesting and challenging, with a visual style that dazzles and gameplay design that engages. Killer Is Dead looks like nothing else out there, its confidence in its eccentric storyline and look means it has a swagger matched by few other games, and it is mostly fun to play through.
Yet the limp bits in between let Killer Is Dead down somewhat as they struggles to maintain that dizzying momentum set by the boss battles, and some awkward moments such as the stare-at-boobs-to-unlock-weapons mini-game get in the way of the game’s pace.
Simply put, although Killer Is Dead is a lot of fun, it never reaches the same heights as Lollipop Chainsaw managed with its bizarre humour and fizzy pace, nor No More Heroes and its become-the-top-ranked-assassin structure, nor Shadows Of The Damned and its comedy duo of Garcia Hotspur and Johnson.
Killer Is Dead is a good Suda51 title then but certainly not one of his best.
Version Tested: Xbox 360