Killer is Dead (2013)
Publisher: Xseed Games
Console: Xbox 360
(*In a cold sweat, playing Killer is Dead*) Wh-wh-what’s going on…I don’t get it…I…Oh, it’s you. This game…I don’t know…it’s both one of the worst games I have ever played and one of the best. (*Throws shoe at TV screen*) There. Now I feel better. Suda 51, the author of this game as well as the two No More Heroes Games, creates another unique experience. Mikey?
I didn’t understand the game any better. We take the role of a devil-may-care assassin named Mondo Zappa who inhabits a wild comic-book reality where anything can happen: nursery-rhyme horror, giant mutants, sentient trains, possessed Yakuza, unicorns, mansions on the moon, the works. Mondo glides through all this chaos in a sharp suit, slashing at robotic enemies with his katana or shooting at them with his cybernetic arm, looking cool in the colour-saturated, high-contrast, cel-shaded visuals.
Mondo is dispatched on execution missions – all of which end with him decapitating his mark while solemnly reciting the game’s title – by cigar-smoking cyborg called Bryan and a lady motorcyclist who likes to leave her jumpsuit open to show her bra. Mondo also has a squeaking, girlish “assistant” called Mika who begins the game, dubiously, in his bed. This motley band of hitmen take contracts for money but also claim to work for “the state”. Though each mission’s relationship to the last is one of total incongruity, there is a thread of sorts, which involves a character asking Mondo to kill the king of the moon, whose name is David and who dresses like Lady Gaga.
This all sounds like a lark, and it sort of is, but Killer is Dead suffers from a near-total lack of purpose or theme which leaves it as little more than a jumble of random imagery and camp dialogue with a few painfully clumsy winks at the camera to excuse it away. Its only consistent aim seems to be an oddly earnest attempt at a B-movie psychological thriller, as Mondo – an amnesiac, naturally – connects fragments of his past to the half-articulated melodrama flapping weakly at the game’s center. This results in a couple of quite memorable dream sequences, including one boss fight where the camera intermittently switches to the view out of your opponent’s eyes – a neat trick. But Mondo is a paper-thin and slightly dour character – he certainly has none of Travis Touchdown’s (the hero of No More Heroes) impish charisma – and he can’t sustain the attention.
It’s a shame the production time wasted on this wasn’t spent on the core gameplay of Killer is Dead instead, because this is a solid swordfighting action game; generic, not particularly sophisticated, but presented with a gratifying, rhythmic flair. There’s only one attack button to combo with, while the guard mechanic – whether using Mondo’s own defensive stance, or breaking his enemies’ – is a bit stodgy. But pressing guard with a direction performs a usefully rapid dodge which can be used to flank enemies and which, if timed just right, stops time and allows you to mash away at the attack button for extra damage.
Shooting – performed over the shoulder – is less refined and not particularly well integrated, but it works well enough, and the controls are snappy. Shooting and finishing moves consume Blood, which can also be used to replenish health; your health and Blood can be upgraded as you play, and you can buy new moves and abilities. The mechanical knights you mostly face aren’t that varied in their tactics, but they can and do damage each other, and it’s fun to manipulate them into taking each other out.
So if you’re just looking for a solid action game, you could do worse than Killer is Dead. If you don’t mind going down a very large rabbit hole.