The lights are on
"Suda51" is a name that's synonymous with "strange". Goichi Suda has been involved with the creation of some of the oddest games to have ever been released, from killer7 to No More Heroes to Shadows of the Damned. I'm a fan of a lot of his work (I love Shadows of the Damned). Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for Killer Is Dead, though. It's Suda's wackiest game to date.
The story in Killer Is Dead is idiotic, random and offensive. It was written by Suda, so nothing less is to be expected. This is a story in which the main character, Mondo Zappa, constantly travels from the earth to the moon (I have no clue how and neither does the game) and confronts a man who lives in a mansion there. Along the way Mondo finds himself in a demented version of Alice in Wonderland and he must fight Alice, who turns into a giant spider. Later he fights a man with a tiger tattoo that can turn into an actual tiger. Yeah, it's that kind of story.
Mondo primarily uses his katana to brutally slice through foes. Players will mash a single button for the majority of a playthrough, but the combat system isn't necessarily shallow. Dodging at the right moment and unleashing a flurry of attacks always feels satisfying. Plus, Mondo can be upgraded using, um, moon crystals (?) collected from defeated enemies and objects in the environment. The crystals can go towards his katana, abilities and left arm, which is cybernetic. The cybernetic arm is often used during combat as well to break through enemies' defenses, but later on it becomes a sort of gun. Then it can be used to defeat other gun-toting enemies and solve simple puzzles.
The combat may be the best in any Suda game to date. I really did have a lot of fun with it. I enjoyed dodging and then going in for the kill. I kept things interesting by making sure to utilize both the katana and the arm, but that was just my approach. I was also sure to level up Mondo's health-related stats when I got the chance to. Doing that is highly recommendable.
Grasshopper Manufacture attempted to evoke a kind of comic book feel with Killer Is Dead. However, it's obvious that under the cel-shading lies a game that just isn't much to look at. The character models are all interesting and there's a certain flair to the visuals, but the continual shift between flashiness and darkness can be a bit much. I'm sure Grasshopper wasn't going out of its way to damage anyone's corneas, but it sometimes felt that way while I was playing Killer Is Dead. However, some of the environments are still cool to take in.
Killer Is Dead also has some technical issues working against it. Sometimes textures take their time to appear, which seems to always be a problem in cel-shaded games. I experienced screen tearing multiple times. It's also difficult to anticipate enemies' attacks because of the shadowy environments. It's hard to tell where in the environments some enemies are at times.
The sound design is schizophrenic. The music feels out of place a lot of the time. For example, I don't see how soulful jazz sets the mood for a boss battle. But the soundtrack can be pretty slick at times as well. What isn't good, ever, is the voice acting. It's cheesy as hell and downright annoying. I don't think I've ever wanted a video game character to die as much as I wanted Miku, Mondo's sidekick, to.
At certain points in the game if players want something extra they'll have to participate in "Gigolo Missions", which require them to go on dates with women. It's not the first time that scenario has occurred in a game, but it's never been like it is in Killer Is Dead. Mondo must stare at a woman's breasts or genitals in order to fill up a meter that, when full, allows him to give the women presents and "win their hearts". If he can win their hearts to the point where they'll have sex with him, the women will give Mondo new sub-weapons, such as a cannon for his arm.
Other side missions exist as well and pop up between story missions. Most of them are fun and range from turret sequences to finding a cursed doll before Mondo's health runs out. Scarlett, a skimpily-clothed nurse who rides a floating syringe and hides in boxes and other objects during missions, offers some more challenges. They are worth doing only for the purpose of scoring Scarlett's glasses, which allow Mondo to see through the clothes of the women he dates, speeding up the process of obtaining sub-weapons.
While the combat in Killer Is Dead is fun, Grasshopper, for some reason, opted to offer very short gameplay segments. A lot of missions start with a long cutscene followed by Mondo running through an area to engage in a few minutes of combat only to be interrupted by another cutscene. I don't know why Grasshopper devoted this much effort to the story when it's complete hogwash. I'm all for crazy stories in entertainment, but what I don't like is when something doesn't have a plot at all. Killer Is Dead doesn't; its story is completely and utterly nonsensical with no redeeming qualities. Fortunately the cutscenes are skippable.
It all takes on a tone of "Let me play already, dammit!". Certain story missions where Mondo is forced to walk at a snail's pace certainly don't help matters, and neither does the camera. It ranks among the worst I've experienced in any game this generation. It constantly focuses on the wrong thing at the most inopportune moments. It has a habit of sticking on a single enemy while Mondo is completely surrounded, leading to a lot of unblockable attacks and frustration. It's inexcusably bad and drags down the entire game.
And the missions themselves are just structurally boring. Nearly every section follows the same pattern: enter a room, fight some enemies, run down a hallway to a different room, fight some more enemies. Fight a cheap, dull boss that is totally out of sync with what the rest of the game offers. I know this is the pattern for a lot of action games, but something about it just feels off in Killer Is Dead. It's probably because everything else that isn't the combat is just such a damn slog.
I've been playing video games for a long time and I've seen a great deal of offensiveness, but the Gigolo Missions in Killer Is Dead may just take the cake. They are disgusting. It's perfectly acceptable to include sexual intercourse in a game, but when the game points out that a man is making a woman his "prisoner in body and soul", something is wrong. To add insult to injury, every woman in Killer Is Dead is stupid. They spout lines like "You make me so happy!" when Mondo gives them presents and "You're making me blush" when he's staring at their crotch. I expect controversial things from Suda, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.
I've been following Goichi Suda since I first played killer7. He's an interesting fellow to be sure. Killer Is Dead made me lose a little bit of faith in him. It's not a bad game by any means, but I know Grasshopper is capable of more. I can't really recommend it to anyone who isn't a diehard, hardcore, absolute 100 percent fan of Suda. So that's my actual review, I suppose. I don't know. I had some fun, but I'm also confused and disappointed.
I like this game