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Killer Is Dead review

Solid
AT A GLANCE
  • A refreshingly unique world
  • Satisfying hack 'n slash combat
  • Very creative boss battles
  • Too much reused content
  • Feeling gross after completing a Gigolo mission
  • Wishing the story had more depth

Killer Is Dead isn’t interested in being mainstream, and that’s a refreshing feeling when retail games becoming increasingly homogenized. If you’re in tune with the action game’s post-modern, macabre vibe, then Killer Is Dead is an invigorating break from the norm. Sadly, it’d be easier to get in tune with it if the game’s pacing and tech issues didn't get in the way.

Killer Is Dead’s assassin-for-hire/hero is Mondo Zappa, a stylish man of mystery that executes deserving targets for cash. Mondo and his interesting, oddball support team--including a Japanese schoolgirl and a laid back cyborg--spend the episodic campaign taking on new clients and exacting bloody revenge on their targets. It sounds straightforward, but each assignment ratchets up the stimulating weirdness to keep players on their toes. After an early stage sends Mondo (sans spacesuit) to a castle on the moon, Killer Is Dead quickly establishes an engaging, unpredictable atmosphere, and that’s helped by the shadowy visuals and eclectic soundtrack.

The core combat in Killer Is Dead is far more predictable than its plot, but the action gameplay is done well. Mondo primarily attacks with his samurai sword, and its hack ‘n slash combos are deepened by the numerous defensive options. You quickly learn that well-timed blocks and sidesteps allow for more cinematic slashings, and bigger combos unlock splendidly gory executions. Some recent games have had deeper action, but Killer Is Dead is content to find its groove and stick with it.

Mondo’s secondary ranged attacks are less interesting, but Killer Is Dead doesn’t aim to be a shooter. There’s fun to be had switching up ranged and close attacks on an enemy, but the gunplay is predominantly used to blast the occasional, faraway henchmen that’s shooting you in the back. Regardless of how you choose to take on your foes, though, all of Mondo's attacks come with purchasable upgrades, a fine system that should’ve been given more space to grow.

While the action is a treat thanks to its fluidity, you'll find yourself wishing there was more variety to the enemies you'll face. Killer Is Dead throws the same handful of baddies at Mondo throughout, and destroying the same beast-monsters over and over gets a bit monotonous at times. Still, the incredibly creative boss fights more than make up for the repetitive regulars. Whether it’s a Yakuza with a deadly tiger tattoo or a huge insect that grows more disgusting by the second, each of Mondo’s targets has some clever gameplay trick that make them reward enough for reaching the end of a level.

Mondo’s globetrotting killing spree is an eclectic mix of stages filled with quality action, but the game stumbles when the end comes too soon. A normal playthrough will take most about seven hours, and you’re left feeling a little empty by the finale. The last areas have some fitting bombast, but little is explained or resolved. We didn’t expect a script as strange as Killer Is Dead’s to have a fairy tale ending, but it could have used more substance.

The plentiful side content proves that the gameplay holds up without the offbeat storytelling. The majority of the ancillary modes are timed challenges and combat exercises that revisit previous areas. They’re fun, but occasionally the reused levels highlight how bland some of the level design is. Meanwhile, the hedonistic Gigolo Mode fills time by taking players through a number of dating minigames. These brief distractions are shallow from a pure gameplay standpoint, while the visuals (meant to titillate) will leave most feeling like pervs for seducing digital women by staring at their breasts. It’s not the game’s proudest moments.

When Killer Is Dead’s limited amount of content isn’t holding it back, tech issues are. The game suffers from a surprising amount of screen tearing. That and the game’s uneven barrage of load screens don’t render the game unplayable, but these problems are something we expect more from a PS2 game than on PS3/360.

Killer Is Dead successfully separates itself from the pack, but it doesn’t live up to all its potential. It ends too soon, is padded with reused areas, and suffers from tech problems that should be defunct. It’s a credit to the design that it’s still worth playing in spite of all that. If you want to experience something that revels in its strangeness, those obstacles are worth overcoming; it’s just a shame they had to compromise this inventive title.

Reviewed on the PS3

More Info

Release date: Aug 27 2013 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: XSEED Games
Developed by: Grasshopper Manufacture, Suda 51
ESRB Rating:
Mature

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26 comments

  • winner2 - August 28, 2013 8:22 a.m.

    I feel like playing Suda51 games is like doing the occasional hit of weed for a normally straight laced guy. It's just a slightly guilty pleasure kind of feeling
  • avantguardian - August 28, 2013 1:36 a.m.

    so looking at digital ta-tas should make you feel dirty and ashamed, but getting off on mercilessly slaughtering a shit-ton of digital fools is all good? classic american double standard. i just don't get it.
  • g1rldraco7 - August 27, 2013 5:24 p.m.

    This feels like Shadows of the Damned all over again, there was barely advertisement for this game except in the gamer magazines. I'm not sure if I should get it now. :/
  • n00b - August 27, 2013 1:56 p.m.

    reviews on suda 51 games are practically meaningless for me. Can't wait to get it. The company has never failed to give me a good time.
  • cyco687 - August 27, 2013 9:47 p.m.

    Same here, found out about him from No More Heroes, later picked up Shadows of the Damned and it was an absolute blast, so I got Lollipop Chainsaw too, and loved every minute of it, can't wait to grab this one.
  • Frieza - August 27, 2013 12:03 p.m.

    When it comes to whether I like a game or not, I find that I care more for the characters, lore, environment, and story before gameplay. The main reason why I didn't like Mass Effect was not because of the gameplay and the pace of the game, but the general atmosphere of the game. I couldn't even get to the first mission because I became less and less entertained. Not sure if this makes me a shallow gamer or not, but that's just the way I roll. Of course, if a game's gameplay is poor that too can break a game for me. But I can live with poor gameplay if it isn't TOO bad, as long as the story is good. The point I'm trying to make is that I was hyped for this game because of the interesting characters and lore, not the gameplay. I know you guys didn't say the gameplay was horrible or anything, but I can live with reused content and repetitive combat if I enjoy the lore. ...I really don't know what the point of this post was going to be, so I'll stop here...
  • Darkhawk - August 27, 2013 10:14 a.m.

    Whatever happened to the Suda51 of Killer7? That game was so inventive, fun, and had such a great story (and way of storytelling) it's sad to see him degenerate into this and Lollipop kinda stuff.
  • Vonter - August 27, 2013 1:17 p.m.

    Well depends to who you ask, many reviewers back in the day considered Killer 7 story a mess and with very lack of clearance. From first impressions I could assume he's trying to appeal to the NMH and SotD fandom. But who knows.
  • sephex - August 27, 2013 2:41 p.m.

    He's the Tarantino/Rodriguez of the gaming industry. He had one good movie and then a lot of mediocre.
  • Rub3z - August 29, 2013 8:16 p.m.

    Tarantino still makes good films. I suppose you're not the kind of guy whose opinion on the matter can be swayed, but whatever.
  • Slaanash - September 22, 2013 9:04 p.m.

    Keeping in mind I'm a fan of No More Heroes, and even thought Lollipop was pretty good: Compare Suda's credit in Killer7 to Killer is Dead, DMD, etc. He had pretty much full control of K7 but the rest he's an "adviser" or "story consultant" or something. I think No More Heroes is the last game that he really had full reign on it. I've wondered if it's a symptom of how groundbreaking Killer7 was. Taking into account all of its flaws, I'd venture to say Killer7 is one of the best games ever made. Suda put a LOT of effort into it, so maybe it just drained him. He called it his proudest achievement, and I wonder if it took a lot out of him. still, I can hold out hope.
  • Darkhawk - November 15, 2013 10:35 a.m.

    Interesting observations on creative control. I also really love NMH 1 and 2, and they definitely have more of that "feel" of Suda then Shadows or Lollipop or this other nonsense. (Black Knight Sword was also Suda-esque in the best sense). Still, I wish he'd return to the K7 structure and get away from this action stuff.
  • theguyinthecloset - August 27, 2013 9:43 a.m.

    are you guys going to post a review for Flashback from the XBL Summer of Arcade?
  • nai1210 - August 27, 2013 7:35 a.m.

    I like Suda 51's stuff but this is probably the most favorable review i have seen so far,I might wait till it drops in price although i generally pick his stuff up day 1 to support grasshopper manufature as i want them to continue making original and weird game's
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - August 27, 2013 6:58 a.m.

    Not trying to be snarky or anything, but why does Suda51 have such a well known name? It seems like his games tend to be very hit-or-miss most of the time, and kind of come across as juvenile. No offense or anything, just not my cup of tea. Am legit curious if tjetes something to Suda51 I'm missing.
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - August 27, 2013 7:09 a.m.

    *there is. Damn phone touchscreen keyboards.
  • nai1210 - August 27, 2013 7:29 a.m.

    Yeah sometimes Suda is kinda juvenile like all the dick joke's in shadows of the damned,but the main character of said game is still pretty cool,I have enjoyed all his recent games ,if you haven't played Killer 7 I would recommend checking it out on gamecube or ps2 this is the title along with Flower,Sun,Rain on ps2(later ported to DS)that probably gave him his well known name status,kinda put him on the map.
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - August 27, 2013 8:31 a.m.

    I've heard lots of great things about Killer7, but sadly missed that one back in the PS2 days. Honestly, I didn't mind all the dick jokes in SotD, as it seemed more of a silly parody of the super-cool-manly-man archetype then anything. Can't really say that about this game though, unless he's trying to be subtle about it. Don't think thats the case though.
  • Vonter - August 27, 2013 9:49 a.m.

    Well, what I like about Suda it's that he makes fun games even with all the pervy and juvenile jokes. I think it works because mostly these games aren't to be taken seriously but also have character development so that they are not one trick ponies. Also I may jump the gun but there aren't a lot of humor or ridiculous games done in this scale outside of this dev and platinum. So maybe that's also reason why it can be cared about. Most (not all) games want to be serious and not funny.
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - August 27, 2013 10 a.m.

    Fair points. That sorta humour at face value isn't my sort of thing, but if thats what you like, and the game is fun (which some of his games really aren't), then yeah, I can understand the love Suda51 seems to get.

Showing 1-20 of 26 comments

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