Suda51 is at it again. Him and the rest of the Grasshopper Manufacture team have crafted another unusual (to say the least) experience that will probably fly under the radar for most. Killer is Dead is the latest crazy concoction to make its way out of GM’s lab of mad scientists and it looks like they’ve taken a piece of their popular past games, Kiler7 and No More Heroes, and mixed it with certain aspects of James Bond films. The game takes place in the near future where cybernetic enhancements (a la Deus Ex) and vacations on the moon are commonplace.
Our protagonist, Mondo Zappa, is a suave, sharply-dressed assassin equipped with an even sharper sword and a transforming cyborg arm. This assassin works for the Bryan Execution Firm, a government agency which takes on assassinations at their own leisure and where payment is primarily taken care of through taxpayer dollars. Sure, it sounds straightforward now, but as you might expect from a game with Goichi Suda’s name on it, things get a little weird.
Let’s find out what’s HOT and what’s NOT in our review of Killer is Dead
Killer is Dead sports Grasshopper Manufacture’s best combat yet. The combos, while limited, are fluid and satisfying as Mondo’s sword slashes through the opposition. The combat is standard fare for what releases nowadays — a basic attack button, a guard breaking heavy attack and a dodge button — but it’s in the execution of the combat mechanics that makes controlling the assassin so entertaining. The basic attacks utilize the sword whereas the heavy attacks see the use of Mondo’s fist with later upgrades bringing in bigger blows with the cyborg arm. The combat shines once you get combos and dodging down. Perfectly timing a strafe can leave an enemy completely open and the game will drain all color except red and black. In this state, Mondo will hack away at the enemy with superhuman speed as their health steadily plummets.
Mastering these counters is a highlight of the game. Furthermore, keeping the combo up rewards the player with a finish option called Final Judgement, which comes in four flavors: Assassination, Slaughter, Punishment and Execution. Each one provides a different item, ranging from the life-bar extending diamonds to the Moon Crystal currency. The latter can be used to buy combat upgrades for Mondo or gifts for the ladies, but more on that later.
Let’s not forget about Mondo’s left arm,. His cybernetic arm named Musselback may come off as a Mega Man blaster, but it turns out it goes a bit deeper than that. While it is capable of firing plasma shots (projectiles that can one-shot unarmored enemies with a headshot) similar to Capcom’s blue icon, it can also transform to take on a variety of needs. You can change to the Freeze Shooter to slow down enemies or the Drill to barrel through armored opponents or weak walls. Regardless of which of the four unlockable sub-weapons you choose, you’ll need “BLOOD” to power it. Fortunately, enemies are all too willing to spill their BLOOD, along with health and other items, to charge up your arsenal. The fluidity of combat is something to be admired given Grasshopper Manufacture’s past clunky offerings.
Bold and Beautiful Design
Killer is Dead sports a cel-shaded art style with a darker vibe. The heavy emphasis on black and red, especially during the counter attacks, really brings this stylistic action game together. The art style is one of the main draws here and it only gets better when that style is laid over some truly insane environments. Early missions see Mondo going through an Alice in Wonderland inspired madhouse infested with insects while another has the suited killer battling a man, whose clothing option would make Soul Calibur’s Voldo blush, with a god complex on the moon. The interesting design options are also prevalent in the game’s structure as well. Mondo will conduct part of a boss battle through the eyes of the boss. So the player has to maneuver Mondo toward their screen and dice themselves up. Design decisions like this span across nearly all of the boss encounters, making each one a memorable battle.