Goichi Suda (better known as Suda51) is known for making some extremely quirky and at times bizarre games. The only one I had played before Killer Is Dead was Shadows of The Damned, and while it was a fairly simple game, I actually found it a lot of fun, and while the dialogue and penis and other sex-related jokes seemed to go on endlessly, they still added some of that typical Suda style to the game and added an extra layer to what was a pretty straightforward narrative (apart from that part where your girlfriend grows wings and stuff). A friend of mine has always been a massive fan of Suda's games and almost swears by killer7 (which I have yet to play), so when Grasshopper Manufacture set Killer is Dead on the scene I was interested from the get-go. Not just because it was another Suda game though - I've always been a fan of cel-shading graphic styles and thought the style which was previewed in the first trailer was almost enchanting at times. Not only that but the action of the game looked so swift and smooth that I simply had to try it. Did it live up to my expectations and to the standard of Suda's past games?
On the latter question, it's a little hard to say. Suda's games have never been massive hits in the West, but he does have a loyal fanbase here. Lollipop Chainsaw was received relatively well but it wasn't seen as much above your average game, especially considering it (apparently) only lasted about 6 hours long, although there was a lot of replayability especially if you're one that likes to try and achieve the highest rank on missions and challenges. Shadows of the Damned was received well too, although with Shinji Mikami (creator of the Resident Evil series) working with Suda it certainly had a different flavour to it - and much more expected of it as it was being published by EA. Still, it was a solid title, especially when Goichi Suda later on stated that he felt he was more under pressure than ever when making it. His titles will probably never be massive hits here because of the unique aspects of his games, and his usual focus on more dark and twisted narratives, but his own individual style is always going to appeal to a number of gamers. As for whether it lived up to my expectations, in short, no, for a few reasons.
My main attraction to Killer Is Dead was the combat. Swift, cool hack n' slash action. I'm not an expert on hack n' slash games but it is a genre I have begun to step into of late, and I have always enjoyed games with swordplay so I'm not a complete newbie to games with sword-based combat. Like with a lot of hack n' slash games (and indeed RPGs too) you start off fairly restricted to just a few, straightforward moves and as you progress you get the chance to upgrade your abilities and unlock new moves. I of course forgot this when I began and took things a little to heart when I realised how effortlessly I flew through my first set of enemies without really needing to change things up. The problem, however, is that you don't really get to unlock many actual moves - you can reduce the restriction on your katana which allows you to pull off more strong and powerful moves (and more quickly) if you're able to reach 30 hits or so in a combo, but even here Mondo will just repeat the same moves after 3-4 hits. Some of the extra moves you can learn are more trouble to pull off than they're worth especially if you're in a tight corner, like the upper slash, or spinning blade in which Mondo wildly (and I really mean wildly) spins his sword around in a circle 2-3 times but which leaves you wide open to attacks. If enemy types were more varied and more challenging perhaps it wouldn't be so noticeable, but even then when you're facing a few waves of enemies it's hard not to become a little bored doing the same moves over and over again. With some enemies or bosses you might just have to repeat the quick dodge and attack move (you'll have to excuse me here as I don't know the name for it since I am only a beginner at reading Japanese) and do little else since they block almost everything else, which allows you to batter your enemy with sword swipes if you can dodge their attack at the perfect time. Or you can do a just guard which is effectively a parry which stuns your enemy for a quick second allowing you to get in some hits.
You also have the use of Mondo's cybernetic left arm, called the "Musselback" which can transform into different projectile shooters. You have the standard shot, the freeze shot, the blast cannon and the drill, but the problem with these is that they don't really have much of a place in combat, or at least you won't find a desperate need to use them very regularly. The drill can be used to break shields but you would be quicker to dodge behind an enemy and attack him from there, and the freeze gun can be useful at times but slowing yourself down by taking yourself out of normal combat to aim a gun in order to slow down an enemy sometimes feels like it defeats the whole purpose of the weapon. The standard gun is the most useful since you'll need it to attack aerial enemies with and to go for headshots on enemies, and the blast cannon can actually be pretty useful in dispersing enemies when you have a large group around you. But in all, at least to me, needing to use the Musselback seems to feel like more of a hindrance and an annoyance than a privilege. The same can be said for using the guard break attack (which is basically just a punch), the use of which feels like it just breaks the flow of combat since Mondo doesn't do any combos with it, he literally just throws continuous jabs at the enemy in order to break through resistance. There are also other gameplay features, like Vivienne randomly appearing in a scene on her bike to whip out her 18 or so arms (I won't even attempt to understand or describe the meaning behind that) and unleash a blitz of bullets, or Bryan falling out of the sky to lend Mondo a turret, but these are used so infrequently in the game and so bizarrely that they almost had to have just been afterthoughts as a way to fit Vivienne and Bryan into the game better.
The one thing I expect to be good from a hack n' slash is boss battles and unfortunately they're hit and miss as far as KiD is concerned. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh; the last hack n' slash game I played was Devil May Cry 1 which had some of the most fun and challenging boss battles I've played in quite a while but regardless of a comparison with that, Killer is Dead's boss battles are for the most part pretty poor. They all have at least 2 different stages (normally 3) which will be like 2 (or 3) different forms of that boss. So for example say you're fighting a 3-legged monster, the first stage may be to fight it and cut off one leg, the second stage will be to cut off a second leg, and the final stage will end with its execution. I could have forgiven the combat itself if boss battles were more diverse and fun but personally this is the biggest disappointment about KiD.
The plot of the game does maintain Suda's normal dark twists and dark types of setting which can keep things interesting. The cast of characters aren't particularly alluring though, especially since characters like Vivienne and Bryan don't actually appear all that often, and when they do you're never really given a reason to care about them. It's a little strange yet at the same time interesting, because normally in any game you will have support characters that you're given a reason (be it a good or bad one) to care about or to take an interest in, but the nature of Mondo's work and business is reflected in the player's lack of relationship with and knowledge about these characters, and while it might feel to the player that there's a bit of an empty hole there, I think that's the whole point of it. Mondo is cordial with Bryan and Vivienne but even as someone who interacts with them more often than the player does, he isn't overly friendly with them nor is he someone that comes to depend on them. Heck, he even lives with Mika and barely takes an interest in her at all.
There were a few raised eyebrows when the Gigolo Missions for the game were revealed - the normal mentions of the sexualisation of women in games were inevitably one of the reasons why. But - at least not yet - there hasn't been a big outcry about it and probably for a good reason. The Gigolo Missions are simply there as something extra for the perverted gamers among us that want to pretend we're chatting up a sexy Brazilian girl at a bar, or a racy 350+ year old vampire and get a look at their underwear. The missions don't really go anywhere, which probably isn't a surprise, yet at the same time it seems like it's just thrown in to add more time to the game and for a bit of fanservice. All you do is head on in, look at the lady's private parts when she's not looking and throw expensive gifts at her until she says "sure I'll shag you, I've got time". It's pretty immature, but this is coming from a developer that included a weapon called the "Big Boner" in one of his previous games.
Having expected a lot more than what Killer is Dead delivers, I have (pretty clearly from this review) been disappointed. Perhaps I have been a little too harsh on it here in just talking about the negative aspects of the game but it's unfortunately all I can see when I look my experience with the title. While action can be very smooth, the repetitive nature of combat during longer missions is a bit off-putting, and there's not a whole lot in the game that really stands out of which I can say "no game does X like Killer is Dead does", or "this aspect of the game is where the game really shines", because in truth it doesn't particularly shine anywhere. There's no real pizazz, no flamboyancy in this game which the majority of Suda's games tend to have, nothing that really separates it from everything else on the market, and with no great style its lack of substance becomes maybe a bit too evident and makes the game feel a little more underwhelming than it actually is to players like myself. This isn't to say that all of Suda51's games are all only about style (quite the contrary), but with it being something we come to expect from the man at Grasshopper Manufacture you sure do notice it when it's not there, and how much it can add to a game. The narrative of the game isn't bad mind you, and the depiction of Mondo's relationship with his colleagues is curious, yet at the same time the lack of any real ties to the game's characters makes you feel more out of the loop than needed. In all, the most surprising thing to me was that I found I never really had any fun in playing the game and that is what really was the kicker and the deciding factor in my experience of the game. Killer is Dead isn't a bad game, but in failing to really differentiate itself from other titles on the market over the past few years and falling short in most departments of the potential it had, it's a pretty missable title.