Killer is Dead slides onto HD consoles with a smooth talking protagonist and an undeniably sexy style. Grasshopper Manufacture, headed by the brilliantly mad Suda51, takes a few stylistic cues from their own Killer7 to craft a predictably bizarre and truly unique action experience. The pertinent themes of this brave new IP are “Love and Kill”.
Its eye catching visuals and lovely ladies are the obvious drawing points of the title, but is it good for more than a one night stand?
Players take control of Mondo, a lady killing super suave secret agent a la James Bond. He earns a job at an execution firm which itself works for “The State”. The game is set on a futuristic planet Earth, but I don’t remember the location of the office or the identity of “The State” being formally mentioned. Mondo is sent on a number of missions, one of which leads him to a man named David who weakly emerges as the game’s main villain.
The plot doesn’t take itself too seriously and is rife with funny dialogue, jokes and even fourth wall breaking. In one early scene, Mondo and David even start discussing how clichéd the “villain seeking to take over the world” angle has become in video games and how K.I.D. is an action game, so the fans want more action and less talking. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the story seems to boil down to: David trying to take control to the world. The developments that emerge from David’s connection to Mondo are somewhat confusing and poorly explained.
On the whole the game’s story isn’t taken awfully seriously and it surely isn’t one of this title’s selling points, so it’s easy to overlook any shortcoming here.
Killer is Dead looks wonderful. The cell-shaded visuals are simply bursting with color and flair. This style is immediately comparable to Grasshopper’s own Killer7, and the similarities between these games don’t end at the visuals. Characters, enemies and environments are all depicted in a highly stylized, eye catching way. In battle, Mondo’s sword leaves behind bright neon streaks as it slashes through foes and enemies explode into vivid puffs of violet smoke when defeated. Battles transpire within a kaleidoscope of glittering visual effects. This fantastic visual style is unarguably unique and one of the game’s strongest selling points.
Aside from the visual presentation, the designs of the characters and environments are all pretty fantastic as well. One particular stage set in Japan is perhaps one of the most memorable stages I’ve visited in a game, with its warm orange sunset, shimmering body of water and glistening pink sakura trees. The enemies or “Wires” tend to sport something of a Predator-esque feeling, while also looking robotic. All of the women have beautiful faces and the vast majority of them also boast wholly gratituous curves and proportions.
This unique style continues into the game’s soundtrack, which I am absolutely smitten with. While I did hear a bit of generic stuff during certain boss fights, Killer is Dead’s soundtrack is a medley of acid jazz and techno with some house, ambient and even R&B influences folded in. It adds to the sophisticated and very adult attitude perpetuated by the game. I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the music in this game. I really like the loading screen music, and one of my favorite tracks is played when one of the girls is uhm…slipping into her unmentionables.
Since we’re talking about sound, I must say that the game’s English voice dub was quite enjoyable. The always classy Tara Platt takes brings Vivienne to life and the rest of the cast sounds natural and believable as well. The game features dual audio, but I never even once felt the need to change to Japanese voices for a lack of quality English voicing.
Killer is Dead’s game-play is rather multifaceted. The campaign missions are straightforward and predictable, but everything else not so much. The campaign mode takes Mondo to a variety of locations around the world. There is no petty platforming or puzzle solving tacked on: these missions consist almost exclusively of slaying baddies and progressing through to the end of the stage.
K.I.D.’s combat is certainly very enjoyable, but it definitely lacks the depth you’ll see in some of the genre’s finest entries. Mondo is equipped with one and only one sword and his basic combo never really changes. As you slay enemies the sword absorbs their blood, and this blood serves a variety of useful functions. It speeds up the basic combo and that’s when Mondo’s sword starts leaving those wonderful neon streaks behind. Aside from that, it is also used to access a healing skill and Mondo’s mechanical arm. You can purchase an upgrade for a certain spinning cut, and one more sword attack that launches the enemy, but outside of that combat with the sword (which honestly seems like the meat of the combat) is extremely straightforward and simplistic.
I didn’t too much mind it since it’s good to take a break from the demanding likes of Devil May Cry 3 and just button mash, but be aware that that’s primarily what you’ll do in K.I.D.’s close quarters combat. Mash the attack button.
Mondo’s arm can be upgraded in variety of ways, from a gun to a drill and to some other stuff. Using these weapons also consume blood. There are no traditional items in this game, but you have access to a skill which replenishes your health while consuming blood. Once you’ve maxed this skill, on normal mode the game starts to feel really easy, but I honestly found this to be refreshing and relaxing compared to other games I’ve played in the genre. Once you take a hit too many you can heal up easily, run back up and keep mashing away.
Mondo can also sacrifice blood for an adrenaline burst attack which instantly kills most enemies and he has access to an advanced guard which seems pretty neat. Dodging an attack in a timely fashion earns you a brief QTE where you just mash the attack button and shred the enemy to bits. One note about his dodge is that it didn’t cancel out of attacks fast enough for me. I found myself getting hit several times after I’d hit the dodge button and that tends to leave a sour taste in my mouth. It’s something you have to adjust to here.
The combat is simplistic and the stages are straightforward, if lovely. The missions are where this game gets its variety. Some of the missions involve riding on a motorcycle, manning a turret, or rescuing a priceless doll from a timed stage crawling with enemies. The simplicity of the main game is easy to ignore when many of the missions are so diverse and challenging.
But enough about that, you came here to hear about a different kind of mission; a mission of the gigolo variety. Technically, these missions are very easy to complete. You shower a gal with expensive gifts and then stare at her lady parts (while she’s distracted of course) long enough to fill a certain meter. Once the meter is full, the mission is over. The gigolo missions offer two main incentives. They make you feel naughtily giddy as you view digital softcore porn and they also reward you with upgrades for Mondo’s arm, as well as other useful tidbits.
Without spoiling too much, I’ll say that you can go all the way with the girls in Killer is Dead and some of the racier scenes are just shocking. If they were any more explicit this game would have earned an Adults Only rating. I’m serious.
Once you’ve cleared the brief campaign, completed a few missions and seen your share of… let’s say “love” scenes, unlockables are your main dangling carrot. You can purchase costumes for Mondo and the girls and upgrades for your health and blood, which will come in very handy on the harder difficulties. Some of these costumes cost many millions of dollars, so you’ll be playing for quite a while if you want to see the girls in them.
Easy, normal and hard difficulty settings are available from the outset, but once you clear the game on at least normal you’ll unlock the very hard setting. The game has a leaderboard, so you can see how you stack up against your friends and the rest of the world’s players and replay missions to earn a better score than all your friends. The campaign took me roughly six hours to clear, but completing all of the missions, bedding all of the girls and unlocking all of the costumes should take well over a dozen hours, more if you want to earn all the trophies and clear all of the difficulties.
While there’s nothing terribly wrong with K.I.D., its shortcomings are rather obvious. It’s not exactly style over substance from a game-play perspective, but there simply isn’t a whole lot of game here. If you aren’t big on replaying games or completion, then seven hours at most is probably all of the entertainment you’ll get out of this title. Also, action fans infatuated with Platinum Games’ titles or the Devil May Cry series will shake their heads in disappointment at this game’s relatively shallow combat. The story is also a bit of a joke.
With a serious $60 MSRP, Killer is Dead could be a much better rental than purchase for some.
That said, Killer is Dead is surely a smooth operator. Its grown and sexy charm is truly unique and like nothing I’ve experienced in a game before. It has beautiful visuals, a jazzy and addictive soundtrack, sharp, simplistic action combat, lots of missions and “love” scenes that you wouldn’t want the kids to see. It’s just as bizarre as you’d expect it to be coming from Suda and the rest of the Grasshopper team, but perhaps a better game because of it. If you’re an action fan and you’re of age, then you’ll surely enjoy loving and killing your way through Killer is Dead.