Killer is Dead Review (Xbox 360)

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Main Review

Review Context: Grasshopper Manufacture gave me my formal introduction to the character action genre with No More Heroes, and I’ve played most of their releases since then along with several by Platinum Games, namely Bayonetta, Anarchy Reigns, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and The Wonderful 101.
Date Playthrough Started: August, 27, 2013

Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture

Oh, Suda 51, if there’s a constant in the Universe it’s your obsession with career killers and obtuse plots. Who am I to question it, though? It’s done you pretty well so far, garnering you a steadfast if niche fanbase and a fair share of controversy – and through it publicity – over the last decade. Besides, if there’s any argument to make for repetition of a theme it’s in the refinement it breeds in the right hands, and Killer is Dead definitely finds itself in such hands.

On the mechanical side of things, Killer is Dead takes the talent tree ball that Lollipop Chainsaw picked up and runs with it, allowing you to customize your arsenal in favor of your sword, your multipurpose plot device robot arm, or general techniques to flavor the hacking and slashing ahead to your liking. Individual types of experience are required to upgrade these, health, and blood (essentially mana), and as a neat little detail you’re granted a certain degree of control over which you gain depending on which finisher you choose to execute at the end of a combo string. Combat and general interface continue to become more fluid with each crack Suda and Grasshopper Manufacture take at them, and after about half a dozen attempts they’ve finally produced a product that stands up when placed side by side with its modern character action peers. Never one to skimp on presentation, the cel shaded visual aesthetic is just the cherry on top of the artsy cupcake already oozing over with sugary, Noir-inspired style.

Killer is Dead

If you’ve ever played a Suda game, though, you know that controls and other such quantifiables aren’t the main draw here; It’s the narrative, and it should come as no surprise that Killer retains all the bizarre, bombastic disjointedness of its predecessors. The main hallmark of Suda’s yarns is that constant sensation of never quite having all the pieces of the puzzle that infuriates some and drives others to meticulous speculation (with or without a healthy level of projection), and as an English major I find myself comfortably in the latter group with an irrepressible ear-to-ear grin and more material than I could possibly fit proper analysis of into a review of this format.

Again, whether or not you get anything out of a half-told story is something you have to figure out for yourself, but with just a little analysis it’s clear that the choice elements revealed throughout the game were carefully selected. The contrast of protagonist Mondo Zappa’s (just tell me that’s not one of the coolest names you’ve ever heard) simplistic verging on nonexistent worldly desires against a rival/antagonist with eyes on world domination – literally desiring everything – not only makes for a thought-provoking piece of socioeconomic commentary that swings both ways but offers a shiny new filter for the satirical blank slate main character role previously filled by vapid cheerleaders and schizophrenic masterminds. This is just the tip of Killer’s academic iceberg, and whether your thing is chess motifs or gender issues (even if the much-maligned seduction minigame highlighting them isn’t so much offensive as just dumb, half-thought, and mostly pointless) there’s a lot of material for the more intellectual player to mine.

Killer is Dead

If the last several paragraphs weren’t an indication, Killer is Dead ultimately doesn’t bring much new to the table. It really comes off as the latest in a series of paint-by-number games from Grasshopper, albeit one with considerable advancements, but while a little more experimentation with their signature formula would be welcome it’s still different enough in theme and attitude from pretty much anything else on the shelf that it warrants a look. If you’re a Suda veteran you know exactly what you’re in for picking this one up. If not, plan for a potentially brainbending several hours that’s as likely to have you pumping your fist with an emphatic “F*** yeah!” as it is to leave you scratching your head accompanied by a “What the f***?”

Similar Game Liked:
No More Heroes (Wii)

Similar Game Disliked:
Lollipop Chainsaw (Xbox 360)

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