There is no doubting Killer is Dead is trying something a little different, you just have to look at the cut scenes and stills to see just how much style has been injected into this game, but even though it looks good, something is missing that really drains most of the entertainment away.
To put it bluntly, Killer is Dead is a very stylized hack and slash game, dripping with lots of blood and plenty of original visual ideas, but in the end it leaves you a bit cold with a story that is all over the place and some very strange choices of direction. It seems this hack and slash game was trying for a Twin Peaks/Tarantino style with a hyper violent ”ladies man” lounge lizard like Leslie Phillips as the main character, trying to cater for the older players but then tainting the mysterious with cheap titillation.
You play as Mondo Zappa, a killer for hire who is part of a freelance team, working for international governments and also more private and personal cases. The missions start with the client, detailing the story of why they are asking for help, be it a strange monster that lives next door, a musician who has had their hearing stolen and even a lady that has been evicted from the moon. Yes the game really throws the weird at you from the off, leaving very little explanation and just expects you to go along with it, which really makes it hard to follow. The early missions start of reasonably okay with the earlier mentioned monster next door, who has somehow turned the house into a moniker of Wonderland, even to the point a dressing up like Alice, with twisting staircases and confusing landscapes acting as the background as you do battle with numerous enemies; or you have a retired train that gets possessed and is about to ram into a Russian city, with Mondo having to venture into its carriages and battle whatever lurks within. Though very strange and random, all of the cases seem to have a connection with a strange and mysterious power emanating from the moon, show as a purple flowing gas that somehow effects people, turning them into beastly visions of man and machine otherwise nicknamed as Wires that are seemingly connected to a gold codpiece wearing godlike character called David that lives on the dark side of the moon. Again they all look pretty and allow for plenty of action but the plot is just confusing, made stranger by the fact the characters just tend to accept it all and still offer no explanation, like the strange glowing unicorn, a reoccurring dream of a drowning girl and just what exactly are all of the metallic prosthetics that people wear?
Even with all of these weird and crazy ideas, like I said earlier, it really is just a very linear hack and slash game to which even after completion of the title I am still unsure of the control system. Mondo has two weapons to use, mainly his katana which is used with just one button which allows you to press combos and then by using the control stick it will dictate the different slashes on offer, which can then be combined with his speedy dash and dodge moves to create some devastating moves. The other item on offer is the gun fused to Mondo’s left shoulder, replacing his arm; this weapon starts off as a cannon which is linked to Mondo’s blood gauge which is boosted by defeating enemies, which in turn grants the ability to fire projectiles at enemies and also unleash more special abilities. Even with all of these moves and upgrades available for the majority of the game, hardly any were required to complete it, even on the normal difficulty there was very little challenge other than mash the attack button, which is a little surprising considering them pedigree of the company that made this game.
There are also plenty of other mini-games that unlock through the main games progress, adding a little variety and slightly different challenges to the simple, clear a room and progress, offered by a buxom nurse riding her oversized hypodermic needle like a broomstick and offering challenges, plus there are a variety of other mission dotted around the globe like protecting damsels in distress to the more basic time attack; if you enjoyed the combo system and battles in the main game you can expect more of the same here.
If the main games story is not strange enough it manages to even add a little creepy to the mix with the inclusion of Mondo’s Gigolo missions. This strange mini-game starts you off at a bar or a blossom garden sat next to a girl, where you strike up a conversation and then, when their attention is elsewhere snatch the chance to ogle at their cleavage or hemline, earning points when she isn’t looking or losing them when she catches you. With each successful stare it’s not just the temperature that rises but also a prize gauge that once full allows Mondo to offer gifts that were purchased earlier, choosing from the likes of a single rose, a bottle of perfume or a stick of chewing gum, depending on the girl and the amount of gifts you adorn on them you finally get to bed them, which even then feels nothing but very dirty and wrong with a strange cut to first person view and Mondo’s hands wiggling in anticipation behind the beauties back. There is really no story context to these missions and have no real place in the game, however aside from being essential to unlock certain upgrades it does nothing for the game other than truly destroying any feeling you had for the main character, which in turn makes you not give a care in the world what really happens. I understand there is always a close connection between sex and violence in media but here it is just creepy and massively misplaced.
Strange voyeur games aside, the presentation is really what Killer is Dead has going for it, with a cartoonish approach that uses an almost negative effect on colouring, making the game very dark and then using the shadows to accentuate certain parts of the game. All of Mondo’s combos look amazing on the screen, with flashes and visual delays on certain moves making the action look a lot more flash then it actually is.
The characters that inhabit the world are just as strange and confusing as the story, with many of them having prosthetics like Mondo’s arm, like the cigar chomping boss Bryan sporting a metallic faceplate as well as a robot arm and leg. The Wires that you encounter also look very other worldly whilst ast the same time somehow familiar, with all sorts of cables and metal protruding from them, however where they first look original, overuse soon spoils it, with only a few of them used ad nauseam, each with their own traits, like shield welding ones, ones with clubs to the larger brutes with huge hammers, you will see them an awful lot. Thankfully the bosses manage to shine through with some fantastic creations, the earlier mentioned Alice turns into a horrendous spider like monster or you later come across a samurai with a very special tiger tattoo. All these looks however are tarnished by the old camera control, with Mondo front and centre most of the time; in a 3D world. if you get caught from behind, the camera will be more of a hindrance than the enemy slashing away from you off-screen.
Killer is Dead turns out to be an average fighting game with a very messy story that is made even worse by the perverse addition of an ogling competition that I really have no idea why it was included and who it is even aimed at, add to that a final level that is just reusing an earlier level and it feels like this game had no real direction and with past glories like No More Heroes and not offering the same depth as other classics like Bayonetta, Killer is Dead feels like a missed opportunity.
Very original visuals
Lots of action
Awkward camera angles
Surprisingly basic combo system