Blood. Sex. Violence. Quirk. Expect the unexpected.
These are the hallmarks of a Suda 51 game and Killer is Dead is the latest to court controversy and dial up the crass all the way to 11.
Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw served sexed up action packed romps and Killer is Dead follows in this tradition in classic Suda 51 style, though taking its visual cues from Killer7 and No More Heroes. It is predictably "unpredictable", bizarre and has the stylised action that Suda brings to games like no other.
James Bond with cybernetic enhancements is Killer is Dead in a nutshell. Zappa, Mondo Zappa, is an executioner for hire with a left arm that looks like it was ripped from Adam Jensen’s body, though he doesn’t know how he acquired such an arm. With katana in hand, Mondo weaves his way through the disjointed storyline executing people and monsters that have something to do with a villain simply called David. David lives on the dark side of the moon and his interests include golden codpieces, clipping his toenails and creating monsters for Mondo to behead.
Throughout the game, Mondo will rediscover his past, kill everything, and seduce women. A plethora of mysterious strangers will call into his office and ask him to kill someone or something. Mondo’s shrill and overexcited teenaged assistant Mika will accompany him and occasionally perform a hilarious form of resuscitation should Mondo fall in battle. Vivienne, Mondo’s buxom blonde and money hungry associate, drops them off to Mondo’s execution appointments on the back of her motorcycle. Predictably Vivienne and Mondo share a flirty relationship reminiscent of Bond and Moneypenny and she will sometimes offer help in combat, picking off enemies like a creepy gun-toting Vishnu.
The world Mondo inhabits is dark, futuristic and inhospitable. Every time he leaves the office to complete his contracts the player is thrown into a schizophrenic, shiny, dream-like environment, each very different from the last.
Mondo’s enemies, called Wires, aren’t as heavily stylised as the locales they wander, though every tango with them is a predictable puzzle to solve, and before long, Mondo will be able to dodge and close gaps faster, hit harder and heal quicker. Attack, block, evade. One, two, step. But all of that finesse gets thrown out the window when Mondo reaches his contract target. These fights will test players mercilessly almost to the point of frustration until the final QTE beheading.
Slick death moves aside, Mondo is different to his predecessors. He is not charming like Juliet, nor suave and passionate like Garcia Hotspur. He is not the love-to-hate man-child Travis Touchdown. The only thing they all have in common is the comfortable way they eliminate their foes. Mondo is a cold, clipped, lifeless killer. His shoes are hard to fill and he does little to capture the empathy of the player. As robotic as his arm, Mondo struggles away with who he is as he slides from mission to mission but the disjointed story does little to encourage players to truly engage with him and his friends, if they can even be called that. The only thing going for Mondo is his frenetic sword fighting and the thrill of imminent beheadings.
To slice through the tension of uneasy, bizarre missions and unicorn penetrating dream sequences, Mondo can work through some tension of his own by going on Gigolo Missions.
In order to succeed in Gigolo Mode, Mondo must utilise Mondo Vision while on a date with one of the Mondo Girls. These girls range from a broad spectrum of textbook pornographic fantasies such as geisha girl and sexy nurse. In Mondo Vision, Mondo must surreptitiously stare at her breasts, crotch or backside while she is takes a sip of her drink or admires the scenery. Mondo vision strips away her pesky clothes and gives him a preview of what is to come should he get her in the sack. Successfully sneaking peeks fills Mondo’s Guts Gauge, helpfully measured in fluid ounces and coloured red. Unsuccessful ogling will earn a well-deserved slap in the face. Filling the whole gauge will offer Mondo the opportunity to manipulate his date into thinking highly of him by giving her a present. Give her enough of the right presents like a pot plant or an out of print CD and she’ll take Mondo home then give him an upgrade to his cybernetic arm as thanks for the wonderful time and robust conversation. Then the lights will soften, she’ll undress for real and moan unconvincingly while contorting herself into implicitly sexual positions.
Tie straightened, girl left face down on the bed, off to the next mission.
Tongue in cheek or deeply misogynistic, the whole farce that is Gigolo Mode would actually be funny if there was any other hint at humour anywhere else in the game. The inclusion of Gigolo Mode makes it even harder to take Mondo seriously, and he is such a deadly serious guy. It’s an out of place, embarrassingly dirty situation to put him and players in, especially as it is just a device to gain unlockables. Players don’t have to go on these Gigolo missions but if they don’t, half of Mondo’s arsenal will remain unavailable. If it wasn’t so despairingly half-baked it could have actually been a titillating minigame. But in the words Suda 51, sophistication and sex have never gelled together in a sentence.
As it stands, it simply serves to give Anita Sarkeesian another case study.
Killer is Dead has everything a Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture game should have. It’s crazy, gory but just so predictable. Even meeting a murderous train won’t bat an eyelid. Killer is Dead is executed in such a way that doesn’t always keep players as involved as they could be and can even ostracise them all together.
Expecting the unexpected has never been more unsatisfying.