Suda 51 gets inspiration for his games from places you wouldn't think that Japanese developers would look at. Shadow of the Damned was from horror games and movies, No More Heroes took inspiration from assassins, otaku culture and wrestling, and Lollipop Chainsaw took cues from Hollywood B-teen movies mixed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His new game, Killer Is Dead, Suda 51 takes tropes from hitman and secret agent movies, most notably James Bond, and combines them into something fun, stylish and for some controversial.
With the current generation about to end, Killer Is Dead is Suda 51’s last hurrah before moving on to the next gen. Will it leave a mark as one of his last hits before the next gen or will it just be known as the game that lets you “leer” at women?
KILLER IS DEAD
Stylistic Game World - The art of Killer Is Dead is a culmination of previous Suda 51 games. Combining the dark cell shaded tones of Killer 7 and the stylistics bright cel-shading looks of No More Heroes gives Killer Is Dead its flavor. Character models look realistic yet still retain a cel-shaded look to them that brings out the small details. The different locations that the game takes place in each have their own feel and vibe to them that makes you want to explore around a bit before pushing on through to the next area in the stage.
Stereotypical Cast of Characters - Since this is an over the top game that is paying tribute to spy and private investigators movies/shows, it would make sense to have a stereotypical cast of characters to fill it with. Mondo himself was inspired by these movies in particular James Bond with his womanizing charm. He may look cold on the outside, but he does show compassion when it calls for it. Though he may share a likeness to Suda 51’s previous game, Flower, Sun and Rain, looking at Mondo a bit closer and he sort of looks like Suda 51.
Mondo isn’t the only character that I enjoyed in the game. Mika Takekawa serves as Mondo’s assistant, cook, comic relief and when Mondo is downed during missions is a medic that revives him. She’s as spunky as she is a scattered brain but she brings out Mondo’s caring side. There’s also Vivienne Squall, Mondo’s superior. She’s calm, cool and collective in the face of enemy targets, but piss her off and she brings out the Vivienne Phantom. Her and Mondo have mutual respect for each other due to their professional nature.
Gunning and Slicing - The combat of Killer Is Dead is bloody, simple and pretty satisfying for the most part. The game borrows the swordplay from No More Heroes and combines it with the gunplay from Shadows of the Damned, two games that I happened to enjoy. It’s fun and fast paced thanks to the this combo. The game lets you upgrade both Mondo’s sword and cybernetic arm to increase their effectiveness.
Killer Soundtrack - It’s not a Suda 51 game without the musical stylings of Akira Yamaoka. He is back providing the soundtrack for Killer is Dead, which is quite different from previous games that he has scored for Suda 51. The music ranges from dark brooding, as if Mondo is walking slowly, eyes red as he executes his target, to fast paced and metal as Mondo fights off a boss. Usually Yamaoka’s work matches the overall tone of the game, but with Killer Is Dead taking place in various locations such as the moon to a traditional Japanese villa, it was his chance to experiment.
BAD MONDO, BAD!
Screen Tear - While this had no effect on my enjoyment of the game, there are times in the game when there would be noticeable screen tear. This happened when Mondo was by himself and not in combat, when he is facing multiple enemies at once and during the second stage/form of boss battles. Again it didn’t bother me that much, but it became annoying after a while.
Gigolo Missions - Even before Killer Is Dead was released, the game received a lot of criticism for including missions called Gigolo Missions. From early previews of the game, the object of the mission is to “gawk” at the “target female” when she isn’t looking and fill a meter. When that meter is full, then Mondo is able to give her a present and eventually sleep with her. Before I get into my issues with the Gigolo Missions, here are a few things to consider:
1). Mondo is a part-time gigolo. For those who don’t know what a gigolo is, it’s a male escort. Similar to female escorts, male escorts are paid for their company by wealthy women. In some cases no sex is involved and is optional depending on what the client wants. With Mondo, his clients, or “targets,” see him as a suave, sensual and charismatic man of mystery and want to sleep with him of their own free will. He is not forcing them to have sex.
2). Since the women are on a first name basis with Mondo, this means that he has met them before and are not just random women he just met in the game.
As for my issues with Gigolo Mode, they really serve no purpose other than to be filler for the game. Also, the only way to upgrade Mondo’s arm is to play the Gigolo Missions over and over again. This can get tedious and boring. To recap, Gigolo Missions: tedious and boring? Yes. Harmful representation of women and sexist? No.
Stiff Controls - Though I did have some good things to say about the combat, the controls for Killer Is Dead can be stiff at times. In some areas of the game I fought with the camera when trying to look around. There’s no lock on of some sort which makes fighting multiple enemies a bit of a hassle. Also, there isn’t a sense of flow when Mondo attacks, at least from what I’ve notice. By flow I mean this: each sword has a certain attack flow to it. For broad swords/long swords, they have a smashing flow due to the weight and build of the sword. This is why you see a lot of overhead swings and sideswipes when using these swords. Mondo uses a katana, which not only has a curved single blade, but is also super light while still retaining the strength of the steel it was forged in. With a curved blade and lightweight, the motions used for the katana are speedy slashes.
Let’s be honest, Killer Is Dead is no game of the year. With stiff controls, screen tearing and Gigolo Mode padding the game, there a lot holding the game back from being amazing. However, this is the best game that Suda 51 has done this generation. Cool characters and settings, music from Yamaoka and satisfying combat make the game fun to play through. If you find the game offensive because of a misunderstanding/lack of knowledge of spy tropes, then you are missing out on a fun game. Fans of Suda 51 should definitely pick this up.
*This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.