Grasshopper Manufacture have a certain reputation to uphold. With games like “Killer 7,” “No More Heroes,” “Flower, Sun, and Rain,” and “Shadows of the Damned” under their belt, they have established themselves as a studio that thinks well outside the box … so far outside the box that it seems like they’ve got their own box no where near the other box. It’s also impossible to talk about Grasshopper without invoking the name of their fearless leader, Goichi Suda, better known as Suda 51, who has been pushing the limits of electronic entertainment for the past two decades. Grasshopper and Suda’s latest release, “Killer is Dead,” presents yet another twisted tale, told through beautiful graphics, and wild gameplay, falling right in line with many of the games that already bear their names.
“Killer is Dead” is the story of Mondo Zappa, a ladies man, and an expert killer with a cybernetic arm, who has found himself a newly hired by the Bryan Execution Firm. The agency is contracted by the government to help its citizens solve their problems, by killing them. Mondo has stepped into the role of the agency’s top killer, and starts taking on jobs that involve hunting down criminals, murders, and assassins and taking them out. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems to be, as you go from a twisted version of Alice in Wonderland, to having to stop a murderous train, execution is clearly not a dull job. As Mondo completes his work, he starts to unravel the mystery of himself. Early on in the game, his memories are shady, and he isn’t really sure just how he got his cybernetic gun arm, but all is revealed as the game progresses, in only the way Grasshopper can (that is to say at least some of it is left up to interpretation). It’s a weird and wild ride, to the moon and back.
At its heart, “Killer is Dead” is a hack-n-slash game, where Mondo makes use of his experienced sword skills, and blends them with the use of his cybernetic arm that can change into four different kinds of weapons. In terms of gameplay, there isn’t really anything groundbreaking in “Killer is Dead,” but that doesn’t mean that the core experience isn’t fun – in reality, it’s quite enjoyable. The game steps outside of the button-mashing standards, and encourages the player to make smarter moves with well timed attacks and dodges, as well as combo building that result in choose-your-own-reward executions. As with almost every 3D hack-n-slash game, the camera can be a bit of a burden to deal with, but after a while, it falls in line, and becomes a natural part of the experience.
Mondo and his skills are upgradeable by collecting items that are dropped by Wires (enemies) when they are killed, and over the course of the game, he becomes quite the powerful adversary. Both his blade and his arm cannon can receive a few rounds of power-ups that help Mondo take down the progressively more challenging Wires and bosses throughout the game. Being able to customize you character’s skills based on your preferred play style (melee or long-range) is one of the highlights, allowing players to take a bit more ownership over Mondo, since the story is a little hard to connect to otherwise.
In addition to the combat-based gameplay, there are also a series of unique and sexy side missions in the game. While some of them are spin-offs of the main story episodes, there are a few that are “Gigolo Missions,” where Mondo’s goal is to seduce a woman. If you can complete the “job” successfully, by glaring at various parts of her body without being called out on it and by giving her presents, you’ll be rewarded with various weapons and power-ups. It’s more like a mini-game than anything else (but it is necessary to collect all of your arm weapons), and it’s likely to appeal to only a certain kind of gamer (males), but if you’re familiar with some of Suda’s past works, this kind of thing is to be expected.
If you’re looking for something a bit different to round out your summer, “Killer is Dead” is a great way to cleanse your pallet before things get crazy this holiday season. The story is out of this world, but it isn’t impossible to follow, leaving for a couple of pleasant surprises as you go along. The gameplay isn’t groundbreaking, but it comes with a very visceral satisfaction throughout the whole arc of the game. Overall the game does come off as a bit chauvinist, but if you can accept it as tongue-in-cheek humor instead of being outright offensive, you should be able to appreciate it for what it is. Mondo’s adventure in “Killer is Dead” is another great example of the kind of risky experiences that Grasshopper Manufacture have become known for, and how often they result in something strange and wonderful. In a sea of sequels the video game industry desperately needs more games that take risks like this, for better or for worse.
Scaore: 7 out of 10