Review by GamerGuy2014

Reviewed: 11/09/15

Style over Substance

The phrase "style over substance" is used to refer to works that are interesting in their design and structure, but when it comes to the actual content of the work there are noticeable problems. Killer is Dead is an example of this phrase; it has a striking visual style that gives the game a sense of style in not just its presentation, but also in the combat of the game. However, underneath the stylish veneer there's a convoluted story and certain gameplay mechanics that will raise an eyebrow.

Killer is Dead's story follows Mondo Zappa, an assassin who works for a mysterious organization that carries out assassinations at the request of the client who comes to them. Generally, the people Mondo is sent out to execute aren't exactly human due to mysterious purple energy that has corrupted both their body and soul. It also has a weird effect on Mondo's cybernetic arm when he finishes off the target. The energy is released from Mondo's body and absorbed into Mondo's arm. Even though Mondo knows he works for the organization, he doesn't remember much about his past, but when Mondo sleeps, memories of his supposed past reenter into his conscience.

Unfortunately, Killer is Dead's story is a nonsensical, convoluted mess that fails to offer any sort of real explanation for a majority of the events that happen during the game. Why does Mondo have a cybernetic arm? Why does his arm have the ability to absorb the mysterious energy? Why is there a unicorn that shows up twice in Mondo's dreams, and how does it fit into the plot? While some of the story events are explained, to a certain degree; usually I was left scratching my head as to what was going on. It doesn't help that the game's short length, clocking in at around four to five hours, means the whole story flies quickly and before I knew it, I was on the last story mission. The ending of the game doesn't help things either, as the fate of Mondo Zappa is left on an ambiguous note.

Killer is Dead's story, characters, and even the gameplay share some similarities with No More Heroes, a game Grasshopper Manufacture, the developer of this game, previously worked on. The main character, Mondo Zappa, is a more stoic version of Travis Touchdown, and his banter with the targets he has to assassinate reminded me a lot of Mr. Touchdown's conversations with the assassins he had to fight in No More Heroes. Also, the basic premise of the game, an assassination organization that is hired to eliminate people, is similar to the purpose of the United Assassins Organization from No More Heroes.

Fortunately, the game's combat makes up for the shortcomings of the story by being enjoyable. It's very reminiscent of No More Heroes; Mondo's primary weapon is a katana and not a beam katana, which Travis Touchdown, and Mondo can perform special finishers on the enemies, just like Travis in No More Heroes. What makes Killer is Dead's combat different from No More Heroes' combat is Mondo's cybernetic arm, which can morph into four different weapons that are unlocked through completing side missions, but more on that later. The four weapons require blood in order to be used; blood is picked up from fallen enemies, but that same blood Mondo collects can also be used to heal himself after purchasing a special move from the upgrade section in the pause menu. As such, some strategy is involved in deciding whether to use his weapons or heal Mondo if his health is running low. Besides earning blood from fallen enemies, Mondo can also earn yellow crystals that allow him to unlock new moves and upgrade his weapons, or Mondo can earn special XP crystals that will increase the size of his health or blood bars once he's collected enough. An important part of Killer is Dead's combat is dodging because it allows Mondo to continue building up a combo. Once Mondo's combo meter is high enough, Mondo can perform a finisher that grants him a different bonus, depending on which one of the face buttons is pressed.

While the combat is satisfying, the boss battles in this game aren't too challenging. Most of the fights rely on Mondo dodging the boss's attacks, then striking at the foe after they've performed their attacks, and repeating the process. Not only that, but most of the encounters require Mondo to defeat the boss three times, which feels like unintentional padding in what is a short game. As I mentioned earlier in the review, Killer is Dead is a short game, taking about four to five hours to beat. At the end of the game, there's a results screen detailing the amount of time you played the game as well as other different statistics, and the screen said it took me seven hours to beat the game; it didn't feel like seven hours.

When Mondo isn't slicing up bad guys, he's romancing the ladies. Besides the story missions there are side missions called Gigolo Missions, or as they should be called, Staring Simulator 2013. All you do during these missions is stare at Mondo's date in order to fill up a meter that allows Mondo to give the girl a gift that may or may not win her heart over entirely. When he does win over her heart, Mondo's date will give him a brand new weapon or currency bonus as a reward. The issue with the Gigolo Missions is that they're simplistic and dull, and they can be easily beaten in about two to five minutes. Plus, Mondo only visits three girls during the game, and one of them acts as the game's challenge mode. This means you'll constantly be going back and forth between two of the girls in order to unlock new items. These missions also have a creepy nature to them because of the first person staring perspective of the missions.

Killer is Dead's strongest point is its visual style, which is gorgeous to look at. It gives both the characters and the world they live in an offbeat and stylized look. Though there was some minor screen tearing during the game and a couple of brief, minor freezes during a couple of the levels, but these problems never became a significant issue. Voice acting is good, with the only exception being Mika's voice, which will grate on your ears quickly, and like the visuals, the music is also very offbeat but interesting nonetheless.

To me, the confusing story, short length, and dumb side missions of Killer is Dead bog down what is otherwise an enjoyable game. The combat is fun and the visuals are gorgeous, but the story will leave you confused and constantly wondering what is going on.

Rating: 6

Product Release: Killer Is Dead (US, 08/27/13)

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