So having just finished Killer is Dead I have to say that A) we have this year’s answer to “El Shaddai: Rise of the Metatron”— a surrealist action game with a bizarre story and a damn solid combat engine and a really unusual (in a positive sense) art direction and B) this got raked over the coals by reviewers probably more than it should have been, because of course it was.
If we look at Suda’s arc as a game designer from Killer 7— a game with no traditional gameplay to speak of, but lauded for its pure weirdness— to this one, paying special attention to No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, it’s the refinement of what he’s put into practice from those recent games with actual combat engines combined with K7’s bizarreness.
It’s a pure unadulterated Weird Japanese Game in the most arch sense of the term, combined with a gameplay framework that’s familiar and arguably not especially complex on the surface (because 1 button for attacks obviously = game for babbies), but feels tight and responsive and super fucking good and sometimes that’s more important than 20 different inputs.
Lollipop Chainsaw is one of my favorite Suda game engines, but I’ll be the first to admit that there’s just something about it from a control standpoint that feels… off, and KID fixes that with a responsive setup that feels appropriately weighty and gives really strong visual feedback for your ability to play it well. The dodge is a little different from most games of this nature in that you can’t really dodge through attacks and you have to dodge around them, but once you get it down it functions pretty accurately.
Bosses are also pretty nicely varied, though there is one especially annoying recurring one who shows up 3 times through the course of the game. The moment-to-moment gameplay is genuinely satisfying, and the extra missions (in addition to challenge scenarios that can be found in levels and attempted at any time from a hub on the world map) give plenty of opportunities to really dig into it. It feels in some ways like how I wanted No More Heroes to be— more of the solid action, less of the runaround.
The story… honestly even now I’m not completely sure what was going on or why— in the TBFP LP Pat brings up the “Once Upon A Time in Mexico” comparison, that it was in Robert Rodriguez’s words ‘a sequel to a movie I never made’, and this feels pretty accurate. But the truth is sometimes Video Games just ARE Weird, and seeing a game remember that while actually being engaging to play is a lot more refreshing than I expected it to be.
Really, considering how Story Is King in the Western school of modern game design thought, and how can you move the medium forward if you don’t CARE ABOUT YOUR STORY AND DELIVER A RICH EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE, it makes perfect sense why reviewers over here largely rejected it. Bad mechanics and iffy craftsmanship are negligible if you can pull heartstrings or say something ‘deep’ about the human condition (or if you can just give reviewers an inflated ego because they can “get” something that the brainless casual masses rejected), but if you just want to throw ridiculous cool shit in your game because you can, that’s perceived as “bad design” and a ‘failing’ on the game’s part. So yeah, I’m not going to pretend I completely “got it” or anything, but if you’re willing to accept that you’re in for some weird cool shit and you like Japan’s particular brand of weird cool shit you’ll probably enjoy it just fine.
Lastly, the Gigolo missions are kinda skeezy and not really complex or interesting, but they’re “optional” in that you aren’t ever required to do them, but completing them gives you access to the game’s other 3 subweapons, which are nice but not technically required. Part of me wondered though if maybe through the mechanics of them— engage in idle conversation with the lady in question (snippets of which conspicuously repeat) while glancing at her cleavage when she isn’t looking, then occasionally toss them gifts to win their favor— Suda was commenting on the robotic nature of in-game romance subquests. That might be giving him too much credit, but it certainly reminded me of my time with Dragon Age: Origins’ romances.
Or it could just be skeezy. Suda’s a weird dude.
But anyway if you wanna play a character-action game that’s all about it being a character-action game, Killer is Dead is worth your time. I rented this but now I’m seriously considering just going ahead and buying it, and I haven’t had that happen in a while and feel like that’s saying something.