Acclaimed Japanese game director Suda51 stole my heart with the paranormal shooter Killer7 for the GameCube, though I’m not sure I could honestly tell you why. His games live past the fringe of sanity, full of anime references, overt sexual overtones, dialog that often makes no sense, and plots that make even less sense. With that being said, I’ve enjoyed almost every Suda51/Grasshopper Manufacture game I’ve ever played; somehow all the craziness blends together into a product that I can’t help but love. I stopped by the XSEED/Marvelous booth and watched a preview of his newest action title, Killer is Dead, with Jimmy Soga, Marvelous Product Manager, before getting to do some hands-on.
Killer is Dead looks and feels like a sort of hybrid between Killer7 and No More Heroes, though it’s technically a spiritual successor at best. I’ll admit though, it’s the parallels between Killer is Dead and the previous Suda51 titles that makes me even more intrigued about its world and development. In this game you’ll enter the world of Mondo Zappa, assassin-for-hire tasked with eliminating the threats assigned to him by the execution agency he works for. Zappa’s left arm has mysteriously been replaced with a cybernetic cannon, and as he eliminates targets he searches for clues about his past and what happened to his arm.
The story in Killer is Dead resembles that of a TV series; there are 13 chapters, and though each chapter stands alone with its own beginning, middle, and end, sometimes chapters will make reference to a previous chapter’s events or foreshadow events in the future. Other various characters will come and go as the game progresses, but the big change for this game compared to other Suda51 games is the location. Most Grasshopper Manufacture games take place in a controlled location: a particular city, a particular country. In Killer is Dead, Zappa travels all over the world hunting and killing his assigned targets. Creatures from the dark side of the moon (yep, that’s right) will appear to block Zappa’s path, and he’ll need to use his trusty samurai sword and arm cannon to settle the score.
I played a developer’s build of the game, and even though it’s got a little bit more work to be done before the final release, the gameplay felt sharp and precise. Attacking enemies allows you to use your mysterious left arm to gather blood and charge up special attacks and counters. Attacks are driven simply by mashing the X/Square button, while holding the B/circle button lets him block. Combining the block button with the left stick commands Zappa to do an anime-style dodge/dash, making for quick escapes and setups for brutal counter finishers. A dash at precisely the right timing activates a counter window, letting Zappa do massive damage. One of the unique aspects of Killer is Dead is its combo system; chaining together longer combos allows Zappa to execute higher-damage combos, but all 5 levels of the combo-system are available from the very onset of the game; players with enough skill will be able to do massive damage from the get-go instead of having to wait until all their items are upgraded. The player will be able to upgrade both the damage potential of the katana as well as the various abilities of the cybernetic gun by collecting the loot that enemies drop when they die, though I wasn’t able to see the upgrade menu during the demo.
Even the dev kit build of Killer is Dead ran very smoothly, with minimal slowdown and a tightly-moving engine. Visually, the game feels a lot like Killer7 2.0 with deep, cel-shaded art and high visual contrasts; it’s gorgeous to watch, and the soundtrack fits the game well. One thing worth mentioning: the game is tough. I died but a few minutes into my playthrough, and even the Marvelous staff member playing the game for demo died a couple times during his play (to be fair, he was trying to talk to us journalists about the background of the game at the same time). Suda51’s games tend not to be a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination, and this game won’t be an exception. But this challenge feels reasonable, doable, and frankly, pretty exciting. Keep an eye out for Killer is Dead to drop on US shelves late this summer.