As has been the custom for some years now, a new title created by Grasshopper Manufacture, the Japanese software house led by the extravagant Suda51. The title, announced in May 2012, aims to continue the thematic and stylistic discourse of Killer7 and the first No More Heroes, two of the most successful works of the eclectic author, and to complement that Lollipop Chainsaw released last year (here our review), by far the most mainstream game and far from the canons Grasshopper ever produced by the house. It is worth noting before starting our analysis that, although the title was written and supervised by Suda51, it was Hideyuki Shin, another another game designer of the house, to direct the development. Indeed, it has been since No More Heroes that the celebrated designer does not sit down again at the helm of a Grasshopper project, but in this case his influence is perceptible with greater weight than No More Heroes 2, Shadows of the Damned or Lollipop Chainsaw.
TESTED VERSION: Xbox 360
Grasshopper Manufacture returns home
Despite the advertising campaign of the game, in particular the Japanese one, attempted to sell Killer is Dead to the same audience as Lollipop Chainsaw, highlighting the more licentious elements of the title and even recalling the cosplayer Jessica Nigri into service for the realization of some videos. promotional, Grasshopper Manufacture's latest effort couldn't be further from last year's school / zombie adventure. We are in an unidentified near future, in which technologies such as lunar travel and cybernetic grafts are now accessible to the population. We will take on the role of Mondo Zappa, a killer in the pay of Brian's execution office, a legal and state-subsidized organization that is tasked with pursuing and executing wanted criminals. To do this we will use a very sharp Japanese Katana and Mondo's left arm, a cybernetic graft with multiple functions, including different types of ranged attack. The plot of the game, initially of an episodic type, with chapters for their own sake, will soon take a particular turn, assuming surreal and dreamlike colors, ending up exploring the mysteries of our protagonist's past. It is a plot that in style and execution recalls those of the past games of Suda51 and includes many of the themes and stereotypes dear to the author: the paid killer (or, in this case, a contract) , the removal of a traumatic past, the resolution of inner conflicts through the rediscovery of one's past, the double / the brother, the relationship between reality and dream and so on. It is a work very far from the hypercitational, over-the-top and zany excesses of the most recent titles by Grasshopper Manufacture, and much more akin to the surreal, allegorical, at times Lynchian narrative of the first Suda51 games. A choice of setting that winks at the author's most uncompromising fans, those who had screamed at betrayal after the mainstream turn of Lollipop, but which in effect is not really complete. If the plot of Killer is Dead recalls in style and narration that of games such as Flower, Sun & Rain and Killer7, in terms of content the title turns out to be much poorer than its illustrious predecessors. The plot of Killer7 had an important political undertone. No More Heroes had a social one. In that of Killer is Dead the depth of meaning of these games is lacking, and the type of narration set unfortunately makes this gap stand out even more. Several times the Grasshopper Manufacture titles have in the past been accused (often inappropriately) of preferring style to substance, and it hurts to admit that in Killer is Dead this accusation proves to be well founded. In fact, it is not enough to spread a veil of surrealism and a serious atmosphere to recreate that extra something, that indescribable attraction that Killer7 and associates possessed, and Killer is Dead remains only pleasant, without ever getting to really shine with its own light.
Love and Kill
From the point of view of the gameplay Killer is Dead looks like a common hack 'n slash, simplified in the controls and in the design of the levels. The style of play is extremely similar to that of other titles of the house: after No More Heroes, No More Heroes 2 and Lollipop Chainsaw, Killer is Dead is the fourth Grasshopper game to have virtually the exact same setting, albeit with some minor variations. We will find ourselves going through extremely linear levels, facing the various waves of enemies that separate us from the boss at the end of the level. Our main weapon will be the World Katana. One key will be assigned to the main attack, another to an attack capable of breaking the parry of enemies and one for dodging / parrying. Given the complete absence of jumping and alternative attacks, the management of the combos will depend exclusively on the timing of the player. Making consecutive attacks without being hit by opponents will allow Mondo to increase the combo level, in order to make attacks ever faster and more elaborate, more powerful than the weak and slow basic attacks. The execution of the dodge will be important. With the right timing it will in fact be possible to counterattack the opponents, entering a "bullet time" for a few seconds that will allow us to hit our enemy multiple times. In addition to short-range combat, Mondo's cyber arm (usable with lats) will be used for ranged attacks. Basically we will have an attack similar to a machine gun, but we will be able to gradually buy also shots of different types, always of reduced utility compared to attacks with the sword. Compared to Lollipop Chainsaw, in which a certain importance was attributed to the "crowd control" and there was a semblance of diversification of the combos, in KiD there is a smaller number of enemies, more fierce and fearsome. Using dodging properly, however, it will not be too difficult to reach the boss at the end of the level, which we will have to face in more varied and exciting battles, which often will develop through subsequent phases. Despite its simplicity and repetitiveness, the style of play proves to be able to entertain and engage the player. We are far from the elaborate combat systems of a Devil May Cry 3 of a Bayonetta, but Killer is Dead is not born with the pretense of ousting titles of that genre from their throne. Rather, having reached their fourth hack 'n slash, the Grasshopper boys have managed to develop a personal style of play, very simplified but not "decerebrated" (and the game will often remind the most reckless players, punishing those who do not use dodging and timing). On the other hand, a fairly important negative factor is the camera, whose management is not optimal at times will not allow to follow the action with precision, causing many headaches to the player. In addition to the main and secondary missions, the game will also feature the very special "gigolo missions“, Which dampen the excessively serious style of the title by proposing lighter intervals with a“ sexy ”background. In these very special missions Mondo will be called upon to win the heart of a girl, with the little noble goal of being invited to her bed. To do this we will have to give her objects acquired with the in-game currency, but the company will not be easy. Before each gift we must in fact gather the necessary "courage", and what better way to do it than to stop and look at the shapes of the beauty of the moment? We will therefore have to move the camera and zoom in on the girl's curves, taking care not to be discovered by this, under penalty of a loud slap. Despite the large space that these portions have received during previews and during the promotion phase of the game, it is a 'completely superfluous addition and of dubious taste, definitely out of place in a 2013 in which gamers (and female players) are increasingly attentive to topics such as sexism and sexual equality in video games. The gigolo missions unfortunately offer no real added value to the gameplay of the title, and their licentious tone clashes with the rest of the adventure.
There's no two without three
After Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, Killer is Dead is the third Grasshopper game (not counting minor titles in digital delivery) to be made on HD consoles and for the third consecutive time the house has decided to rely on the now abused U. This time around the famous Epic Games engine was used to create a graphic look in cel shading, very similar to that used at the time by Killer 7. The style is extremely captivating, with characters with good character design and dreamlike settings, while from a technical point of view there are some flaws. The game suffers from noticeable tearing problems, and the excess of dark colors sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish the less lighted environments. Nothing serious, but with all the experience accumulated over the years, we could have expected better from the graphics team. The sound is of another type. Guided by the usual Akira Yamaoka, the sound team of Grasshopper has created an impressive musical selection, ranging from ambient music to other more electronic ones, passing through jazzy songs and hardcore outbursts. If it is possible to make a note of the sound sector, it is that on the whole the typical touch of the master Yamaoka is not heard: the whole work is almost more reminiscent of those of when at the head of the sound team of the house there was Masafumi Takada, the composer of Killer7 and No More Heroes. Not that it's a bad thing, but given Yamaoka's presence in Grasshopper it would have been reasonable to expect a greater involvement of the composer of Silent Hill. In the game disc there are both the Japanese and the English vocal tracks: the first is of a very high level, the second a little lower. Note the negative desynchronization of the Japanese speech from the lips of the characters: it is a pity that this flaw happens with the best recited dubbing. As for the longevity Killer is Dead stands at good levels. With 12 main missions and numerous side missions, a first game of the title can be completed in about 8 hours. After that it will be possible to freely re-tackle each mission of the game, even at subsequent difficulties, to increase the score and obtain money with which to acquire alternative costumes and gifts for the gigolo missions. The difficulty level is medium, and of the various settings only the last one, the one that can be unlocked at the end of the game turns out to be really challenging.
Verdict 7.5 / 10 Suda51 tries to go back to basics, with uncertain results Comment After Lollipop Chainsaw, the game we had defined as the most accessible ever among those made by the house, Grasshopper tries to play the card of the return to origins, and packs a product which recalls in appearance the first works of Suda51 but which in content fails to prove itself up to it. Not bad, because after the experience gained in recent years, KIller is Dead finally proves enjoyable also in terms of gameplay, despite some limitations and simplifications. All in all pleasant, Killer is Dead will please lovers of surreal and extravagant games, while we recommend hack 'n slash fans and Suda51 purists to keep expectations low. With the various limitations analyzed in the review, two questions arise spontaneously: would it not be good for Suda51 to return to personally direct the games? And wouldn't longer development cycles be more profitable, to eliminate various technical issues and to experiment with new types of gameplay? Pros and cons ✓ Style dear to old Grasshopper fans
✓ Proven gameplay
✓ Excellent audiovisual presentation x More style than substance
x The fourth Grasshopper game with the exact same gameplay
x Gigolo missions of dubious taste
x Technical imperfections and lack of lip synch of the Japanese audio track