Wednesday, August 17, 2016

VGR Killer Is Dead

Suda's "Kill the past trilogy" might be over, but those theme remain very present in his current work to this day.

Even more so in this game, a sort of culmination of Grasshopper's past decade of games.

Flowers, sun, rain, some guy named Mondo and people killing the past? Time for a Suda51 game!

VGR: Killer Is Dead
From Goichi Suda/Grasshopper Manufacture/Kadokawa Shoten/Deep Silver/XSEED Games
Played on Xbox 360
Also available on PS3 & PC

Type 3rd Person Action-adventure/Beat 'em all/Hack 'n' slash/Shooter game
Year August 2013

After the zombie hack & slash game Lollipop Chainsaw, co-created with film director James Gunn, Suda51 returned to a much more "Suda-esque" Japanese title, Killer Is Dead.

Killer Is Dead is a 2013 game developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Kadokawa Shoten in Japan/XSEED Games in the US/Deep Silver in Europe.

This is a sort of return to what makes Grasshopper games crazy - a pretty weird narrative, a very strange world, quirky characters and arcade-style hack & slash/beat 'em all gameplay. In fact the game owns a lot to its predecessors, most notably killer7 and No More Heroes, both stylistically and gameplay-wise.

The game is a sort of best of their past games, sharing a lot of elements from the same type of violent action, some sword fighting and even some gun fight.

The story is pretty weird, even once you have all the details on your side after completing it. So allow me to try making some sense of it, it's a very unique plot..

The story takes place in this very unique world, actually not that far from the type of technology seen in No More Heroes. Mondo Zappa used to work for the government, he's now an assassin working for the Bryan Execution Firm, run by this old friend of his the half-cyborg Bryan Roses. His job? Contract killer, going after other assassins or dangerous criminals. Our hero doesn't remember much from his past aside that he lost one arm on a job long ago. He now has one fully-robotic arm and a sword in the other hand.

The game is not really about this crazy world, which is just lightly explained in the background, it's more about this personal story for our main protagonist. Mondo likes his job, he's good at it. He uses it to help eliminate all evil on Earth. 

The story opens during one of these jobs. After a traditional day on the job for Mondo, we jump 2 years later. Lately there's been an increase of this mysterious dark evil force taking over people around the world. He encounters some of these monsters, "Wires". A client, a woman, even turns into this gross huge monster during another assignment.

Apparently it's been mostly happening to people that have recently taken a trip to the Moon!! Mondo goes to seek the self-proclaimed "ruler of the Moon", a certain David, in his moon palace on the dark side of the moon. After facing some more assassins turned into monsters, Mondo's assistant Mika is revealed to have been secretly giving information to David!

In the kind of typical twist No More Heroes used to make fun of, it is finally revealed David was actually Mondo's brother all along! And Mondo lost his arm to David when he tried to kill him! David used to work for Bryan, that's why he gave Mondo this artificial arm - to help fight the corrupted David and absorb all of this evil "dark matter" from him! At the end of the story, both are turned into Wires and fight in the Moon castle as equals...

Did you get all this...?

Gameplay is mostly based upon the foundations first explored in No More Heroes, with slightly more emphasis on shooting like Shadows of the Damned did.

Fighting with Mondo's katana is a similar sword-play, the combo system of Lollipop Chainsaw makes a comeback with the addition of secondary guns and less on combos and wrestling moves. The sword is used for close-range attacks and deflecting bullets. It's all about blocking and dodging before inputting moves.

killer7's "blood mechanic" returns! A blood meter charges up absorbing the blood of defeated enemies! It allows you to pull off an instant kills "Adrenaline Burst" attack. The idea is to chain combos to perform the final blow.

The robotic left arm is called the Musselback. It adapts into different type of guns and gadgets. It also requires blood from the enemies to fire. The main one is a typical gun that shoots projectiles, but there's also a drill for example.

There's a lot of puzzles solving to. There are various hidden secret areas around.

You can find various Yellow Moon crystals around to buy upgrades like your skills and health. At the end of each stage Mondo receives a payment depending on your ranking skills, score takes account of damages and even cool kills! You can buy all sorts of bonus items and skills.

The game has a pretty deep customization system for a Suda title! 

There's a couple of different types of gameplay from time to time, to break things up.

Killer Is Dead has pretty gorgeous graphics, similar to the cell-shading from Shadows of the Damned and the No More Heroes re-release. 

The was written directly by Suda with Keisuke Makino, Yudai Yamaguchi and Hideyuki Shin. This was clearly a passion project, wanting to go back to his weirder sense of storytelling lacking in his last couple of collaborations (he made Shadows of the Damned with Shinji Mikami and Lollipop Chainsaw with James Gunn). The game was originally planned as early 2009!

At first it was going to go for a more realistic art direction before they went back to a similar simplified cartoony look from their last few games. (But fans of that idea might want to keep an eye on his upcoming new game for that!)

The idea of the game was to blend themes and gameplay from all past Grasshopper Manufacture games. The world of killer7, some darker more mature tone, the idea of love and the style of Shadows of the DAMNED, the gameplay from No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw and even Mondo himself seems to be a mix of various previous Suda51 protagonists such as Sumio Mondo from Flower, Sun and Rain and Dan Smith from killer7. No wonder some people think the game is a sort of sequel or prequel to that older cult title.

Suda wanted to make his new protagonist a sort of supernatural James Bond, going for the same vibe in the cutscenes.

It can really best be summarized as a best of Grasshopper. In fact when it was first announced the game was originally going to revolve around NMH's secret guild of assassins organization, the "United Assassins Association".

While the game is not directly linked to these past games, it can easily be seen as taking place in those same kind of worlds. You can count it as part of killer7's "assassin series", kind of picking up themes left by killer7 and No More Heroes. Yet it has the same kind of humor and nonsensical plot as Lollipop Chainsaw. The art style's basically a mix of killer7 and Shadows of the Damned. And gameplay is a mix of the hack & slash gameplay of No More and Mondo's arm basically acting the same as Johnson from Shadows of the Damned!

Part of me still believes this game started life as a spinoff to No More Heroes, probably centered around the character of Travis Touchdown's brother, the one and only "Sir Henry Motherfucker". Kind of the way I imagine Lollipop Chainsaw started as another No More Heroes spinoff.
The story and settings of the game takes a lot of influence from Western classics and Japan fairy tales.
Mondo and David's names are a direct nod to David and Goliath's story. Suda51's obsession with the Moon finally culminates with the actual conclusion of the story taking place in a palace on the Moon, taking some cues from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter/Princess Kaguya.

And many direct allusions to different stories in each execution mission, like this entire reference to Alice in Wonderland in the first mission.

The title of the game itself was a reference to the 1986 Smiths's song "The Queen is Dead", which they used as a placeholder title. But Suda liked it so much they ended up keeping it. And last but not least, Mondo Zappa's surname is a clear nod to musician Frank Zappa.

Killer Is Dead is very much a best of Suda51, a lot of his games have been revolving around the same types of stories and gameplay. For him this was a clear way to bring an end to this period before moving on - and it did came pretty late during the last generation of consoles. 

It takes element from all his previous games.

The problem for some was that it didn't seem to bring anything new to the table. It's pure Suda stylish action. It's confusing. And that's all.

The characters are fun and ooze of personality and charisma.

After developing a game for the Western audience for Warner Bros. he wanted to return with a far greater control on the final product. Here Grasshopper were clearly having a lot of fun and playing with some fun ideas.

I like how you can use "Mika tickets" to have the assistant Mika save you providing you with continues.

But there's also the far more controversial minigame, "Gigolo mode" where you have Mondo try to seduce the different female clients you encountered through the story using "Gigolo glasses" to oogle at their, errr, "intimate parts". You get glimpses of their cleaves, they do sexy moans. Once you fill a certain meter you can try giving them correct gifts within a certain timing. And they'll remove clothes! If go through this successfully, Mondo will take them to bed! Oh, my! You're kind of forced to go through these even if you're not a big fan of "fan service" since it's the only way to to unlock better weapons. You can even obtain some X-ray glasses that allow you to see their underwear! After a successful "night", they will often call you during the next missions. This was clearly not meant to be taken too seriously. This Gigolo mode was originally going to be featured in Shadows of the Damned before it was taken out at the last minute, and it finally founds it way fully playable here. As strange as it would have been there, it still feels a bit off compared to the rest of the game here.

But this is an action game, afterall! And action is where the game truly shines! There's some non-sensical plot twists - David's really Mondo's brother?! The story is overly complicated for no reason, after all stories in video games are just pretexts for the gameplay. And it all culminates in this crazy explanation where the Moon was behind everything! Then Mondo starts attacking the boss cutting him right in the middle of a dialogue!

For the genre, this is a fairly long game with a lot of content and side missions. There's about 12 episodes each taking place in different locations. Each mission gets a cutscene briefing/objective. Each main mission opens more side missions. Some of those include survival, time attack or the always fun but repetitive "bug hunts".

There's a lot to do, explore and unlock in this game if you've completed the main plot.

There are different costumes to equip the different (mostly female) characters.

I really enjoyed the various references to past Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture games. The number 51 has various appearances here. We have yet another badass coold shades-wearing weird hero using a katana and breaking the 4th Wall several times. The Moon symbolism finally taking an active part in a story. And even Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw makes a cute if short cameo!

The music of this game was composed by entire Grasshopper Manufacture musical staff, we have all sorts of composers that have worked for years with them. I won't list them all here, but it's a great mix of genres and styles depending on the levels and situations. The ton feels ever-changing and unique, in between the more comedic parts of No More Heroes and the mystery of Flower, Sun and Rain and The Silver.

Overall, Killer Is Dead is a fairly typical Suda51 game, as in you will probably like it if you enjoyed No More Heroes, killer7 or Lollipop Chainsaw, But if you weren't a big fan of those, this game won't change your mind.

I would say, Try it Out! It's fun. I know it didn't received that great a reception at the time, but I still believe it's a pretty solid arcade-ysh action game. It has nothing to do in comparison to perfect big budget chain combo games like DMC or Bayonetta, it's a bit more rough to those. But it's a pretty decent arcade-style game for fans that prefer slightly simpler gameplay closer to older games.

There are some questionable ideas. But it's still really fun. I liked the pretty confusing story. Fans can draw a lot of comparisons to previous Grasshopper Manufacture games. And the gameplay here was a lot more refined than all of Suda's past few games.

The game was also released through a collector edition (as pictured above!) containing an art book, the CD sountrack and additional DLCs costumes and Gigolo mode bonuses. And a fun, if short additional episode called "Episode 51 – The Man Who Stole Blood" where Mondo must face a vampire!

The pc port came out later on May 2014 as Killer Is Dead: Nightmare Edition. It added one more additional Nightmare difficulty

The game didn't make that well sadly, which is ashame since it's one of those rare titles Suda actually liked the idea of maybe making a sequel to it!
I give it:
2 / 3 Quacks!

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