Every medium has its cult favourite, its bad boy auteur who may not be the most popular creator around, but has a unique vision that rallies a small, but devoted following. For gaming, Suda 51 is one of those auteurs.
Since his breakout game in 2005, Killer 7, the bizarre sensibilities of this Japanese developer have been slowly gaining traction with the niche interest groups. Killer Is Dead, slated for release later this summer, is another addition to his growing pile of eccentricity. XSeed Games had the latest build of the game available for play at E3, and we managed to get in some decent playtime with it.“this being a Suda 51 game weirdness of all sorts abounds”
Anyone who’s looked at the trailers for this game is already well aware that there’s a definite, stylized 60s vibe to the art direction. The story centres on Mondo Zappa, a killer who works for the Bryan Execution Firm, taking on jobs that involve assignments to kill off various dangerous people around the world—or on the moon. Zappa dresses smartly in a neatly cut suit and sports a katana—his weapon of choice—and a cybernetic left arm that can transform into various weapons.
This is another third person, brawler in the tradition of Japanese action games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. Suda 51 has already explored this territory in both No More Heroes and the more recent Lollipop Chainsaw and the results in each case were similar; while the mechanics were not the most refined or responsive, the ambience and unique sensibility of Suda 51’s worlds were the big draw. The same seems to be the case with Killer Is Dead, except that the fighting engine seems to be tighter than in previous games.
One of the more interesting things about the combat in Killer Is Dead is that there’s some resemblance to other Japanese action games like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance in that smart combat is rewarded far more than straight button mashing. In those aforementioned games, certain gameplay bonuses are meted out for successfully dodging or parrying moves, and the same holds true in Killer Is Dead . It’s easy enough to simply try to memorize a combo and dutifully press buttons in front of the enemy, but as Zappa continues a successful string of unbroken hits, a meter fills up (up to five levels) that increase his power and deadliness. Zappa gets a sped up, powered up combo attack when he successfully manages to dodge or block an attack, an absolutely critical technique when taking on multiple opponents, and, in the case of one round, an efficient way to take out snipers who are otherwise inaccessible. Once the meter is completely filled up for all five levels, Zappa goes into a monochromatic “psycho mode,” with the expected amount of lavish, gory destruction.
Of course, this being a Suda 51 game weirdness of all sorts abounds, and even something as straightforward as dying and continuing has been “Suda-fied.” On death, Zappa falls to the ground and a young woman immediately appears at his side, whining in a high pitched squeal and beating furiously on his chest with her tiny fists. Repeatedly hitting the button at this point will revive Zappa and allow him to continue the battle. It’s just another one of those weird, nonsensical touches that doesn’t need to be there, but Suda 51 obviously felt strongly about it. Also, at some point, there’s a chase with an enemy riding on a tiger. Don’t go looking for a logical explanation because there isn’t one.
It’s not likely that Killer Is Dead is going to be a smash hit. But with a summer release, when few heavy hitters are out on the market, it’s likely to find a place with Suda 51 fans. It’s got style, some improved action, and has a very unique look and feel. Killer Is Dead is set to release on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 August 27th.