This Could Be Good

Killer Is Dead

Mash It Up

Suda 51’s Killer Is Dead takes the Tarantino approach to cultural appreciation.

By Matt Gerardi • June 14, 2013

Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

I love a good mash-up artist. Skilled practitioners of the form, like the remix master Girl Talk or, frankly, Quentin Tarantino, have a talent for recognizing artistic intersections— the moments of synergy between unrelated works. Killer Is Dead, the latest game from Grasshopper Manufacture and Goichi Suda, is a wild, bloody mash-up of pop-culture modes, built on the likes of cyberpunk, film noir, and classic samurai cinema.

Killer Is Dead

Continuing the assassin theme that has run through many of Suda’s games, the hero of Killer is Mondo Zappa, a suit-wearing, 30-something, katana-wielding executioner for a syndicate that specializes in killing assassins. Cybernetic augmentation is common in Zappa’s world, and he’s equipped with a robot arm that can morph into a number of different sub-weapons, although the only one accessible in the demo I played was a machine gun. The arm also absorbs blood, somehow, which fuels an “Adrenaline Burst.” When you activate this power, color drains from the world, leaving a hellish tableau of black, white, and eventually red as Zappa slices his enemies apart.

The violence is over the top. Ribbons of blood erupt from your foes in a way that conjures old Japanese samurai flicks. My favorite moment of the demo was the execution of Zappa’s target. After a long boss fight, I finally downed him, a maniacal zombie DJ looking to brainwash the world over the airwaves. The game prompted me to raise Zappa’s sword. The bad guy clamored on about something—maybe begging for mercy, maybe telling me to finish the job. It wasn’t important. Zappa bid him adieu, uttering a dour “Killer is dead,” and off went the psychopath’s head. It was a great moment, steeped in cinematic history, evoking Akira Kurosawa’s films Yojimbo and Sanjuro with a scene of quiet tension punctuated by an eruption of extreme violence.

Killer Is Dead

The moment-to-moment swordplay has a similarly tense feel. It’s not very complex; the combination of quick attacks and speedy dodges is easy to grasp and a blast to execute properly. Dodge an enemy’s attack at just the right second, and time will slow down, giving you a chance to dash in and start hacking away with a stylish flurry.

Killer Is Dead has the look of an anime come to life. The characters are drawn in cartoonish flat hues, and when their features aren’t blanketed in shadow, they reflect a harsh light. It’s an attractive if curiously shiny look. It’s also not much of a departure from Suda’s previous work. Killer looks like a prettier version of Grasshopper Manufacture’s other assassin games, Killer7 and No More Heroes. No matter how many cultural ingredients Grasshopper has added to its stew, the recipe has come together, united by a thread of stylish violence that runs through Suda’s many influences. Tarantino would be proud.

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8 Responses to “Mash It Up”

  1. Chalkdust says:

    As much as I enjoyed Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, I’ve been missing Suda 51’s insane storytelling, which the last two have been light on.  Very interested in this one.

    • Kilzor says:

      However, I will love Suda 51 forever for doing a pitch-perfect “Evil Dead” level in Shadows of the Damned, that I 1) wasn’t expecting, 2) and nailed the video game version of Raimi-vison.

    • duwease says:

      I still need to check out No More Heroes.. it being Wii-exclusive for so long really boxed me out.

      Nintendo seems to have a knack for getting one crazy, gotta-play, M-rated title every generation, and then little else to appeal to that audience..

      • Chalkdust says:

        There is a remastered version of No More Heroes available on PS3 that includes some of the bosses from 2 as bonus content.  Also, this generation saw MadWorld on Wii, which makes a good companion game to No More Heroes.

  2. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    I’m willing to pick up most Grasshopper/Suda 51 games on name and style alone, and I doubt this one will be an exception. I’ll just need to find the time to play his last two games…

    I hope that the not-quite-a-dating-sim aspects aren’t as offputting as they seem. It’s not that I’d be put off myself, but I can see why others would be.

  3. boardgameguy says:

    reminded me of SIN CITY

  4. Chewbacca Abercrombie says:

    I loved Shadows of the Damned and need to replay it on the hard difficulty sometime soon, but only got a quarter of the way through Lollipop Chainsaw so far and it seemed to be getting better the further I got. I really like Suda 51’s games, so I’m pretty excited for this one. All the trailers I’ve seen have looked like it’ll be pretty fun.

  5. robthom says:

    “…the Tarantino approach to cultural appreciation.”

    I’m trying to think of something more unoriginal and past its due date?