By Boogie Knight:
After feeling a little burned by the excessive grinding created by roadblocks in the last couple Disgaea games I happened upon a little game called Thomas Was Alone. A short game, but I was so engaged I marathoned through that puppy like I was about to solve the mystery of the number 23. Conventional wisdom in the game industry has been that the more you can pad the length of the game the better, and these experiences were evidence in my mind that perhaps a more compact game with concentrated awesome would make for an overall better game experience. I don’t think this alternate line of thinking is necessarily wrong but upon playing Killer is Dead I get the sense that shorter and more concentrated game experiences will only result in us getting sold half a game.
Killer is Dead tells about a quarter of the story of Mondo Zappa, an unflappable katana wielding jerk working for the ostensibly state run Execution Office. Rounding out the cast is Older Cyborg who runs the office, Vivienne the supervisor, and Mika who is Mondo’s pet Japanese schoolgirl. In this job Mondo hunts down and kills nefarious characters as well as countless nondescript robot skeleton monster things. You’d think that something like the Execution Office would be part of a comic book universe which was not retarded, where guys like the Joker would be sentenced to death but would have to be tracked due to their supervillain tendency to break out of jail. However it operates more like the shadowy office of a dime novel detective story and characters make broad absolutist statements which may not be necessarily true. While stories which treat the audience like drooling idiots spoon feeding them every plotpoint gets insulting the lack of explanation for the world is more than a little aggravating. The big reveals would have felt more meaningful if we had more of a foundation and were let in on more of what was going on.
A simple combat system is not inherently bad, but the subweapons control like crap and are powered by blood which you can refill from power ups and from slashing the enemy with the katana. Suffice to say that you will almost exclusively be using the katana as you mash the same button and try to dodge once in a while. Dodging does not make you invincible so you have to evade in the right direction and time it properly. Yet the challenge is almost nonexistent as about a third of the story missions are glorified tutorials and the game is practically over once it really gets started. The boss battles themselves tend to be easier than regular enemy encounters, though the battle with Big Head was somewhat enjoyable because it felt like an upgraded version of the Killabilly boss fight from Lollipop Chainsaw. In light of the insufficient challenge I decided to give the game a try in Ultra Hard mode under the presumption when the stakes are raised one can see clearly the nuances that might have been missed. Harder difficulties in general instruct the player in how to play a game the way it was intended.
Ultra Hard is a joke until Episode 9 when the stronger enemies show up and they mob you like crazy and a single hit can take out a big chunk of your life. You practically have to use the Ulti-Mondo costume to boost your stats and get through parts which are tough due to imbalanced design, but once you use that special costume then Ultra Hard is really no harder than normal mode. At least Lollipop Chainsaw kept things interesting by incentivizing the player to perform simultaneous decapitations of enemies, Killer is Dead has fight mechanics which you have no drive to master because it is too childishly simplistic.
It’s hard to believe that this game was made by the same man who gave us No More Heroes and was able to solve the problem of transcending money. In No More Heroes you still needed to hand over cash to access the next rank battle and progress through the story. Even after you did bought all the clothes and upgrades there would still be a reason to spend money and want to earn money. Contrast that with Killer is Dead where cash is separate from the items which upgrade your health, blood, and abilities. Enemies spews out some combination of the upgrading goodies so there is no reason to spend money to boost your character. So cash is primarily used to buy gifts for dates (more on that mode later) but the rewards are so paltry that there’s no incentive to sink time into spending time with dates. Replaying missions for a higher ranking is an end onto itself because there are only a few alternate costumes you unlock and the rest of what you unlock are more gifts to buy for dates. Going to a lot of trouble for rewards I don’t want to be used in a gameplay mechanic I hate is the very reason I quit playing Assassin’s Creed III after I finished the story.
Then there’s Gigolo Mode… oh dear god there is Gigolo Mode. I looked up info on this side objective and allegedly it was originally something planned for Shadows of the Damned but was cut from the game. Thank goodness for that as it would make cheerleading for Shadows of the Damned so much harder. These “missions” follow a simple pattern: Eye bang the life out of your date when she’s not looking, get worked up enough to give her a gift, and repeat until you bang the life out of your date. No dialogue, no real interaction, and no real sense of who the hell these women are. The first one you see briefly in an early cutscene but the second woman inexplicably calls you in the middle of a mission and declares her interest in meeting Mondo. I want to be able to defend it by arguing Gigolo Mode only takes the bullshit of videogame character courtship to its extreme.
Let’s try to keep this in context: How many games can you list of the top of your head where the main character can easily hook up with women because of his aura of main characterness? Well done. Okay. Okay, you can stop now. In all likelihood satirizing this element of game design was not the intent even though the way the game responds seems to convey Mondo has an inflated sense of himself. Yet this mode troubles me as the rewards kinda suck, the dates are non-entities for all practical purposes, and while there is little reason to indulge in the modes the game is built in a way that getting gifts for dates is pretty much all you can really do with your money once you max out everything.
Then there’s Scarlett, the nurse who hides in several spots throughout the real levels in the game. Finding her means getting your blood supply refilled and that can help you out in more demanding levels. Each time you find her in a different location you unlock special challenge missions which get creative sometimes but are largely straightforward. Like any other missions, success results in cash rewards but they also get you point and once you reach the cap a “special challenge” unlocks in which sex happens. Still very self involved but at least these scenes are purely optional and Scarlett is sort of a character as opposed to an anonymous lay (Which now makes me think of the Fable marriage option with the interchangeable NPCs).
I feel a need to talk about the DLC content because there’s so little game and I keep wondering why the hell this content couldn’t have just been in the “real game.” You get a whole level with a unique setting, not a recycled stage, with a story that has at least one element from the main one even though it’s a side story. The vampires Betty is the client for this story mission and also appears in an additional Gigilo Mode mission. Gigilo Mode still remains creepy as hell but slightly more tolerable because she’s a character.
Killer is Dead may not be a terrible but there is so little game there with so little to offer. At best the game is a rental even though it’s the limited edition which for now seems to be exclusive on the DLC content. In the Japanese version there was a contest for finding Juliet Starling from Lollipop Chainsaw hidden away in Killer is Dead. Looked up info on it and the Easter Egg was in the DLC mission. There was a little speculation on whether Juliet was playable in Killer is Dead, but that doesn’t appear to be the case and it’s probably for the best. Never remind the player they could be playing a better game in your not so good game.