This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Killer Is Dead.
It's getting kinda hard to be a Suda51 fan these days, mainly 'cause when you buy a new Suda51 game, the degree of influence Suda51 actually had over it is becoming a bit of a grey area. It's kind of like the relationship Rupert Murdoch has with Australian election results.
So I played through Killer is Dead, the latest game open-quotes "from legendary director Suda51, blurbity-blurb-box-blurb", only to find that he's mainly credited under "story", and that the director was some other lad. I'm starting to wonder if he was ever truly real. Maybe he's some kind of mythical pixie of which game developers are told stories when their parents tuck them in at night: "Now, if you're very, very quiet, maybe Suda51 will visit your game in the night and give it an anarchic post-punk sensibility by sprinkling it with Morrissey's tears." Or maybe he's some kind of equivalent of Alan Smithee in films, like a Japanese game developer doesn't want to be credited with a game they created drunk and in the midst of a messy breakup/Vietnam flashback, so they call it a "Suda51", "51" being a sort of numerical code for "shit goes 'round the billy-blue bollocks".
Well, whatever the case, Killer is Dead is now part of our storied little world, and, from the title and art style, one could be forgiven for assuming it to be spiritually conceived from a turkey baster of sperm donated from Killer7, the 2005 pile of archetypal Suda51 anarcho-nonsense that I really like. Because I'm very happy to watch a man dressed like a Power Ranger explaining his political views at full volume while doing a very silly dance, as long as there's a sturdy sheet of glass between me and him.
But there's not a whole lot that links the two games besides the fact that the main character is an assassin working for a larger organization. Uh, Suda? I just wanna check; you do know that there are other professions in the world besides contract assassination, yes? Like that nice lady at the chemist who gives you your pills? That's actually her job; she doesn't do it just to kill time in-between decapitations. It's crazy, I know. And, while we're on the subject, people who actually are assassins tend not to use Japanese swords. It's like wearing wellingtons to a formal dinner: a faux pas if nothing else.
Anyway, today's sword-wielding assassin protagonist is Mondo Zappa, whose interesting qualities kind of begin and end with his name, frankly. He looks like a nine-year-old boy got stretched on a rack for three days, and then someone gave him a robot arm and a school uniform. He also might be from the moon, and was brought here by a magical unicorn, which I know sound like interesting qualities, but trust me when I say that he finds a way to make them seem dull. He's from that school of characterization that thinks there's nothing cooler than being incapable of showing emotion. 'Cause my granddad's been getting pussy like you wouldn't believe ever since he had the stroke!
So as Mondo inevitably starts uncovering dark secrets from his past, it's hard to get much sense of narrative clout from it all when he has roughly the same reaction to finding a hair in his Lucky Charms. But lest you think I'm ripping exclusively on Mr. Awesome McLaserBollocks, his boss is a giant combat-ready cyber-dude in a Hawaiian shirt who spends the entire game sitting on his arse! I wonder if he had to choose between buying his giant combat-ready cyber-body or a nice, comfy arse cushion. I wonder if he ever regrets his decision!
The point is, an expository cutscene in Killer is Dead involves a bunch of people sitting 'round a table in a dimly-lit room quietly saying mysterious things at each other. An expository cutscene in Killer7 involves a masked lucha libre wrestler deflecting a bullet by headbutting it. Not that everything would be improved by a headbutting lucha libre wrestler; just 99.5% of things. For some reason, I'm picturing election debates. And it's certainly more tonally consistent with the gameplay, in which you run around dicing up nondescript monsters like they're carrots and you're trying to flog katanas on the home shopping network.
The combat's pretty No More Heroes-y, which was never extensive at the best of times: mash-mash-mash, dodge, run away, symbolically masturbate. But Killer is Dead pares it down even further: you mash and you dodge. Dodge at exactly the right moment and they let you have a free mash for a few seconds. That's about it, really, it's an entirely mash-based economy, like the cafeteria at my old middle school. Well, there are also sub-weapons: a gun, a drill-thing with a weird action that looks like you're pointing out the stain on somebody's tie, but they're mostly kinda situational and I only really used them so as not to disappoint the nice ladies in whose vaginas I had found them.
Yes, this is where the game about people from the moon slicing up over-dressed cyborgs starts to get a bit weird. You get sub-weapons by seducing women in what are termed "gigolo missions", to which I am grateful for teaching me the never-fail method for picking up women:
- sit staring at them without saying a bloody word, with a look on your face like you just caught a whiff of their panty-stank and it did very little to impress.
- And whenever she looks away, stare right down her tits like you're planning a spelunking expedition.
- Then, having brought the mood in the room to a simmering erotic tension, shove an expensive present in her face with such violence that if she'd been an inch closer, she'd need a sink plunger to pull her nose back out.
- Repeat until sex, at which point she will give you a drill.
See, where I'd been going wrong was assuming that women aren't power tool vending machines with one slot for flowers and another for cock. Story missions and gigolo missions are entered into from the world map, on which there are also many optional challenges set in environments from completed missions, and if you step back a bit, you'll notice that all the optional challenge icons seem to form the words "the campaign turned out a lot shorter than we thought it would".
You see, however involved Suda51 was with the games that are purported to be "from" him, most of them have more than a few things worth a double take. Killer7 threw non-sequiturs at you like a burning panda in a dentist's waiting room, Shadows of the Damned had that eloquent "Big Boner" episode, but Killer is Dead doesn't really have anything you'd call a friend over to look at in the hopes he spit-takes his cappuccino. Well, it does come alive when you fight a 'roided-up demonic Thomas the Tank Engine, but otherwise it all feels a bit unenergetic and cold. Even the whole business with people from the moon seems kinda token as far as non-sequiturs go. There's a chapter with an Alice in Wonderland theme that juxtaposes horror with tweeness. Man, why hasn't anyone else thought of that!? Alice in Wonderland is basically writers' shorthand for "put something surreal here", and just reflects a lack of creative effort if you ask me.
- Critic is bored: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe the moon would carry more mystique if it wasn't up there slutting it about every night
- Should probably get around to registering to vote one of these days
Escapist Expo 2013
Hey, it's Escapist Expo time again soon! October 4-6 in Durham, North Carolina, just like last time. You'd almost think it's a regular thing now! Just lettin' ya know I'm gonna be there again, 'cause it was a lotta fun last time, and I'm looking forward to seeing open-quotes all of open-quotes you open-quotes again.