22 Reviews

Review: Killer Is Dead is a memorably weird, but otherwise unremarkable Suda 51 adventure

By Andy Kelly on Tuesday 27th Aug 2013 at 1:00 PM UTC

We're sitting at a bar with a girl, waiting for her to turn away so we can get an eyeful of her boobs. The more we stare at them, and at her legs and neck, the more our brain fills with blood. When it's full, we can give her a present - a flower or a stick of chewing gum. We keep doing this, repeatedly, until a heart meter fills. Then the girl rewards us with the ability to transform our robot arm into a drill, and sleeps with us.

This is Gigolo Mode, and it's terrible. Not just in the sense that it's massively creepy, but in that it's a really bad mini-game. But if you want to unlock upgrades for your mechanical arm, a secondary weapon, you have to do it. We're talking about this first to get it out of the way, because outside of this dubious perv-'em-up, Killer Is Dead is actually a unique, stylish game - at least visually. It's David Lynch does hack and slash, and it's absolutely mental. We'd expect no less - both the oddness and the adolescent boob-gazing - from mad auteur Suda 51.

You play as Mondo Zappa, a spindly, preposterously-named assassin who works as a contract killer for the Bryan Execution Firm. Its owner, the titular Bryan, looks like the Terminator if Cyberdyne had used Mr. T as the template. Each mission presents a different contract, and they're all extremely weird. There's a story here, probably, but you never really know what's going on. It's like a fever dream, or an self-consciously obtuse art house film.

One contract sees you fighting through what looks like an Escher drawing, but made of candy. At the end you fight a woman who turns into a giant lobster. Another level sees Mondo running in slow-motion across the surface of the Moon, wearing a space helmet with his black suit, where he finds a palace that looks like the hotel from The Shining inside. The weirdness can feel a bit gratuitous and indulgent at times, but it's really compelling. It isn't the combat that kept us playing - we'll get to that in a second - but discovering what madness lies around the next corner.

"The girl rewards us with the ability to transform our robot arm into a drill, then sleeps with us."

Mondo attacks with a katana and that mechanical arm, which can fire projectiles or be used as an additional melee weapon. The fighting is quick and kinetic, built around timing and evasion rather than attacking. Dodge at just the right second and you can overwhelm the enemy with quick-fire volley of strikes. It's fun in short bursts, but quickly becomes repetitive in extended sessions. Unlocking abilities mixes things up slightly - counters, new sword techniques, and arm upgrades - but the combat establishes a rhythm in the first few encounters and rarely deviates from it.


Blood is the game's most important currency. It's used to perform those rapid-fire adrenaline rush moves, and also to heal. Get some distance from the enemy and you can absorb blood to refill your health bar, but this leaves you, understandably, open to attack. Enemies come in the form of shadowy, vaguely human-shaped creatures called Wires. Regular grunts are a cinch to kill, while others can only be finished off if you slice their head off with a special attack.

There are side missions to pad out the running time, but none are particularly good. Scarlett, a flirtatious nurse who looks like she's just strolled off the set of a really bad porn film, gives you challenges to test your combat skills in a closed-off arena, like beating enemies against the clock, or using certain moves. If you beat them all, you unlock her for Gigolo Mode. Er, great. Unfortunately, the Gigolo Mode rewards are really useful. As well as the Big Daddy-style drill we mentioned earlier, which unleashes a powerful charging melee attack, you can unlock a freeze ray that slows enemies down.

The boss battles look incredible, but are unremarkable to play, with easily-exploited patterns. It feels weirdly old-fashioned, like one of those PS2-era fixed camera Japanese action games. The surreal art design and otherworldly atmosphere give the impression that it's smarter than it really is, but break it down and you find a fairly basic action game. It's eight hours of similar-feeling combat encounters, interrupted too frequently by long, slow, dialogue-heavy cut-scenes.

The verdict

Visually striking and memorably weird, but otherwise unremarkable.

  • Fast, responsive combat
  • Unique art style
  • Fighting becomes repetitive
  • Too many long, meandering cut-scenes
Xbox 360
Grasshopper Manufacture
Action, Adventure