Our first look at Suda 51’s weird and wacky new title, ‘Killer is Dead’

GDC 2013 (2)

Even in a cyberpunk world of tomorrow where cybernetic villains attack people with superpowered sound, a guy with a cybernetic arm that can be anything from a gun to a drill, who also happens to have a penchance for assassinating evildoers with his samurai sword, tends to stand out. Fortunately for the memorably named Mondo Zappa, those that notice him tend not to have heads for too much longer after the fact. And really, what more setup do you need to know about Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture’s upcoming game, Killer is Dead?

GDC 2013 (3)Among certain circles, developer Suda 51 is somewhat akin to the gaming equivalent of a rock star. Maybe not a Beatle or even a U2 member, but his offbeat and bizarre games have earned him a loyal cult following. He is the Def Leopard of gaming. He and his studio, Grasshopper Manufacture, have released some of the most original games of the last decade and change, games like Killer7, Michigan: Report from Hell, and more recently Lollipop Chainsaw and Shadows of the Damned. The company has also produced several digitally distributed games like Sine Mora, as well as a few handheld games like Guild01 for the 3DS. Sometimes these games strike just the right nerve and gain a powerful following. Othertimes, not so much.

But that is the madness and genius of Suda 51. Say what you will about a game where you are a cheerleader that carries her boyfriend’s decapitated head around with her while chainsawing zombies, but you can’t deny that it isn’t unique.

Killer is Dead is no different. If anything, it may be a bit more tame than most of Suda’s games, at least in the setup.

Mondo is an assassin, killing evildoers that abuse their cybernetic implants. By gaming standards, that is positively Average, even with the Swiss Army Knife-like arm. Of course, this is a Grasshopper game, so things aren’t even close to normal. The first thing that stands out is the look. The game features a modified cell shading somewhat similar to the company’s previous assassin-based games Killer7 and the pair of No More Heroes games, but this game is not a sequel to either series.

victor_01Instead, Mondo has been described as a dark James Bond. In the demo being shown at GDC, he confronts a boss character with a desiccated face named Victor, who is wearing a pair of oversize headphones that he apparently stole from someone in order to attack with the power of sound. Victor also believes he doesn’t need flesh any longer. Mondo decides to help confirm that.

The story is heavily influenced by the idea of cybernetics. Mondo himself is an “executioner,” a hired assassin that is sent to specifically face augmented villains. In that sense, Mondo is more like the idealized version of a Ronin, a masterless mercenary samurai, but one that fights for personal causes of justice. Mondo’s story will play out when the game is released later this summer on PS3 and Xbox 360, but the demo at GDC was meant to highlight some of the gameplay.

Although Mondo has a machine-gun appendage, his weapon of choice is the samurai blade, meaning he needs to be fast and mobile to get in close and attack. The boss battle emphasized this, as Mondo dodged and swiped his way to victory as Victor continued to conjure speakers to attack with evil audio. It is just as weird as it sounds. In the end, Mondo stood over his foe and took his head, before uttering that the “killer is dead.”

According to Suda, the nameof the game struck him as an interesting play on words, and so it made it into the game and then became its moniker. If there is more to it than that, we’ll have to wait and see.

GDC 2013 (4)Although the demo focused on one fight, there will be plenty of enemies throughout. The Earth and the Moon have a specific relationship that will be explored in the game, and this will somehow cause the rise of alien-like creatures that Mondo has to dispatch with the odd bit of ultra-violence. The music will be composed by Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame, and so you can expect the entire presentation to feel a bit unsettling.

The game has been in development in one form or another for nearly six years, since the idea came to Suda while working on Shadows of the Damned. Like most Grasshopper games, it will be a singular experience with no online play.

Suda 51 is the sort of developer that you either love or hate, and he and his studio are perfectly fine with that. His games are the film equivalent of grindhouse films. Everyone will have a chance to take a closer look at Killer is Dead soon enough, but even if the cell shaded art work doesn’t do it for you, if the quirky assassin storyline isn’t your thing, and even if the sword and gun gameplay don’t float your proverbial boat, you have to give the game some credit. There won’t be anything else out there quite like it.