There were two version of the Killer is Dead demo available at XSeed’s booth. One had Mondo Zappa fully upgraded with extra health on a nearly final build of the game. The other was a prototype build that needed an XSeed booth attendant to boot it up specifically. This build featured no upgrades and essentially mirrored a hardcore mode for the game. The demo showed off the mission, “The Man Who Stole Her Ears”, in which Mondo Zappa has to hunt down Victor, a ghoulish soul who stole the life essence of a musician named Jubilee who could control the emotions of people through songs. Victor’s compound has an industrial vibe full of skeletal enemies from basic sword fodder to mid-level to mini-bosses, all leading up to the confrontation with Victor.
Gameplay in Killer is Dead features some of the best controls in a Grasshopper game. Gone are the tank controls of Lollipop Chainsaw and the oddly restrictive and awkward motion controls of No More Heroes. Killer is Dead has a sense of fluidity in its controls that plays closer to some of the better action games on the market, but married with the sublime surrealness of a Suda 51 game. Mondo Zappa has two main weapons in the demo, his trusty katana and his cyborg arm. The katana slashes are smooth, quick and lead to fast-paced action. These quicker motions pair well with the sluggish heavy attacks of the cyborg arm that can be used to break enemy attacks, which is necessary for the mid-level and mini-bosses who will guard against normal attacks.
When in the thick of combat, Mondo has a good amount of options to deal with enemies. He can dodge attacks which, if timed right, leads to a useful parry attack that helps manage larger crowds of enemies. The adrenaline burst is a useful skill that can help give added attack power in a pinch.
Certain portions of the demo had enemies or targets scattered out of reach. Mondo can use his cyborg arm as a ranged attack that uses up a blood meter. When the meter is full, the arm acts as a machine gun, allowing the player to quickly deal with enemies. When the meter runs out, it acts as a single burst attack, which is a bummer but can still get the job done. Killing enemies drops items that will heal Mondo, refill the blood meter or used as currency to purchase in-game upgrades or items.
The demo was tough, so action fans looking for a challenge have something to look out for later this summer. Despite the difficulty, Killer is Dead looks to be shaping up well. It has the Suda 51 weirdness that people want, but finally has the combat and controls that sing well. The game is slick, both visually and mechanically. Killer is Dead finally seems to bring the gorgeous art often featured in Grasshopper games to its full glory. The story seems bizarre and heady, which should be fun to dig into upon release. There is plenty to be excited about when Killer is Dead launches in North America on Aug. 27.