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E3 2013 Extended Look: Suda51 goes in a darker yet still familiar direction with Killer Is Dead

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At this year's E3 GameZone had the chance to sit in with XSEED and get some in-depth details regarding Killer Is Dead from Product Manager Jimmy Soga. Aside from getting a closer look at one of the game's bosses, we were also told about a few of the story beats in Killer Is Dead, protagonist Mondo Zappa, and some nuanced gameplay mechanics. All in all, it was an interesting briefing that only served to get us even more stoked for the upcoming endeavor from Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture.

For our hands-on impressions of Killer Is Dead, check out our preview from the E3 show floor.

Unlike Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw, which took place around a singular area, the several episodes in Killer Is Dead occur all over the world. As an executioner for the Bryan Execution Agency, Mondo takes up jobs from the government and is tasked with eliminating the criminal underworld's biggest masterminds. The assassination missions in the game play out like a TV drama, with a total of 13 episodes. Each episode is self-contained and features a definite beginning and definite ending. That said, there is an overlaying theme present throughout the entire story.

Unlike many of Suda51's previous characters, Mondo isn't fighting for love or passion. Simply put, this guy is a businessman — a hard worker who's hired to do jobs, and his payout for each assassination is the working man's payout: cash and satisfaction. He wears a cool suit, he's a professional, and he does his job almost disturbingly well. We were told that there will be certain parts in Killer Is Dead where the player may actually feel bad for Mondo's targets due to just how ruthless he is. That's not to say that he's something of an antihero, but he was described as a “dark hero.”

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The overall tone of Killer Is Dead is much more serious than games like No More Heroes — well, as serious as it can be while still being totally insane. There are certainly joyously ridiculous amounts of blood everywhere, and the violence is wonderfully over-the-top, but there is a more brooding style to the characters and storytelling here. Mondo is a reflection of this, and while he's a serious, almost sullen character, he's still fairly sarcastic in his own right. Makes sense — it'd be hard to be all that happy-go-lucky or goofy if you couldn't figure out where the hell your robotic arm came from.

Mondo's primary weapon is a katana, which he wields with his right hand. As seen in various trailers and screens, he has a left bionic arm that acts as a sub-weapon and can take on several forms. Mondo can earn experience points and money, and he can then purchase upgrades for his bionic arm. He can utilize up to four weapons including a gun, freeze ray, laser cannon, and drill. The more you level up, the more powerful these abilities will be.

Using the sub-weapon expends Mondo's blood meter, which fuels his left arm. Depending on how much blood you have, the effectiveness of the sub-weapon can drastically vary. For example, if Mondo's blood is low, he'll fire shots slowly, whereas a full blood meter results in rapid fire shots. Ideally, while you can defeat enemies using your sub-weapon, it's much more practical to use it as a means to stun them and get them off balance, and to set them up for some highly powerful katana hits. Controls are fairly intuitive, and Mondo can perform basic attacks, a guard-breaking punch, combos, powerful parry moves, and execution finishers.

The combo system is particularly interesting, because unlike other games, it doesn't require you to purchase more powerful moves. Instead, if you're good enough (read: effing badass), you can dish out super powerful attacks on your enemies (read: those poor bastards) right from the get-go. Performing successive hits increases your combo level, and if you don't take damage from bad guys, you'll keep your combo level. At the highest combo level (level five), your attacks will be much faster and stronger (and harder and better). So potentially, if you're good enough, you'll be able to perform the highest level combo right at the start of your encounters.

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We got to see one boss battle in action, and it was definitely in line with what you would expect from the outrageous mind of Suda51. An unnatural occurrence on the dark side of the moon is giving a number of villains crazy powers, allowing them to perform viscous acts in fantastical ways, and allowing Grasshopper to take a few welcome liberties with the more serious nature of Killer Is Dead. The boss we saw was able to bring his tattoos to life, so he quickly summoned a tiger from his back and started riding around on it. Mondo then began pursuing the boss on a motorcycle. The ensuing chase required Mondo to avoid obstacles on the road and enemy attacks. After this initial phase, the battle took on a more traditional hack-and-slash format.

As was explained to us, the driving mechanic is unique to this specific boss. Every major battle will offer a different experience (such as a time limit) and require different tactics. Additionally, each of these encounters will feature multiple phases. That's actually something to really look forward to, because given just how creative the team at Grasshopper is, it's exciting to think about the possibilities. I mean, a dude who can turn his tattoos into weapons is pretty out there, but you just know that isn't even nearly as wild as it's going to get.

If you fall at the hands of your enemies, you'll be revived on the spot if you've obtained a Mika ticket. This summons Mondo's assistant Mika, who immediately begins pounding on the main character's chest to bring him back to life. It's very cartoony, and if this was a game by any other developer, it probably would've stood out as something out of place. Because this is a Grasshopper joint, however, it's appropriately fitting and kind of charming.

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Aside from bosses and regular encounters, there are side quests that you can tackle if you so desire. These range from reaching a certain combo number to retrieving specific items. There's also Gigolo Mode, which was created to give Mondo a more human side. Hey, even an assassin needs to unwind, right? Seriously, seducing women sounds like the perfect pick-me-up (heh) for someone who's job is to kill evil people. While the Gigolo missions don't exactly have a direct impact on the story of Killer Is Dead, they do allow Mondo to obtain upgrades and abilities.

Despite stylistic similarities to Killer7, Killer Is Dead is a completely new tale set in a different world. That said, we were told that the original Grasshopper team was involved in this title, so it makes sense that the game is referential — and perhaps even influenced — by past games from the studio.

Grasshopper is remarkably good at dishing out captivating and bizarre experiences that just suck you in and make you want to keep going. Being briefed on the nuances of Killer Is Dead and getting some hands-on time with the game gave a clear indication of what we can expect when the game launches for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year. If you're a Suda51 fan, you're likely already pumped for this game. If you haven't really been exposed to the dev's signature brand of action, humor, and just plain weirdness, Killer Is Dead could be as good a place to start as any.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

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