When Shadows of the Damned came out, I wrote a piece defending some of the design and characterization choices made by Goichi Suda and the team at Grasshopper Manufacture that were being criticized elsewhere on the internet. Suda 51 is one of a handful of developers I see more as an artist than anything else. Even when heís not directing (Shadows of the Damned, Killer is Dead) or writing (Lollipop Chainsaw), his artistic vision pervades every corner of Grasshopper Manufacture. Itís the priority. Not gameplay. Not graphics. Not story. Itís that intangible charm and creativity of a man saying, ďIf god is an old man in a wheelchair with a sniper rifle and the devil is the leader of terrorist organization comprised of invisible, cackling, exploding freaks, what happens when they play chess?Ē †
Iím about half way through Killer Is Dead. The response on the internet has been somewhat mixed. It seems that most reviewers agree on its competency as an action game, but have been turned off by the vapid and (brace yourselves) sexist Gigolo Missions. The dreaded s-word, usually followed by some mention of feminism and someone complaining that games like this ruin the mediumís growing acceptance as a mature art form. It seems the gaming community is having this discussion every other week. Even though I havenít finished the game yet, I wanted to comment on the Killer Is Dead matter while itís still fresh. †
If thereís one thing Iíve learned over the years, itís that Suda51 games are never what they seem. Killer 7 is a socio-political mindfuck once you start parsing out the surreal madness. Flower, Sun and Rain is an experiment in breaking down a game to its base elements (and a sadistic experiment on its players). No More Heroes is an exploration of the otaku and video game sub-cultures and at times a metaphor for the video game industry itself. Shadows of the Damned is the ultimate expression of machismo and Lollipop Chainsaw flips gender norms on its head. †
Because of this, I found myself approaching Killer Is Dead with a critical eye from the get-go, something I donít think Iíve ever done before with a video game. If Mondo Zappa is supposed to be inspired by James Bond, then the Mondo Girls must assuredly be representative of Bond Girls. And yet, while the collective internet appears turned off by the notion of Gigolo missions, popular culture celebrates James Bondís ability to effortlessly seduce any woman he desires in a matter of seconds. To be cast as a Bond Girl is an honor, a coveted role in the ongoing history of film. James Bond is an archetype unto himself. Man of mystery Ė suave but dangerous, romantic, confident, killing machine.† †
Mondo is all of these things, but compared to Bond, he has to work to get the girl. Whenís the last time you saw Bond treat his girls to some perfume or bubble gum? Or necklaces made from lunar rock! Mondo has to lavish his ladies with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts before he can even hope to get any action. But itís not just the money. Mondo is never aggressive or vulgar, heís actually quite the gentleman. In fact, heís kind of nervous. The only way you can build the ďgutsĒ to present a present is by sneaking in a few body shots when the lady isnít looking, which, letís be honest folks, every man in the history of the world is guilty of. One of our base human instincts is physical attraction. Itís nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly nothing to be offended by. I mean, youíre checking out pixels. But Iím getting off topic. The point is, the Mondo Girls have all the power in this relationship. They call Mondo, not the other way around. They are the keepers of Mondoís ultimate power. You want a fancy drill arm? Take Natalia out for drinks. Freeze cannon? Have a moonlit conversation with Koharu. It's unfortunate that these sections have been hit with the sexist hammer, because I find it be quite the opposite. †
James Bond being a creep
Reviewers have also commented on the strange pacing and structure of the story, and even I must admit that the dialogue is oddly stilted at times. But it also feels so purposeful, like every other Grasshopper production. Iím not an expert on the subject, but the moody cinematography and shadowy visuals convey a noir-like feeling. So far, Killer Is Dead seems to be an amalgam of James Bond and film noir Ė Suda 51 style. Thatís fine by me, and Iím looking forward to uncovering what else the game might be hiding under its surface.