Maybe it's because you spend most of the game chasing a bright pink moon. Or because you've got a bloodsucking bionic arm attached to your torso. Or maybe it's because there are unicorns. And rainbows. Regardless, the fact remains that at no point during Killer Is Dead do you have even the slightest clue about what's going on; it's a disjointed mess of anime cliches, self-deprecating interludes, and the kind of outrageous jiggle-physics and awkward sexism that would make even the biggest Dead or Alive fan blush.
There is some fun to be had here, though, buried beneath the layers of anime nonsense, stark visuals, and button-mashing hack-and-slash action, but you have to disengage the better part of your brain to experience it--and even then, it's not entirely worth it. Killer Is Dead stars Mondo, a sword-swinging, emotionally tortured assassin with a sharp suit and a penchant for stealing blood to power his oversized gun arm. He's joined by an entirely forgettable array of characters at a government agency set up to execute bad guys in exchange for big wads of cash.
That's about as much sense as you're likely to get out of the story, because from there, it really goes off the deep end. By episode three, you'll have fought a scantily clad man on the dark side of the moon, chopped the head off a minigun-toting serial killer, and fought a giant woman-spider mutation in a topsy-turvy mansion inspired by Alice in Wonderland. By the time the end credits roll, you'll have encountered rainbow-covered unicorns and spilt the blood of hundreds upon hundreds of foes, but you'll barely be any closer to understanding why, with abrupt cutscenes raising far more questions than they answer.
Still, there are some nice touches sprinkled in here and there. For instance, Mondo is more than happy to break the fourth wall and extol the virtues of big environments in action games, or wonder if the last level boss is going to be as difficult as it should be. It's a reminder that, despite the gloomy setting, Killer Is Dead doesn't take itself too seriously.
It's a shame such inventiveness hasn't made its way into the combat, which despite instructing you to do otherwise, quickly devolves into a frenzy of button mashing. Part of the problem lies with combos failing to register a lot of the time, with the more complicated attacks offering little benefit over spamming standard sword slashes against foes. Then there's the upgrade system, which lets you unlock new abilities, such as faster attacks, with moon crystals collected during each mission. Frustratingly, you can't unlock many of these until you're way past the halfway point of the game, meaning you have to spend a good chunk of time enduring slow, awkward combat until things get a little more interesting and fun.
It all boils down to a lack of refinement, the sort of thing that makes a 20-hit combo in DmC look and feel as smooth as silk and the witch-time dodges of Bayonetta flow effortlessly from the fingers. Similar effects are attempted here. You can, for instance, activate a garish black-and-white slow-motion attack by dodging enemy attacks at the last second, but the visual cues for doing so are weak at best. And even when you do activate it, all you can do is hammer the attack button as fast as possible, rather than mix things up with different combos.
Mondo is armed with a gun, too, but disappointingly, using it switches to an over-the-shoulder viewpoint and reticle aiming; it functions much more as a secondary weapon, rather than something to slide smoothly into existing combos. The only time you make use of it is against irritating drones and snipers that you can't get up close and personal with, and those guys don't even make an appearance until much later in the game.
Most of the time you're fighting spritely bad guys armed with batons, hulking great beasts that charge towards you, and swift ninjas and samurai with impressive sword skills. And yet, despite their differences, the way you dispatch them is largely the same throughout: launch a few attacks, quickly dodge out of the way, and land a few more. This quickly becomes tiresome. Outside of a few doors to unlock and crates to smash, there's little variety to these levels either, so you're stuck running from A to B and watching a confusing cutscene at the end of them.
Side quests come in the form of challenges, such as having to fight your way up an elevator shaft filled with enemies or having to kill a massive beast without taking any damage. While many of these are unlocked as you complete standard missions, some of them require you to find the sultry-voiced, sexually charged, and disturbingly bouncy nurse Scarlett. And while the sight of her riding around on a phallic syringe is probably enough filth for one game, Gigolo missions go one step further. In these interludes, you're asked to woo potential partners in an oddly placed minigame, taking mental snapshots of (at least somewhat sensibly dressed) women and their bits to build up the guts to give them gifts and earn their love.
It's difficult to feel anything but seedy after these missions, and they sit uncomfortably alongside the otherwise dark, noir tone of the game. While you could skip them, you miss out on rewards like new attachments for your gun arm. These attachments aren't essential, but having the ability to freeze enemies, for example, does give you the upper hand during later missions, particularly if you're playing on the harder difficulty. Not that the game is all that challenging, but completing it does at least unlock an extra hard mode, along with more costumes and a few new powers.
That mode isn't enough to make you want to play through the game again, though, and the scoring system is inconsistent enough to render the online leaderboards largely irrelevant too. Truth be told, there's little here that makes Killer Is Dead relevant, unless you have a voyeuristic curiosity about Japanese games and culture: it simply can't hold its own against its far more entertaining contemporaries. It's too immature, too confusing, and far too unrefined to be anything more than a strange, mildly amusing distraction.'