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What happens most, however, is the sudden emergence of a ghastly chortle. This signals the presence of one of your enemies, the Heavens Smiles: a deeply unpleasant assortment of demonic mobile bombs. At this point you switch into a first-person targeting mode, scan the area for the chuckling terror, then try to dispense them before they can grab you and explode. Hit them in specific places, and you can collect their blood to restore health or buy upgraded skills. In this way, you wander through the missions, blasting and solving the odd simple puzzle, until you make it to a gate and a climactic boss battle.
Think you’ve got it? Things get odder still. The members of the Killer 7 – the sharpshooting Dan Smith, the mystic-powered ghost girl, KAEDE Smith, the high-powered wrestler MASK De Smith, etc – are all manifestations of an aging assassin’s split personality. The geriatric gunman, Harman Smith, can manifest one from a restricted selection of the seven at (nearly) any time, then utilise their unique skills to kill specific enemies, explore new areas or remove other barriers to progress. For instance, KAEDE can use her own blood to destroy magic barriers, while slick-dressing thief Coyote Smith can pick locks or climb onto roofs in a cinch.
For the first two hours or more, playing Killer 7 is an utterly confusing and genuinely frustrating experience. The puzzles are at the same time painfully simple and oddly obscure. It’s obvious that you need something to light the candles in one room, but who could guess the fire ring needed could be found in the mouth of a disembodied spirit head that loiters in a nearby tumble dryer. Combat is a hit and miss affair, the secret being to target vulnerable spots for one shot kills and reap the bloody rewards. Doing so with the GameCube pad – let alone the notoriously insensitive PS2 dual-shock controller – takes time, patience and practice, to say the least. A clearly marked map and the helpful in-game hints delivered by your creepy spirit buddies help clarify matters, but Killer 7 really does take some getting used to.
Amazingly, it grows steadily into a pretty compulsive game. The style certainly helps, and there’s something about its atmosphere and general weirdness that makes you want to see what other oddities the game’s off-kilter world has to offer. The puzzles and the combat develop a rhythm of their own, the game introduces new strange and wonderful personalities, and the plot takes new bizarre directions that you can’t help but want to follow.