In our Final Round series, we take an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. In part 20, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at a cancelled title, 1998’s THRILL KILL…
Year of Release – 1998 (CANCELLED)
Developer – Paradox Development
Publisher – Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Platforms – Sony PlayStation
For much of the 90s, many fighting games tried their hand at becoming the most grisly, shocking and violent title of them all. Most of these attempts to shift the Mortal Kombat games from their throne fell flat (see our Tattoo Assassins article!) or just weren’t much fun to play.
Then, in 1998, a certain game started to build up hype around its upcoming release by promising more violence, more disturbing content and an innovative fighting system that would seemingly change the game across the board.
Ladies and gentlemen, Thrill Kill.
In what was initially going to be a basketball game set in the time of the Mayans named Earth Monster, Paradox Development changed their focus and decided to create a fighting game instead. As the boom of the genre was starting to fade away slightly by this point in the decade, creating a brand new IP in the fighting game arena was a massive risk to take, so Paradox needed to make sure that their game stood out from the massively saturated marketplace. To do this, they wanted to go all in on the violence and disturbing content, essentially making Mortal Kombat look like Hello Kitty in comparison.
For the most part, Paradox well and truly succeeded in upping the ante for controversial content. Including characters and settings that don’t shy away from topics such as fetishism, BDSM, cannibalism, masochism and mental illness, as well as moves that had names like “Bitch Slap” and “Swallow This”, Thrill Kill is definitely not a game for prudes or the easily offended.
Kicking things off with a waiver form that hypes up the content even further (did any other games from this era do something like this? Let us know in the comments!), and the promise of being the first 3D fighting game where four fighters could play onscreen simultaneously, Thrill Kill was set to be the most talked about and must-try game for players who craved a fighting game with more edginess than ever.
Then, just a few weeks before release day, the game was cancelled.
After the game’s original publisher, Virgin Interactive was bought up by Electronic Arts, the new owners were far from ready to associate themselves with Thrill Kill‘s controversial content, and decided that the game should never see the light of day.
EA’s commitment to overcoming the growing stigma of video games being more violent than TV and movies didn’t stop Paradox Development from utilising their new game engine in a fighting game for long, as much of Thrill Kill’s code was repurposed to create Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (stay tuned for our article!).
A near-complete version of Thrill Kill found its way online shortly after its cancellation, and became one of the most widely spread shelved titles in the history of gaming. These bootlegs and the reasoning behind the game’s cancellation have built a cult following for the game, so it can be argued that the game’s cancellation may have been the best thing that ever happened to it.
Promotional Material & Box Art
As the game was cancelled just a couple of weeks before it was due to be printed, there isn’t a lot to go off in terms of physical media for Thrill Kill. What we do have is some concept art, and what would have been the artwork for the game’s box.
The concept art effectively shows off the game’s core roster of criminals and misfits, while the box art is a simple depiction of the logo that shows up many times throughout the game.
Thrill Kill‘s story is set in an urban version of Hell, as a group of criminals and murderers fight each other for the chance to escape damnation and be reborn on Earth. In order to win a match, players must fill their “KILL METER” by fighting, then grab an opponent to brutally murder them. The last fighter standing wins the match.
The game has a roster of 11 playable characters (3 of which must be unlocked later in the game), and is a somewhat varied mix of “edgy” shock value characters.
William “Tormentor” Whitefield
William J. Whitefield is a district judge from Arizona who sees himself as a vigilante “Angel Of Mercy” sent to cleanse the souls of who he deems immoral. His “judge, jury and executioner” mindset sees him personally acquitting criminals in his court so that he can kidnap, torture and kill them himself in his own torture chamber beneath his office. He is executed by electric chair after his murders are discovered.
Tormentor is somewhat ideal for players that want to deal serious damage to their opponents with a mid-range weapon, in this case a metal chain. His main “THRILL KILL” finishing move sees him pop an opponent’s head clean off by strangling them with said chain, and is honestly a little bit underwhelming.
His costume variants are all different variations on a single, leather-heavy theme, so players can vary Tormentor’s look from BDSM gear to, well, even more BDSM gear.
Originally a timid librarian from Georgia, Belladonna snaps upon learning that her husband is cheating on her with her sister, and turns into a deadly rubber-clad dominatrix. She commits suicide by electrocuting herself in the bath with a cattle prod.
Armed with what is seemingly the cattle prod that ended her life, Belladonna is undoubtedly the most “sexually themed” fighter in Thrill Kill. She was toned down quite a bit in the “censored” version of the game, with a noticeable omission of one of her finishing moves (she appears to be giving oral sex to her opponent, but the camera pans out and it turns out she’s just tickling their foot with a feather…) and swapping her sexually charged moans with another fighter’s voice sample. Her finishing move shows her lunge forward with her cattle prod, making her opponents shake, then ultimately explode (yes, I know it is difficult to get through this bit without it sounding dirty… grow up!).
As Belladonna is a dominatrix, her costume variants are a whole bunch of fetish outfits.
Billy “The Imp” Tattoo
Billy B. Tattoo is a government employee from New York. Described as “a midget with a napoleon complex”, Billy grafts makeshift stilts onto his legs so he can physically measure up to people and obsesses over the thought of inflicting pain upon those that look down on him. It’s this DIY amputation of his legs to fit the stilts that cost him his life.
The Imp’s command list is filled with powerful kicks with his stilts and a couple of grab moves that see him ragdoll his opponents by their ankle. On paper, this sounds impressive, but seeing the moves in action is incredibly hit or miss, especially when it comes to the graphics.
The Imp’s various costumes include a devil outfit, a punk rock mohawk and, you guessed it, BDSM gear!
A contortionist from Austria, 19 year old Violet Boregard (no, not THAT Violet Beauregarde!) develops a hatred of men when she is sexually assaulted in her dressing room after one of her performances. She is convicted of manslaughter after she kills her attacker, and dies from internal injuries after rupturing her spine.
Violet is one of the most interesting fighters in Thrill Kill, as she twists, turns and contorts all over the place. Even her simple kicks call back to her unusual profession, as her knees unlock and amusingly wack away at her foes.
Ranging from moody goth teenager, to circus harlequin/silent mime, to a clear reference to The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ Sally, Violet’s variations are also fun to explore as well.
Dr. Gabriel Faustus
Gabriel Faustus is a deranged plastic surgeon who intentionally disfigures his patients in horrible ways. As he gets carried away and loses restraint during his surgeries, it often results in the death of those in his care. While several cases of malpractice are filed against him, he manages to avoid conviction. He replaces his mandible with a bear trap-like jaw, which causes a fatal infection that he succumbs to.
Besides having my favourite look in the game, Dr. Faustus is also one of the most vicious fighters in Thrill Kill. The majority of his moveset involves him hacking away at opponents with a razor sharp scalpel, one of which sees him uncontrollably (and blindly) swipe away with the blade, catching whoever is in his way. The other highlight in Dr. Faustus’ repertoire of techniques is where he dives onto an opponent, biting away at them with his bear trap-like jaws, growling like a dog.
His costume variations all center around medical outfits, with one in particular seeing his brain fully exposed (think Ray Liotta’s final scene in Hannibal…).
Cleetus T. Radley
A yokel from Kentucky, Cleetus T. Radley is a murderous cannibal. Cleetus carries around the severed leg of one of his victims “for good luck”, and dies from starvation as the result of a tapeworm infestation.
Cleetus initially feels like a wasted opportunity as his moveset is pretty bland for the most part, as many of his moves are heavily geared to simply twatting opponents with his lucky severed leg. Upon reflection though, things become a bit clearer; there’s not really much you CAN do with a cannibal character outside of “munch away at foes”, so the game does a good job, I guess.
If you were to come up with any major stereotype of a backwoods, hillbilly “Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque” character’s look, you’ll more than likely find it in Cleetus’ alternative variants
Franklin “Mammoth” Peppermint
Hailing from Indiana, Franklin Peppermint is a postal worker that is given the nickname “Mammoth” due to his phenomenal size. After being laid off from his job, he flies into a murderous rage and goes on a rampage that ends up killing his co-workers and several customers. He then commits suicide by shooting himself.
It’s a fighting game, so it’s a given that there’s got to be a powerhouse character, and Mammoth truly fits that description. While he’s painfully slow, his long reach and insanely strong attacks really come in handy while playing in matches with three other fighters trying to get one up on you.
The ape-like creature adheres to expectations with his alternate costumes, but one sees him inked up on his chest and back, arms covered in blood and wearing a pair of Tobias Fünke-style denim cutoffs. Weird.
Raymond “Oddball” Raystack
Working as an FBI serial killer profiler, Raymond Raystack slowly starts to lose his mind and begins to appreciate his subjects’ “artistic vision”, becoming a serial killer himself. Earning himself the nickname of the “Oddball Killer”, Raymond is eventually gunned down by his young protégé.
As Oddball’s arms are permanently bound behind his back, he relies heavily on kick attacks and launching his body into his foes. One of his moves looks like he’s setting up for a standard frankensteiner, but instead of pulling backwards, he violently twists to face the opposite direction, effectively snapping his opponent’s neck.
Focusing again on the fact that his hands and arms are not in use throughout the game, Oddball’s alternate outfits range from the standard straitjacket, being handcuffed in chains and just straight up having no arms whatsoever.
The first of Thrill Kill‘s unlockable sub-bosses, Cain is a pyromaniac with the ability to control fire and use it against opponents.
Cain’s obsession with fire well and truly shines in his moveset, as the majority of his techniques involve him either setting his opponents ablaze, setting himself ablaze, using projectiles that are ablaze or letting out a fart (yep, it’s ablaze!).
His alternate looks further this obsession with flames even more, as we get varying degrees of burned up Cain, ranging from arsonist firefighter, to a skinless variant. My personal favourite look is a skeleton that’s still slightly on fire, it’s so daft, but really entertaining to see in action.
The second of Thrill Kill‘s unlockable sub-bosses is Judas, a deformed set of conjoined twins with an upper half that fights as the other half controls movement.
Judas’ look and fighting technique is literally a double-barreled body horror affair, as players can switch halves many times during a match. While the differences between the halves is merely on an aesthetic level, this CatDog-esque fighter is one of the more unusual fighters in Thrill Kill. Watching the spin attacks that he (they?) can pull off in action is hilarious.
His different costumes are pretty ho-hum in general, but the Street Fighter ripoff costume got a couple of audible chuckles from me at least.
The final boss of Thrill Kill is Marukka, a demon from one of the dimensions in Hell. She is known as the “Goddess of Secrets”, and is the one who is responsible for creating the Thrill Kill tournament.
Her reasoning behind this? Boredom.
Marukka’s moves flit between slashing at opponents with razor sharp claws, teleporting behind them and keeping a distance from foes by knocking them back with gusts of wind from her flapping wings. Like a satanic mix of Raiden from Mortal Kombat and Devil from Tekken 2, Marukka is about as close as you can get to a “thinking man’s” fighter in Thrill Kill, It’s just a shame that by the time you come to unlock her as a playable character, you’re more than likely going to be very bored of the game.
Upon completing every character’s moveset in practice mode (an easy task, considering how every character’s command list uses the same inputs), players can face off against a character that is exclusive to the mode. The Gimp is not a playable character, and serves no real purpose except to add to the game’s attempt at being as controversial as it possibly can.
In addition to the practice stage, Thrill Kill has 10 suitably gruesome (if not slightly clichéd) stages to choose from;
- Chamber Of Anguish – A dungeon-like room with crunbling walls and blood splattered floors.
- Slaughterhouse of Flesh – Complete with what seems to be some sort of mincing machine, the dingy floor of the slaughterhouse is rather fitting for Cleetus’ character (and his ending).
- The Crematorium – Exactly what it says on the tin. Think of the setting in Return of The Living Dead and you’ll get a better idea.
- The Lavatory – Never-been-cleaned toilets? Check. A smashed mirror to avoid having to use reflections the game? Check. Crude, suggestive graffiti on the walls that look like they were done in MS Paint? Check!
- Insane Asylum – As predictable as it is boring, the padded cell is one hell of a trope, and Thrill Kill uses it unashamedly.
- Sewer of Styx – This gives off more of a “shit demon from Dogma” vibe than it does a “hey, some mutant turtles live down here!” vibe. Grim.
- Sinner’s Cell – Tally marks, swimsuit model posters and what looks like a photo of one of the Paradox Development team members dicking about on the walls all add to the authenticity of this jail cell setting.
- Homicide Avenue – Remember when I said that the padded cell was a massive trope that the game shoves in just for the hell of it? Yeah, this one applies too. I’m looking at you, chalk outlines.
- Sacrificial Ruins – Arguably the most Mortal Kombat-esque stage in the whole of Thrill Kill.
- Dante’s Cage – Looking like something out of a Hellraiser movie, the final stage of the game looks the most unfinished, as zooming out reveals just how little there is in terms of detailed graphics here.
These levels fit pretty well into the aesthetic of Thrill Kill, as they’re dark, grungey and generally unpleasant. It’s a shame that there’s absolutely no sign of stage-based finishing moves (apart from in the Lavatory level, you can keep that one…).
With the exception of Marukka, each fighter in Thrill Kill has their own unique ending upon completing arcade mode, and, true to the nature of the controversial content that precedes them, they vary between hilarious and straight-up gruesome.
Highlights include The Imp becoming the US President (sadly, only in a dream), Violet twisting a man’s head off in front of a live audience, Mammoth shoving a harmless old lady inside a mailbox (SPOILER: she’s not ok), Dr. Faustus killing another patient (with the single worst 3D rendition of a blood splatter that I have EVER seen… it looks like strawberry jam!) and Judas being reborn as what can only be described as “borderline nightmare fuel”.
Thrill Kill is the video game equivalent of a “video nasty” movie; hugely controversial for its time, but upon actually experiencing it in a modern setting, its actually pretty cheesy and laughable (in a mostly enjoyable way, apart from those SS movies *shudders*).
By today’s standards, the game doesn’t seem anywhere near as shocking or as controversial as it did back in 1998. All one has to do is look at how the Mortal Kombat series has evolved across the recent console generations, with each entry being more brutally violent than the last, and it’s immediately clear that the game pales in comparison. If anything can be gleamed from the experience, it is that Thrill Kill, in this respect at least, was arguably ahead of its time.
As for how it plays, it’s a pretty clunky affair. The movement is awkward, the moves (for the most part) are somewhat dull and uninspired. The finishing “THRILL KILL” moves are fun to watch, but actually catching an opponent to trigger them is tricky to say the least, especially as you progress further through arcade mode. The graphics haven’t aged very well either, especially in the cutscenes at the end of the game (seriously, they often look like an even lower quality chriddof video).
Had Thrill Kill actually seen a proper release back in 1998, it’s likely to have been forgotten about many years ago, as it’s a pretty average playthrough as far as fighting games go. It’s still worth a look though, as it does a more admirable job of accomplishing what games such as Tattoo Assassins attempted to do; staking its claim as the most gruesome, violent fighting game of the era.
Have you played Thrill Kill?
Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!