Wanted: Dead Review – Pistol Gaiden

Wanted: Dead Review

Back during the height of the pandemic, there was a licensed game released that didn’t get nearly as much press as I felt it deserved. It wasn’t the most wildly innovative title, but that was kind of the point. It was however a blast from the past throwback to a different time in game design that was incredibly nostalgic. That game was Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, which I reviewed here on the site. It was such a good modernization of licensed games from 15 to 20 years ago that it was one of my favorite games that year. The development team behind that title, Soleil Ltd., recently released the game we’re discussing here, Wanted: Dead.

A title that, in its own way, is also a throwback to that same era. Only this time, instead of a licensed cartoon tie-in, the focus is on Ninja Gaiden-style character action that is intentionally difficult and maintains a kind of insane tone to the writing. Given that the studio boasts pedigree from the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games of that era I was particularly excited when this was announced. Now it’s time to talk about the final product of what is one of the most mixed bags of a game I have ever played.

Heroes of Our Time

The story in Wanted: Dead is not unlike other stories we’ve heard before. In a grim cyberpunk future, a tech conglomerate named Dauer Synthetics owns nearly all of Hong Kong, including the police force. Recent international conflicts have created a new batch of war criminals that are being held by the Chinese government indefinitely for their acts. Dauer has cut a deal with the government to allow them to use some of these inmates as a suicide squad to be sent in when law and order calls for some excessive police brutality. The resulting group of multinational criminal crime fighters is called the Zombie Unit. The leader of that unit, Hannah Stone, is the player character and protagonist of this story.

The international flavor was not something you would usually expect out of a game like this. While listening to Lt. Stone talk with her distinct Swiss accent adds a great sense of character, I found that the meat and potatoes of the writing are still very much Japanese and that the premise of an international squad of war criminals fighting crime ended up being mostly shallow window dressing, especially for the secondary characters. None of these people feel like they have committed atrocities, but the game leads us to believe that they have all done horrific things in their rap sheets. I like the idea of bad people with good hearts or even just bad people seeking redemption, but that isn’t all that well communicated here.

The tone, on the other hand, is off-the-wall bonkers, and I would say that it is one of the most unhinged games I’ve experienced in a while. The line readings often don’t make sense or are at a weird volume, the minigames are out of left field, the humorous cultural references are either outdated or just extremely odd, and the pacing jumps between Dragon-Force-fast and James-Taylor-slow. The soundtrack is also all over the place in much the same way. Personally, I loved it, and I would love to see more of this weird world, especially Stone herself. But I would not suspect that most other people would like it so much. Especially given the technical glitches and combat that falls somewhere between throwback and outdated.

Strike of the Ninja

The moment-to-moment gameplay of Wanted: Dead is varied, but the majority is Ninja Gaiden-style ultra-violent character action hack and slash mixed with some basic third-person cover shooting. Hannah Stone is a master with a Katana, but you also have a mildly customizable assault rifle and an infinite ammo auto-aiming pistol that mostly works as a combo connector or an aesthetic piece in the glory kill animations. If you haven’t played Ninja Gaiden, I will describe the combat as very fast, with a heavy emphasis on dodging and then attacking when the enemies are vulnerable but without the technicality of something like the Souls games.

It rewards cheap combo spamming, but if you are willing to put in the effort to vary your approach, you’re likely to get more out of it. The game is intentionally difficult in a way that frequently feels cheap, as in I was often rolling my eyes or shaking my head in frustration after a random high-damage enemy popped out of nowhere and killed me in a single hit. The levels are linear paths through the environment. They’re broken up with checkpoints. Often you have to memorize the enemy layout through trial and error in order to survive long enough to get to the next checkpoint.

Usually, there are a few high-damage enemies between checkpoints, and I would describe these as mini-goals in between. I found myself trying to make sure I had enough health when I got to them or trying to avoid using the assault rifle altogether to make sure that I had enough ammo to avoid getting in close. By the last level, I was restarting from the previous checkpoint if I lost too much health or spent too much ammo before getting through all the difficult baddies in a stretch. It almost felt like a series of combat puzzles, just perhaps, not in an elegant or exceptionally thoughtful way. It is a repetitive process, but I found a kind of thrill from finally hitting the next checkpoint after dying a dozen (sometimes 2-3 dozen) times in the same stretch of the level.

The Bosses range from actually fun cinematic fights to the same high-difficulty trial and error on steroids. One boss I particularly enjoyed was a one-on-one with a sniper/ninja wearing an invisibility cloak. Another boss involving fighting off a hoard of regular melee enemies while getting sniped from above almost made me give up on beating the game altogether.

After every mission, there’s usually a cutscene that leads into one of a handful of minigames. Then you are walking around HKPD headquarters, finding collectibles and documentation that details the game’s backstory and lore, as well as interacting with NPCs and, if you’d like, replaying minigames you’ve unlocked. If only it were that simple in practice, of course, because Wanted: Dead has the worst technical glitches I have experienced in years.

Through Fire and Flames

I would not be exaggerating if I said that I was actually shocked at how badly Wanted: Dead runs on consoles. I was playing on an Xbox Series X and I experienced constant interruptions. Frame drops are commonplace and often severe. The game crashed on me several times. I stopped counting, but I experienced a hard crash back to the console menu easily more than six times and my whole console locked frozen mid-frame and I had to manually restart the Xbox at least twice. The PS5 version (which our reviews editor Jimmy was playing for comparison) performs more stable, with dips here and there, but also suffered similar issues elsewhere. There were also a couple of times when the audio would go sideways too.

I’m not a game developer. I don’t pretend to know any of the ins and outs of design. But I can say that this feels like a game that had a tight budget, and they sacrificed optimization for more content or higher  graphical fidelity. I can’t say for sure that that’s what happened, but I can say that something didn’t happen that needed to. I was not totally confident that I would be able to finish it, but I did manage not to have the game break in such a severe way as to prevent completion.

This is all especially frustrating when several story-necessary rhythm minigames require exact timing. I never touched any of them again after I squeaked past them because the stuttering and freezing made those parts of the experience actually unplayable in any sort of genuine way. It was heartbreaking from a certain perspective. I think Wanted: Dead has a lot going for it, and I think it could have been a contender for my personal game of the year. But the technical failures are so stark that I’m actually saddened by it. I’m not going to blame anyone because game development is hard, and things happen: but there weren’t any of these issues before in the studio’s previous games, so hopefully, a patch is released at some point that fixes it. Unfortunately, I imagine it will be too late to recover the audience, given that it’s been five months since the release, and there are still major issues.


Soleil is an up-and-coming studio that has been showing real promise in the mid-tier games space. A space that has gotten less and less attention this past decade. I think that they succeeded here more than they didn’t. I found myself continuing to come back and fight against the frame rate issues and the technical flaws. I like these characters, even if they are more shallow than they could be. I like the tone. Referencing Supa Hot Fire in 2023 and then having your war criminal antiheroes do karaoke or see who can eat the most ramen right before they lay waste to a government building or comfort a child who doesn’t seem to care that his parents just died in the next room is a crazy, weird, off-kilter, fun time. I even liked the combat: as cheap as it may be to get insta-killed by a random merc with a rocket launcher or a ninja flying out of nowhere. I liked the weird pace of it. I liked the puzzle of deciding how to get to the next checkpoint.

I just really, really did not like having to fight through a non-stop onslaught of glitchy jittery frame rate issues or other small and large performance issues. I want to give this game at least a 7.5, and if it is ever patched further we might be able to reexamine it, but I can’t overlook something so glaring as countable frames and frequent crashes. I hope that Soleil Ltd. is able to bounce back and stick the landing on the next one because I like everything else I’ve played from them. And I know they’re capable of more.

Score: 6/10


  • Fun throwback combat
  • Variety in content
  • Interesting characters and world, at least in theory
  • Outlandish, Craziness throughout


  • Severe Frame Rate issues
  • Performance glitches throughout
  • Odd Pacing
  • Vague and confusing writing in parts

Wanted: Dead review code was provided by the publisher. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.

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