Deathsmiles Review

Deathsmiles [Available on Xbox 360 and Arcade]
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1-2
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Cave
Release Date: June 29th, 2010

Parent Talk: Deathsmiles isn’t bloody, profane, or sexual, but it may make parents unfamiliar with Japanese animation uncomfortable.  The game’s premise follows several young anime Lolita characters blasting demons with magical powers (think girls fighting Halloween monsters) while in an attempt to reach home.  Deathsmiles panders to the anime fan.  If your children are in that crowd (i.e. Gothic Lolita characters/fashion), they may enjoy this.  There are monsters and explosions, but it’s all tame.  The game is bizarre, but not harmful to kids.

Deathsmiles is an honest-to-goodness 2D side-scrolling shmup, similar to many classics such as Gradius and R-Type.  Cave is a popular name among die-hard fans for their intense “bullet hell” games, but largely among the import-friendly crowd.  Most Cave releases have stayed in Japan, but Deathsmiles is one of the first to reach the North American market, and a special edition no less!  The issue lies with deciding whether or not the limited content warrants a $50 investment.

The Great:

A Cave game gone Stateside!  Deathsmiles is a domestic release from Cave, which is better known among importers.  This may be a sign of more from the developer, like ESP Galuda II or Mushihimesama FutariDeathsmiles is a wonderfully crazy and action-packed shooter!

The Good:

+ The setting and characters.  Most side-scrolling shooters tend to deploy a generic space theme and give players a ship to pilot.  Deathsmiles chooses a drastically different route: a Halloween-like atmosphere filled with magic and monsters.  You control girls with arcane powers rather than spaceships.  If you’re tired of what the genre has done lately, Deathsmiles offers an edge with its assortment of creepy monsters.  Grim reapers, demons, dragons, and witches abound are out to kill you.  The graphics aren’t sophisticated, but the character artwork is great and there’s an abundance of on-screen action.

+ Addictive action.  Deathsmiles is an enjoyable romp from beginning to end.  It’s short, but the ride is intense and there are never any dull moments.  Two player co-op (local and online) sweetens the deal.

+ Multiple characters.  There are four personas in the main game, and an additional one when playing the “Black Label” modes.  Each character carries a unique attack (and story perspective), which changes things up when embarking on multiple playthroughs.

+ Lots of modes.  Deathsmiles includes Arcade, Xbox 360, Arranged, Black Label, Xbox 360 Black Label, and Black Label Arranged mode—each with its own attractions.  The modes more or less cover the same ground (it’s the same scenario), but minor adjustments set them apart.  For example, Arcade Mode sports the game’s original graphics, resolution, and screen size, while Xbox 360 mode has enhances all three.  Under normal circumstances, the screen size is small for the Arcade modes and bigger for the 360/Arranged modes, but it can be adjusted for your TV.  There are minor changes to gameplay as well, and again, one special character only appears in the Black Label modes.

+ Great music.  Deathsmiles‘ different aesthetic means you hear material that reflects the Halloween-like atmosphere.  Plus, the game definitely gets points for using Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as the final boss theme.

The Bad:

– Redundancy.  There are many modes to choose from, but they don’t matter much in the long run.  Each retreads the main game with the same levels, scenario, music, and the difference is the hidden character I’ve been mentioning.  At that point, all the “extra” content is merely an illusion.

– Short.  2D shooters don’t often take long to play; they’re meant to be enjoyed in short bursts due to their simple mechanics and intent for instant gratification.  However, length is a legitimate concern when a purchase is considered.  Deathsmiles may have a lot of modes and characters, but the game can be finished quickly (around 30 minutes per playthrough), and it becomes tiresome.  It’s a fun and fast-paced game though.

– No sense of loss.  You’ll die a lot playing Deathsmiles on the harder difficulties, at first at least.  Unfortunately it’s not as challenging as other shooters.  Upon continuing, you immediately pick up from where you died, meaning you can drag your feet through a first level attempt.  The downside comes with losing your score, but that’s about it.  The game is easier than some other shooters, such as Touhou.  Once you memorize patterns, everything becomes more manageable.

The Ugly:

An Achievement for pausing the game?  Really?!

The Lowdown:

Deathsmiles is fun, but is it worth $50?  If you enjoy shooters, yes.  It includes the soundtrack and a faceplate, which is a great value considering everything in the package.  The action is intense and fun.  For fans, a purchase is recommended because Deathsmiles is a good game and it may help secure more domestic releases from Cave.  It’s somewhat of a tough call, but I say Buy It.  Be forewarned though, it’s a niche game, so it will probably disappear from shelves as quickly as it came.  If you aren’t crazy about shooters, check it out on the cheap or borrow a friend’s copy if possible.

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