Ah, shmups, the guilty pleasure of many a gamer. Grab a ship, and blow tons of things out of the sky, drop huge bombs of extraordinary power, and upgrade weapons with impossibly infinite ammunition. No complaints about that, give me a rapid fire button, a can of Jolt cola, and several hours of free time. And maybe, give me chicks to control to blow the snot out of various monsters, apples, steel-plated apples, gigantic bosses, behemoth plodding enemies, and pack it into a disc of fun? Sold!
Deathsmiles, the latest offering from Aksys Games, the people who treated our 360's senses to the gorgeous hand-drawn fighting goodness that is BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, is what we would have called back in the days of arcades a "quarter-eating bullet-Hell shmupfest". These games were created to make money for the arcades and for the game developers: when you keep dying, you feel the urge to pump quarters into the arcade machine, over and over and over again. Thankfully, Deathsmiles throws out the limited continues of many early console shmups, and allows you to take you and your "Just one more try!" attitude as far as you choose to take it. The only penalty that you suffer for using tons of continues comes in the form of our old 360 friend, the Achievement. There are some gamers that might be able to memorize everything about Deathsmiles and do everything without dying, but they aren't me. I'm the average gamer, and I need those continues. I deserve those continues. I demand those continues.
Deathsmiles gives you a person to control, and your character is placed vertically on the screen, not horizontal like many shooters that have you piloting a spaceship or a warplane of some kind. The bullets will come hard and heavy towards you, but fortunately will only do harm when they hit the glowing yellow center.
Before starting, you are given choices as to which mode you want to play. The modes offered are regular modes of Arcade, 1.1 Arranged, XBox 360 Mode, and Mega Black versions of Arcade, 1.1 Arranged, and XBox 360 Mode. The difference between the regular and Mega Black modes fall simply on your score. Want to have fun and not really shooting for those huge scores, the regular modes are for you. You want to go crazy and target the highest high scores, thus making the game more difficult and the overall insanity of the game to hit 11 on the scale, you go for Mega Black. Either way, you can't lose for trying, but you will die often. The other noticeable difference of the two modes: Regular mode will give you the choice of Level 1, 2, or 3, and control one of 4 girls, with the exception being Sakura; Mega Black will allow you to choose Level 1, 2, 3, or 999 for difficulty, and you can choose any of the 5 girls to control. The choice of Sakura not being playable in the Regular modes will show up later in the game as you get closer to your fight with Jitterbug, Sakura's father and demon-summoner, soon to be demon dinner.
Halloweentown (left) and Lost in the Woods (right)
The hand-drawn look to Deathsmiles is simple but awesome, and animates very nicely. When I first started on Level 1: Halloweentown, the characters on-screen looked almost like they were animated in stop-motion. Each character, Windia, Casper, Follett, Rosa, and Sakura, while each have their own unique style and familiar, are pretty much evenly matched with the strength of their powers. All you need to do is choose which one you like the best. It's a Fox Force Five type group, different nationalities, personalities, clothing, weapon style!
Giant Apples? Smiling at me? That's it, they've got to die.
The gameplay is frantic, and sometimes you will lose your character in a swarm of projectiles, from both you and your enemies, but if you take this small hint, it just might do you some good: if you get lost in a bullet-riddled field, many of your enemies shots will be a pink-purple color, so if you're in a field of orange green and what have you, if there's pink or purple, watch out! Not only is Deathsmiles a bullet-hell shmup, but it is also a power-up hell shmup. When thigns get busy and you get to destroying things, power-ups and bonuses will be flying all over the screen. Thankfully, those power-ups will be drawn towards you if you fly past them, so you may not get them all, but you will certainly get lots of bonuses and power-ups. When you use your "super bomb", you might recognize the pentacle star from BlazBlue, but even though it may be recycled graphic, it works fine.
Yellow Skulls and Pink Hearts are some of the collectible power-ups on screen. Get your counter on the bottom left of the screen to 1000, and unleash a super weapon while firing and holding down the X button.
Thankfully, the game has been localized for play on a US 360, and the original voices have been kept in the game. The subtitles in a game like Deathsmiles work fine, when the voices are changed and translated to English, it loses a lot of the charm that I've come to love in Japanese games, like Soul Calibur. In Japanese, it sounds almost poetic. In English, it sounds like Mad Libs: Shakespeare. It just doesn't work. The style is also 100% Japanese: the young girls, the high-pitched voices, boss fights that include Mary the Giant Cow (no, really!), below:
... and other seemingly over-the-top bizarre things that are part of that other universe we call "Japanese Gaming Culture". Well, I hope it's game culture, because there's some seriously weird stuff in here.
Death becomes Dead, thanks to Follet. Vive la France!
The one thing about Deathsmiles with regards to purchasing it or finding it, the websites that sell games all screamed "reserve, reserve, reserve!", and Cherie from Aksys also mentioned "reserve, reserve, reserve!", as it was a limited run and no plans to bring it to a digital download service or any other form. I used to reserve games, but stopped when I realized that the games would be there, or would be somewhere else, so why bother? Well, with games like this that would be sought after by a niche of gamer that would cause it to sell out, or at least be a pain in the ass to find. Thankfully, Amazon saved me on this one. All told, Deathsmiles knows its audience, the shmup fan, and delivers in colorful spades. Huge explosions and solid gameplay add up with everything else in the game, and you've got yourself a great, albeit a little short, shmup. This game comes highly recommended by the Four Tokens team.
5 out of 5 Chicks recommend Deathsmiles LE for the XBox 360
The Limited Edition comes with a eXBox 360 Faceplate with the girls on it, the Deathsmiles soundtrack, and a box that would make the old CD "longbox" proud:
That's what you get with the Deathsmiles LE. Sweet!
There is apparently also an "Uber Edition", that comes with, well, it looks kind of like this:
Panties? Whip? Angle wings? Coffin? Is that a choke collar? I'll take vanilla if you don't mind!
But be warned: if I see any of the males who play this wearing any of this stuff, I will smack you.
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