Review: Deathsmiles

Cute girls, flying pumpkins, and bullets? That’s just the first course. Hope you’re ready to dig into the decadent entree of shoot-em-‘up goodness that is Deathsmiles. Served with a hearty side of Japanese quirk and insane difficulty for dessert, Cave’s arcade offering has been ported over to the West to tempt fans of the genre with plenty of extras, an affordable price point, and lolitas. Originally served up in 2007 and having gone through several incarnations, Deathsmiles is one manic adventure that, if you’re a fan of the company’s previous offerings, you won’t want to miss. Order up!

Deathsmiles operates on one simple premise: shoot to kill. Take out all the enemies you can. Dodge. Drop a bomb. Might as well go ahead and tape your trigger finger down, because you’re in it for the long haul now. As any one of the playable characters (ranging from classic moe to sultry vixens) you’re armed with a main attack as well as a familiar that can be used to rain swift doom upon on your enemies as. Different characters possess slightly different abilities. For example, Windia moves faster than Casper. Casper’s attack methods differ from Windia’s. If you’re simply interested in total annihilation, the obvious choice is to go with a sprightly loli who can dart through bullets like nobody’s business. Even from the onset you’re faced with so many layers that reveal how tough it is to actually “master” this game — or any other in the genre.

There’s so much more to Deathsmiles than spraying and praying, which I quickly found out. The complex scoring system keeps you on your toes, ensuring that you pay attention to the multipliers, the items enemies drop upon death, and the hierarchy of points attained from each one after they’re broken or flying through the air. If you plan to get your money’s worth out of this impressive Cave offering, you’ll need to do a bit of research on how to better maximize multipliers and the various bonuses attained from digging a little deeper than a “point Rosa at skeleton and fire” play style. It will take plenty of practice and experimentation to become proficient without losing your multiplier and losing out on massive scorage, but that’s really just part of the allure. For the casual shmup fan such as myself, this was initially a little intimidating, but Deathsmiles is such an accessible game that easing into its more intricate pieces seems only natural.

And the gameplay is certainly what stands out here. There’s so little plot to speak of, it’s a waste of time to regale the uninformed with. Magical witches and lolitas find themselves in a strange alternate dimension. The gates of hell have been wrenched open, letting beasts pour out. Naturally, they use their newfound powers to shoot said beasts. For the short but incredibly sweet time you’ll be spending zipping around the screen, this filmsy narrative quickly becomes ancient history. We all know it’s not about the girls or an attempt at explaining away smiling apples and flaming skulls. It’s about how quickly, beautifully, and efficiently you can take them out. Without dying.

Scratch that last part. You’ll die. A lot. Luckily, infinite continues mean you can take a licking and keep on plugging away at the level until it’s completed, which (fortunately for some of us) lasts mere minutes until a boss fight Once you’ve chosen a girl and have begun climbing throughout the game’s various stages, this quickly becomes evident. Even on the so-called “easier” difficulties you’ll be clipped by more than a few stray bullets, or run straight into a sea of them because you didn’t realize your hit box is actally leagues smaller than your anime avatar would lead you to believe. Guilty!

But you’ll zip through the stages like a bat out of Gilverado once you’ve gotten acclimated. From then on you can check into one of the several incarnations of the game included on the disc. Some different arrangements (previous releases and ports) such as Ver 1.1 allow you direct control over your familiar, who would otherwise remain stationary at your side. Powerup shots and lock-on buttons are also switched around. Most notably, the Xbox 360 mode presents the game with slicker environments and the ability to select different difficulties on “extra” and “final” stages. Admittedly, these modes can be hard to differentiate between and will most likely appeal to the more hardcore set (fans of previous Cave shooters and established importers) but the fact that they’re all gathered here at a reasonable price (it’s nowhere near the small fortune you’d drop on importing the different games) is admirable, and I hope to see more of these compilations coming down the line.

Considering the core ensemble of lolita pretties who star in Deathsmiles, it’s downright admirable that the frenetic bullet-hell shoot-’em-up relies only on its addictive and rewarding gameplay to keep gamers coming back. In fact, you’ll burn through this colorful, zany candy-coated dream world plenty of times before ever stopping to consider its plot or even its starlets. A short, snappy “main” story, a glut of game modes, and challenging achievements for Xbox 360 gamers make this Cave release a fantastic first step that should be one of many in an attempt to bring more like it to the States. If you enjoy (sometimes fruitlessly) bobbing and weaving through rainbow beads of energy as wave after wave continues to advance upon you, then you’ll find something to love about this well-crafted offering.

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