An adrenaline-fuelled 2D shoot-em up in a retro fashion, not an underworld dentistry firm.
Deathsmiles, from Japanese masters of the arcade shoot-em up Cave and brought to the UK by Rising Star Games, is certainly an interesting game. However, there are a lot of things that it is not. It is not, for example, very long. It is also not very easy. The story does not make a lot of sense. And the visual style is not modern. But, for all of that, the game is a whole lot of fun. Why? Let me explain…
The player takes on the role of one of four (or five) young girls with differing magical abilities and are tasked to work through a mere handful of 2D side-scrolling levels that are filled to overflowing with meanies. The player is armed with a simple attack and a limited use all-powerful attack, and are accompanied by a small flying sidekick that also has their own attack. By gathering items dropped by fallen foes, the player is able to enter a time limited state in which the damage they do is far more impressive, and the damage that they take is far less.
What makes the game fun is the sheer number of enemies that fill the screen, all of which are firing at you from all different directions. I would guess that finishing the game without dying and having to continue numerous times is possible, but I have no idea how. At times, the backdrop is barely visible and avoiding the various projectiles is simply impossible. Thankfully, the only repercussion of dying is the loss of points and the player can use as many continues as they wish. Playing through the game from start to finish will take around an hour.
“Hang on. That doesn’t sound like fun!”, I hear you say. Maybe not, or at least maybe it doesn’t sound like fun to all but the most masochistic, hardcore shoot-em up gamers out there. But for the average gamer, the appeal is maybe more hidden. The game is an incredible amount of fun to play, even with the constant dying. But completing the game, even with the use of multiple continues, provides the warm, fuzzy feeling of completing a game and then, due to the relatively short amount of time that it takes to complete, the player is encouraged to play through again. This time around they have picked up a few tricks and manage a better score, which encourages another playthrough. Then the player wants to see if they can beat their score again, so another playthrough. etc, etc. Before they realise, the player has played through the game eight or more times and is totally hooked on getting that elusive high score and seeing their name on the high score table. It really is that compulsive.
The game is based purely on getting that high score and, while the thrill of completing the game will raise a smile on most gamers the first time around, the high score is all that matters. The developers have included a few bits and pieces to add variety and ensure that the player keeps on coming back for more. First up there are the four different playable characters (with a fifth added in Mega Black Label, more on which in a moment) each of which have different attacks and offer a slightly different experience and story.
The story is something I feel I should mention at this point. Maybe I missed something, but I got the distinct feeling that there is a whole lump of the story missing. Upon completing the game, it is easy to make out that the game is set in an alternate world, yet the girls are from our world. How they got there, and why, is a mystery to me. The player is treated to fleeting glimpses of what sounds like it could be an incredibly entertaining story through the different end game sequences for the different girls.
Anyway, alongside the different characters encouraging repeated playthroughs, the player also has a collection of different modes. The three modes in basic Deathsmiles are arcade, as seen in the arcade, Xbox360, which includes slightly enhanced graphics and a couple of extra levels, and Ver 1.1, which allows the player to control their companion creature independently and a host of other tweaks. Then there is Mega Black Label, which was originally released as DLC in Japan, which comes with the same three modes but adds the fifth playable character, an extra level and a higher difficulty level. That adds up to six different modes in total.
In the UK, the game has been released as a Limited Edition complete with a soundtrack CD and a third disc containing all manner of desktop goodies, such as wallpapers, icons etc. This adds to the value of a package which may, at first, seem to be a little overpriced for what could essentially be a downloadable arcade title.
Deathsmiles, with it’s emphasis on obtaining high scores, is not the sort of game that will appeal to everyone. But for those willing to give the game a try, it is the perfect entry into this style of shoot-em up, known as “bullet hell” games. The game cleverly teases the player into improving their skills by making the game easy for anyone to play, whilst rewarding the gamer for playing better. For a side-scrolling shoot-em up, there is a lot of content here and anyone with even a passing interest in the genre would do well to pick this title up. Just watch out for the giant cow!