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Bev Chen
16 Mar, 2011

Deathsmiles Review

360 Review | Is it something to smile about?
There’s something very attention-drawing about Japan’s Gothic Lolita culture. This, combined with the recent boom in all things moe, is probably what led shoot ‘em up developer Cave to sit up and say, “Hey, let’s make a game about young girls dressed in Gothic Lolita!” Thankfully however, while the Goth Lolita factor may just be a gimmick, Deathsmiles is once again a testament to the company’s ability to take a simple gameplay concept and shape it into something exciting.

The four main playable characters in Deathsmiles are all young girls who have disappeared from the real world, and spend their alternate lives as Angels in the employ of the King of the magical land known as Gilverado. All is well until legendary monsters begin attacking the land, and the four are sent to investigate the cause. Being a shmup, the story is of course quite basic, but the fact that each character has two endings to view (with achievements for them, to boot!) means that you’ll probably stick around to see how everything pans out for the lovely ladies. Though of course, story endings won’t be the real reason you keep loading up Deathsmiles. This is one of Cave’s titles that features horizontal scrolling, which can really change your perspective on things (no pun intended) if you’re used to vertical gameplay. As you’ll soon find out, the game is no walk in the park either.

The key reason for Deathsmiles’s difficulty is the fact that enemies come at you from both sides of the screen. To give players a fair chance, they are able to attack in both left and right directions. Holding down either button concentrates the shots into lasers and slows them down slightly. Of course, there is another more complicated form of attack. That’s where your character’s lock-on shot comes into play, represented by the familiar flying around them, which is activated when both your left and right shot keys are pressed. In a twist for the genre though, shots don’t automatically lock on; instead, a small circle appears. The attack is then activated once an enemy enters its area of effect.

Windia is just one of the girls you can choose on your adventure.

Windia is just one of the girls you can choose on your adventure.
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The main gameplay in Deathsmiles, like most Cave titles (apart from not being completely and utterly annihilated), is to rack up huge points. The way this works in this game is to collect as many items - which are dropped by enemies - as possible, which fill up the counter at the bottom of the screen. Reach 1000 items and you can activate your power up mode, which not only turns you into a flying little girl of death and destruction, but also allows you to reap several more items that feed directly into your score. However, this is where it gets a little bit tricky. You see, the number of items particular enemies will drop, or whether they will drop items at all, depends on the kind of attack you use on them. While this scoring system is nowhere near as complex as Guwange or Espgaluda 2, it does rely heavily on memorising what should be used and when, which after a while leaves a lot to be desired.

Rather than the traditional difficulty levels that you choose at the beginning of a game, Deathsmiles offers players variety by allowing them to select one at the beginning of most stages. It’s an excellent way of easing players, especially those new to shmups, into the game’s mechanics, but what some might find particularly frustrating is that once you hit the final level, the difficulty increases substantially. The stages themselves are not long, but are all quite memorable, visually appealing, and feature a wonderful Baroque-inspired soundtrack worthy of a Castlevania title. What makes them even more enjoyable are the bosses at the end of each stage. The boss battles, while mostly well-designed, don’t really incorporate the multi-directional offense of bullets otherwise present in normal play, and players could probably have been given more opportunity to make use of the game’s mechanics in these sections.

The Whispy Woods from the Kirby series has an evil twin...

The Whispy Woods from the Kirby series has an evil twin...
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As seems to be the case in a lot of horizontal shmups, obstacles make an appearance in this game as well, but thankfully no damage is taken if you run into them. Enemies however, while usually cleverly placed, are sometimes put in the trickiest areas that it seems impossibly risky to maneuver towards them and can often lead to an untimely death. Something else that will probably trip experts and beginners alike is the fact that there are no recovery items... at least, not if you’re not playing on a specific difficulty level and using a particular attack to kill a particular enemy. It probably would have been a more player-friendly option to uncover recovery items even on lower difficulties.

Despite the multiple characters, difficulties and challenges the base game will offer you, Cave has decided to go the whole hog and throw in a variety of modes to keep even the pickiest shmup player satisfied. The gameplay mechanics we’ve described above best apply to Arcade and Xbox 360 mode, with Xbox 360 mode featuring updated graphics. Deathsmiles also features an arranged mode, known as Ver. 1.1, with the key differences being that you are able to manipulate your familiar directly, and that the number of items you need to have collected before being able to power up is dramatically decreased. By far the most notable addition however, are the Mega Black Label versions of the Arcade, Xbox 360 and Ver. 1.1, which were previously Japanese exclusive DLC. Mega Black Label throws in an extra stage, adds one of the bosses as a playable character and, for masochists, unlocks the Level 999 difficulty. It really is as difficult as it sounds.

Looks easy now, doesn't it?

Looks easy now, doesn't it?
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There are a couple of disappointments though, and the first is in regards to the game’s graphics. Deathsmiles was originally released in Japanese arcades in 2007, and the Arcade mode shows that the sprites have not aged well. While this is improved a fair bit in Xbox 360 mode, your character still looks quite rough around the edges, not to mention the animations aren’t very appealing. The game also lacks the plethora of screen options which Cave has spoilt players with in the past, which means that our initial excitement of trying to game out with a vertical screen orientation was soon crushed.

Deathsmiles represents an interesting move by Cave to do a couple of things: to tap into the niche market for games featuring moe archetypes and secondly, to try and revive an interest in the shmup genre in the West. What we have here is a great and successful attempt at both, all wrapped up in a package well worth your cash, especially if you are familiar with the genre already. Hopefully Deathsmiles’s success will encourage Cave to release and localise more games overseas in the future.
The Score
Although it may not be totally friendly for newbies, Deathsmiles is still a great choice for shmup fans, especially those limited by the choice of titles due to the lack of localised shmups.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 Comments
3 years ago
got in mail today. Finished it once and had a lot of fun. Never usually play games like this and was glad with what I got. Played it on easy, and was fine until the last 2 levels which were pretty hard.
3 years ago
Man you Xbox guys get all the loving with these bullet hell shooters. This and Akai Katana are definately on my
'keeping an eye on list' but I don't have a 360! :S

May have to invest in a 360 arcade.
3 years ago
^Import a Japanese one, and then you and I will be more brotherly than ever before icon_y1.gif
3 years ago
Haha, I'm contemplating about it, Jahanzeb. How would one play other games that they didn't import from Japan?
3 years ago
Plenty of releases are region free, especially gams published by Microsoft, Capcom and usually most big game releases are region free. That, and you get to enjoy RPGs and most games before PAL release because they tend to release 'Asian' version games which have english language and run on NTSC-J console.

Summary: DO EET, cuz im a happy customer
3 years ago
Not a big fan of Shmups but this was quite fun icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
yer i never really play these types of games either, and i have absolutely no idea where these crazy goth anime jailbait angels came from but,
after ten or so play throughs i think its safe to say i like it...

u can make it as hard or easy as u want just by choosing what u wish to acomplish, like the achievements prove, theres easy ones (like for just starting the game) and a couple of crazy hard ones, i kneel before anyone who gets the "true tyrant" achievment...
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Publisher:
  Rising Star Games
Genre:
  Shoot 'em up

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