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Alexandre Guimond

DeathSmiles (Limited Edition) review

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Every time a Japanese shoot’em up gets announced for North America, there is always an irreducible crowd of enthusiasts asking when and where it will come. The amount of people actually following the news on this matter might be kind of small, but the dedication from fans of the genre is exemplary. So, when renowned companies like Cave drop new titles, they get all excited and eager to play the games; some don’t even have the patience to wait, and bypass the delay by importing most of these titles.

Cave Co. is a staple of excellence when it comes to the genre across the world. They possess a fantastic catalog of Japanese shooters, spawned over 15 years of video game making. Out of this, there are several series that have huge following attached to their backs, which is one of the main reasons why fans of the genre get so excited when an English port makes it across the Pacific. The company has had a lot of success with their prior current-gen titles in Japan, now it’s time for the rest of the world, to have a taste of what Cave is really capable of. Published by Aksys Games, DeathSmiles is the first Cave shooter to ever be published on consoles in North America. It mixes Castlevania with R-Type, but it’s much deeper than that, it is also a fascinating title.

We are so lucky to have DeathSmiles finally being ported to North American consoles. Titles like these have come few and far between, and it’s extremely hard to find quality games like them. The edition available to our regional market is more complete than the former Japanese version having the entirety of the modes and versions available right on the disc, rather than via downloadable content. The retail release also comes with a very nice faceplate for the older XBOX360 models, which should spark the interest of all collectors alike. The package includes the soundtrack as well, which is surprisingly catchy and diverse in genres, spawning from metal, electronic and classical music. However, there is one track missing from the album, which will make any Disney or classic horror buffs, cringe in torment.

The game is meant to be played with an arcade stick, however, you will be able to navigate in the menus and levels pretty easily even with a regular controller. But it has to be said, that in order to have the pin-point precision that this type of game requires, you will need the formerly mentioned hardware.

One of the biggest advantages DeathSmiles has over its competitors is that the difficulty is controlled by the player rather than the game itself. It lets you decide from various grades of toughness by grading the basic difficulty from the options. But, it also lets you choose the class of each level by numeration (Level 1 will be the least challenging one, Level 2 will have a slight increase, and so on). Depending on the difficulty you choose, or the mode, you will be able to set the game at your convenience. DeathSmiles has several versions of play: Arcade mode, XBOX360 mode, version 1.1, Black Label ect—you will feel a sense of accomplishment whether or not you decide to go all out and test your skills, or have a challenging but forgiving experience.

The game has infinite continues which is an absolute joy; it nullifies the unbearable difficulty curve that standard arcade shooters seem to have. This, in par with several other qualities, is one of the greatest features available in the game, since it masterfully nails the difficulty. The game is not impossible anymore, or does it seem inhuman. However, it can be completed by anyone who’s looking for a rough challenge nonetheless.

Modern shooters nowadays seem to disregard their presentation has an essential factor of design for the genre. It is only logical for a game like DeathSmiles (A Bullet-Hell shooter, also known as Bullet Curtain) to have precise and detailed sprites, and backgrounds so that the player doesn’t get confused with everything in between. As with the difficulty, the game nails the ever loving concept out of it; Deathsmiles is a gorgeous game with colorful graphics, and an incredibly haunting atmosphere, which merges flawlessly with the soundtrack and the visual archetype.

But what really shines through DeathSmiles is the ergonomics between the fluidity of the game play and the stages. The screen is adjustable to fit any resolution, which is an essential aspect of any Shoot’em up consoles ports. The options are plentiful and are all incredibly useful in order to fit your tastes; pretty much every menu has its utility and will contribute to your enjoyment of the game whether it is from the difficulty settings to graphical enhancements.

The gameplay is relatively simple as in every side-scrolling shoot’em up. But there’s a hidden complexity that might be eclipsed from most inexperienced players. You can use a technique called wall hugging to dodge bullets, get through complex patterns or tight corridors. You can also use the multiple “beams” available to your advantage depending on the situation or the foes you are fighting against. Bosses can be beaten easily once their patterns are learned and like any bullet hell shooters, DeathSmiles seems harder than it really is. You need to take it slow and not panic when a wall of bullets is coming after you, there’s always a way to snake out of it. While most shoot’em ups have unclear hit boxes, it is completely the opposite in DeathSmiles, since you can see exactly where it is, and adjust your play from there.

The game is extremely short, but like any games of the genre, is highly replayable, and with the addition of achievements you’ll have a better incentive to go through it several times. Deathsmiles is easily one of the greatest side-scrolling co-op shooter to ever be released. This is how a shoot’em up should be done, it is packed with a lot of options and modes, has a great cast of characters with their respective shooting patterns, and as incredible boss battles boasted with a wacky and sometimes disturbing storyline (See Casper’s alternate endings). The game shines over its siblings, because it nails the difficulty gauge incredibly well, giving the players the opportunity to shape it, as they see fit. DeathSmiles is one of the finest and beautiful shoot’em ups ever created, it also provides a fun and challenging experience. Not only does it get a perfect score, but we beg Cave and Aksys to localize the sequel for North America as soon as possible. DeathSmiles is incredible.

Alexandre Guimond
Assistant Editor

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Updated 06-09-10 at 07:38 by SteveSawyer

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