Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Aksys Games
Review Date: 8/7/10
A wonderful slice of old-school shooter action with modern conveniences, like unlimited continues. I hate when you buy an arcade port and they limit the number of "quarters" you can insert. What's up with that? I've already shelled out my money, so why can't I play as much as I want?
Anyway, moving on...
I'm generally not a fan of bullet-hell shooters, unless they feature cute girls and absurd enemies. In that respect, "Deathsmiles" is the best underage girl shooter I've played since the delightful "Keio Flying Squadron" (1993). Five young girls have been transported to another realm for one reason or another, where they learn magic, wear frilly loli-goth dresses, and serve the king of the land. When a horde of monsters attacks the kingdom, the girls are summoned to destroy them and save the day. What follows is seven levels of insane shooting action against floating spectres, flying eyeballs, demon dogs, cleaver wielding pigs, giant spiders, angry trees, fire-breathing dragons, and a giant rampaging cow named Mary. Any game with a giant cow as a boss monster gets a thumbs up from me. (in fact, "Keio Flying Squadron" also had a cow boss...)
The game is bright, colorful, and energetic, and can be finished in less than an hour, which is great for someone with limited time and a short attention span. Since you have unlimited continues, you can literally stumble through the entire game using just one button, and the frustration against impossible odds is kept to a minimum. Like many great games, "Deathsmiles" is easy to learn and difficult to master, and it's as hard as you want it to be. What keeps you coming back is the desire to explore your options, hone your skills, and soak up the subtle details of the game. While the gameplay mechanics are the same for each girl, they all control a little differently. They each have different speed, power, and range, and their familiars also have unique abilities. Boss monsters seem to behave differently with each character as well, which changes the game flow every time you play. Each boss has recognizable attack patterns, but they're not always predictable, which keeps you on your toes.
The game features several different variations and difficulty levels, with a straight arcade port, a graphically enhanced Xbox version, a special "arranged" version with different controls, and a "Mega Black Label" version that features an extra playable character and a new level. The arcade version has a fairly low resolution and looks pretty terrible, but the gameplay and speed are faithful to the original. The graphically enhanced Xbox versions are beautiful to look at, but the speed has been slowed down a bit and they suffer from additional slow-down when there's too much action on the screen. This throws purists into a rage, but I didn't think it detracted from the experience or affected my performance any. The controls remain responsive, and in fact, I welcomed the chance to have an extra split second to navigate through the relentless shower of bullets.
While the girls are all cute, MBL's Sakura is the only one who isn't annoying. Unfortunately, the localization team went a little overboard on their translation, and decided to spell out the girls' accents, which is irritating and awkward to read. It also undermines the strength of the characters, as Follet, Rosa, and Casper are immediately unlikable simply because of their speech bubbles. I find this unfortunate. Another problem with the game's text dialog is that it's accompanied by an annoying beeping sound while the text is spelled out a letter at a time. It's infuriating, and there's no fast and easy way to skip through the story scenes, which grow tiresome after the fifth time you've seen them. All in all, the game offers a lot of fun and replay value. The $50 price tag is a bit steep, which they justify by calling it a "limited edition" and packaging it with a soundtrack CD and a face plate. I absolutely love video game soundtracks and it's great to see them packaged with games, but this one isn't particularly memorable on its own.