Platform: Xbox 360
Review Date: 4/16/11
"The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile" is a super fun (and super hard) sequel to the "The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai." It features both The Dishwasher and his stepsister Yuki as playable characters, with Yuki being brought back from the dead by a sinister entity. Apart from being undead, Yuki also has other problems, like being incarcerated on a prison ship as a scapegoat for the destruction of her home planet. She's also slightly insane, and her perception of reality shifts depending on the influence of the demon that controls her. Or is she living in a delusion? She's motivated by revenge against the Banker, General, and Judge who framed her, and has some unfinished business with The Dishwasher as well. Plus, she has an adorable flying cat as a companion!
While the story is intriguing, it takes a back seat to the intense and bloody action, which has the player tearing apart enemies and spraying blood and ripped flesh all over the screen. The effect is both tense and visceral, and nicely complemented by the desaturated hand drawn art style. The controls are tight and responsive, and evasion is just as important as attacking. The character designs are stylishly grim, and the boss characters are nightmarish abominations of cybernetics and twisted flesh.
The difficulty is a sore spot with me, as the game is HARD. Even on the easy setting I was overwhelmed about a third of the way in and had to give up. Fortunately, the reward for sucking as bad as I do is that a super easy "pretty princess" mode is unlocked, and while the action is just as intense, you take considerably less damage from the relentless onslaught of foes and can actually make slow and steady progress. As punishment for playing in pretty princess mode, the color palette of the game shifts to blue and pink, and defeated foes gush with hearts and rainbows instead of rivers of blood. The hearts and rainbows don't bother me, but the modified colors change the mood of the game considerably.
The story is told through static comic book panels, but the text goes by too quickly to make any sense out of what's going on. The plot is vague and confusing to begin with, so reconciling the details can make your brain hurt. But it's clear that the developers don't want you to take the plot too seriously, as the focus of the game is on the bloody good action. The only thing that breaks up the action are a series of rhythm mini-games that have you rocking out to the game's heavy guitar riffs. These diversions are optional, but they can net you some extra goodies if you perform well enough.
Overall, "Vampire Smile" was a pleasant surprise, made even more enjoyable by the inclusion of a bad-ass female protagonist. The game looks great and the brutal action is fast and furious. While the difficulty is punishing, pretty princess mode is a welcome feature and I definitely feel like I got my $10 worth out of the game.