- Publisher: Aksys Games
- Developer: Cave
- ESRB Rating: “T" For Teen
- Genre: Shoot-Em-Up
- Pros: Fun bullet hell gameplay; tight controls; nice visuals; lots of modes
- Cons: Framerate issues; price
DeathSmiles tells the story of a group of teenaged schoolgirls who are taken from the normal world into an alternate dimension called Gilverado. Somehow, the girls develop mystical powers while in Gilverado and are tasked with protecting the innocent people of the land while also trying to find a way back home. Their powers are put to use soon enough as the gates of hell are thrown open and monsters start pouring out.
Why are they schoolgirls? Other than an excuse for dressing up girls in revealing outfits (it's an anime thing ...), there is no real reason. The story doesn't really matter anyway.
What does matter is the value you can squeeze out of DeathSmiles. It is a $50 release, which is kind of pushing it for a shmup, but it does offer a surprising amount of content. There is the original DeathSmiles arcade mode, an "arranged" mode that plays a bit differently, and an Xbox 360 mode with better visuals. There are also Mega Black Label versions of these modes that ramp up the difficulty quite a bit. All of the modes, including the MBL versions, have various difficulty levels to choose from as well which all play fairly differently from each other. The different characters (4 in normal modes and 5 in MBL modes) all play slightly differently and each has slightly different story elements, so it is worth giving them all a try.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward. It is a horizontal scrolling shooter where you move forward from left to right and enemies appear all around you. An interesting touch in this game is that you can shoot both left and right at will by using the left or right triggers. You also have a little familiar beast flying around with you (like the options in Gradius games) that you can use to shoot more powerful attacks with the face buttons. You also have screen clearing bombs as well as a powerup mode when you collect 1000 skull icons that enemies drop.
Of course, shmups are equally about dodging and defense as they are about offense, and this is where DeathSmiles truly shines. The genre (and Cave games in particular) aren't nicknamed "bullet hell" shooters for nothing, and DeathSmiles definitely lives up to that. On harder difficulties the screen is absolutely filled with bullets. The controls are amazingly precise, however, so squeezing your character's heart (the only point that takes damage) through tight bullet streams is pretty amazing.
Graphically, DeathSmiles is an okay looking game. We don't expect much from shmups in the first place, but it does look good. Xbox 360 mode is sharp and clear, while the original arcade mode is more pixelated. You won't have any trouble seeing what is going on either way. One issue we do have, however, is massive slowdown during hectic areas (pretty much the last 3/4 of the game ...). The framerate slows down quite often, which can be distracting.
The sound is just fine. Catchy music. Good sound effects. Japanese voices. No complaints.
DeathSmiles is a pretty solid shoot-em-up all around that fans of the genre will absolutely love. The gameplay is sharp and precise and fun and there are enough modes and options to keep you busy for quite some time. We aren't crazy about the $50 price tag, however. Hardcore fans of the genre will definitely get their $50 out of it, but more casual fans might not. Keep that in mind. It is definitely worth playing, and worth owning, but maybe wait for a price drop if you aren't a hardcore fan.