DoDonPachi. ESP Galuda. Guwange. Mushihime-sama. Either you think I’m spouting gibberish right now or you’re familiar with Cave, Japanese developers for some of the most well-known “bullet hell” shoot-em-ups or “shmups”. Either way, you’re in for a treat. If you’re open to new ideas, like your games wacky or have a gothic lolita complex.

In bullet hell shmups you need to focus on avoidance tactics even more than attacking. In Deathsmiles you will be controlling one of five girls, each of whom have their own sidekick, or “familiar” who also attacks and blocks enemies. Enemies can and will attack from the left or right side of the screen, so you are able to move your character freely around the screen and attack either side by using the left and right triggers or the A and B buttons. When your character or her familiar kills an enemy, they will drop items that are used to build up a meter that allows your character to power up and increase their prowess. As with most shmups, bombs can also be used to thrash your foes in worst-case scenarios.

The overall design of the game unsurprisingly comes across as very gothic – the tone, music, backgrounds, character and enemy designs all reflect this theme accordingly. For the most part, you will be battling against an unusual roster of hellspawn including flying eyeballs, grim reapers, demons, cyclopes, and enraged pig chefs. The quirky choice of bosses put on quite the show too, partly owing to their grotesque appearances and animation, but also some of the best boss names ever… Tyrannosatan, anyone?

Two versions of the game are playable on the disc – normal and Mega Black Label (MBL), with MBL originally being a DLC add-on to the Japanese 360 version. Each of these versions come in three different flavours – Arcade, 1.1 and Xbox 360. The Arcade modes look a little shabby when blown up on a big HD screen and are included for the sake of completion, while the 1.1 mode focuses predominantly on minor gameplay and difficulty tweaks. The Xbox 360 modes have higher resolution, smoother graphics and are the versions you should be playing the most. Mega Black Label features an extra character (Sakura), an extra stage to play (Ice Palace) as well as the hardest difficulty setting (Level 999).

Difficulty is not really an issue if you have no reservations about using, or indeed abusing, continues. More hardcore players have a plethora of options and modes at their disposal to help or hinder them too. If you choose to go through every stage in MBL on the hardest difficulty you’re looking at one hour of gameplay, but this is a game that is meant to be replayed until you have either honed your shmup skills or got all the achievements you’re after.

While the game is sharp and smooth in Xbox 360 modes, the game does occasionally chug when too many bombs, bullets and bosses are all colliding on-screen at once. The slowdown is by no means game-breaking, and while it was undoubtedly not intended as a true-to-arcade feature it still feels somewhat satisfying to be obliterating so many enemies at once that your 360 is actually struggling to keep up with you.







2 responses to “Deathsmiles”

  1. Dean avatar

    Looks cool but i suck so bad at these games. I even got my arse handed to me on the bullet-hell mini games on Jade Empire:(

  2. Paul R avatar
    Paul R

    Gotta hand it to Rising Star for getting this game released here. Fantastic review of a really great game.

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