I don’t think anybody will forget their first play through of Deathsmiles. Not because it hands out achievements like penny sweets, or because it can be finished in around twenty minutes due to infinite continues, but because this 2D shooter captures your attention immediately. The levels are short but perfectly formed, while the bosses are as colourful as the visuals themselves, including an (almost) photo-realistic cow and a pair of screen-filling dragons. The bosses give you the chance to experience ‘bullet hell’ with some oddly mesmerising attack patterns, while during the main levels there’s a near constant flow of enemies. I’m rather fond of the psychotic-looking pigs dressed as chefs myself.
Four modes are on offer, each with a few subtle differences. Arcade mode seems to have been included purely for the sake of completeness. The graphics are rather pixilated, almost as if the last 10 years of gaming never happened. Thankfully there’s a new Xbox 360 mode which is the same as the arcade game, only with the sprites and artwork lovingly redrawn. Deathsmiles 1.1 meanwhile is an arrange mode which changes the way you both think and play. Here, the little helper characters that follow the five playable witches around can be controlled directly with the right analogue stick, instead of moving about automatically, thus giving the game a twin-stick shooter feel. Lastly there’s Black Label mode, which is a special edition of sorts with an extra character, a new level (an ice palace) and an extra difficulty setting. In this mode the screen also has a pink tinge to it, for some reason.
Playing through the main game to see every character’s ending(s) will take a fair few hours – and there are easy achievements as an incentive to do so – but it’s the Score Attack mode with its online leaderboard that holds the real lasting appeal. This is where Cave’s finesse with the genre really shows and where learning the attack patterns pays off. You’ll quickly learn the best places to use your bombs and such, all for the sake of getting higher up the leaderboards. You can lock your little helper chaps onto enemies to cause extra damage, and when you collect 500 items your attack is temporarily increased too. There are certainly lots of little nuances to learn and to be able to finish it with one continue – which isn’t an unobtainable feat – will take weeks of practice.
As you may have noticed, Rising Star has kindly bestowed us Europeans with a deluxe edition. As well as the aforementioned Black Label mode – which was optional DLC for versions released elsewhere in the world – there are two extra disks in the box. One is a soundtrack CD, while the other is a desktop accessory disk with wallpaper and stuff.
Even if you took these bonus items away, Deathsmiles would still be best game of its ilk on Xbox 360 by miles. A sub-£20 price tag rounds the package off perfectly.