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Ugh, stop twitching
deathsmiles -- one-hour review
games Posted 2010-07-09 03:06:32 by Jim Crawford
DeathSmiles is a horizontal shmup for the Xbox 360 (originally for arcade) developed by Cave. I'm not sure how this review format is going to hold up when applied to an arcade-style game. Let's find out together!

(Yes, I totally ripped this format off of Games For Lunch.)
0:00 The main menu immediately presents me with an up-skirt shot of a redheaded adolescent in a maid outfit. I knew from the box art I was in for this sort of experience, but. Okay, game face. Stiff upper lip.
0:01 Lots of obscurely-named modes to choose from. “Arcade Mode” and “Xbox 360 Mode” seem like the best candidates. Wish there were mode descriptions, but it's not like I'm mating for life here, right? 360 mode it is.
0:02 On the character select screen it tells me the redhead in the maid outfit is named “Windia” -- and she's 13. If I've learned one thing staring at panties, it's that it's crucial to know the age of the girl whose panties you're staring at. Surprisingly, it doesn't tell me her blood type. Maybe that's an unlockable.
0:02 Claymation cyclopses are attacking a port town on Halloween! Or maybe they're just pre-rendered cyclopses; they do have that early-90s-3D-Studio look to them. I rush to the rescue and earn 5 achievement points for starting the game!
0:03 The screen is super busy. I'm sure I'll learn soon enough to differentiate between the bullets flying towards me and the powerups flying towards me, but for now I feel like the aged man that I am, blankly staring as the new generation I'll never be able to understand gets excited about the confusing flashing lights on the teevee. If that sort of eye-opening experience doesn't prove that video games are art, I don't know what could.
0:04 Finished the first boss. This is one of those shmups in which you control a human figure rather than a ship, so thematically it makes sense that you should be able to turn around -- and you totally can! You can't fire upwards or downwards, but, y'know, you can't break every convention at once.
0:05 Another neat trick: since enemies can come from both directions, they have little blinking arrows telling you when enemies are about to pop in from off screen. Nice of them.
0:06 The bosses have the rubbery stretched 2D look of being animated in Flash. Maybe they were. It's not a bad look. (I have to tell myself that, because it's the same animation technique I used in Stikkpille.)
0:07 The game is tuned little easy. As soon as I lose, I'm going to switch to “arcade mode” and see if that's harder.
0:08 On the other hand, this sort of game usually has a deep scoring system to keep it interesting even if it's super easy to just survive.
0:09 Huh. There's a cutscene before this boss fight. Not an interesting one. I hope this is skippable.
0:11 Yeah, I've basically got it now: all the bullets are bright pink -- I should've guessed -- so I can safely ignore nearly everything else.
0:11 (Though it helps to not ignore the sign saying “<- ENEMY.”)
0:12 Now fighting: a giant cow named Mary. Suddenly I'm playing Parodius.
0:13 Hm, this level is scrolling vertically. Here's a place where playing a human figure that can only shoot to the side breaks down, thematically. If I'm piloting a ship, maybe it just has crappy design and can't turn. But I just know humans are capable of turning.
0:14 I swear I should've taken a hit there. My hitbox is small, even for a shmup.
0:15 A significant amount of that boss fight took place in slow-motion. I know the 360 can handle shmup physics at 60hz; I love how slowdown has morphed from a bug to a crucial feature in this genre, giving you the advantage you need when the screen gets packed with bullets.
0:16 More cutscenes. Okay, yes, I can speed these up by jamming on A. It's not the same as skipping, but it'll do for this hour.
0:16 Interestingly, when you take a hit from a non-bullet object, you only lose half a life. (No, I didn't figure that out by playing for 15 minutes; I'd read it somewhere and am now remembering it.)
0:17 On the final level. Game over. I've changed my mind, I'm going to continue; I'm pretty close to the end, so I'll complete the loop through the game before bumping up the difficulty.
0:18 Jesus, another game over already. Did I rank up or something? In any case, the game is suddenly much more difficult.
0:19 Mary the cow shows up just for funsies in the middle of the level.
0:19 I'm shooting some knights who are walking up a flight of stairs in the background. This is definitely a 2D game.
0:20 The playfield is really dense with enemies now. Suddenly I remember that there's a bomb button.
0:21 Sinister ballroom dancers in the backround. Some in the foreground too, to help kill me. Shades of the ballroom in Alone in the Dark.
0:22 Another game-over here.
0:23 Hey, I can still fly around during the cutscenes. Can't shoot the people I'm talking to, though.
0:23 Hell, I took damage coming out of the cutscene because I was hovering in the wrong place.
0:24 See, the colorfully chaotic screens where things are surprising me from every which way, those are hard. Explicit, ordered bullet patterns like this, I'm good at.
0:24 ... not good enough. Continue #4.
0:25 The scoring system seems to be based on all the pickups that fly out of enemies when you kill them: fly in to grab them before they fall off the bottom of the screen for more points. Basic risk/reward. There's probably a lot to it that I'm not seeing.
0:26 Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor starts up as “Demonic Imperator: Tyrannosatan” flies in to greet me.
0:27 Continue #5. Not quite getting what I'm supposed to do with some of these attacks.
0:28 He's switched himself around so that I can only shoot him by flying right up to his face, where the bullets are emerging from. Screw you, human-figure-that-can't-turn-90-degrees-theming! (Continue #6.)
0:29 I've blown up most of his body; now he's just a skull and a spine. That was Scorpion's fatality, right? Pretty bullet patterns.
0:30 Yep, half an hour feels like about the right length for a game like this. Continue count: six, all on the final level.
0:31 Oh, uh. Now the ending sequence is offering me a choice to “return to the real world” or to “stay here with my friends.” Too bad I wasn't paying attention to the story, or this might be a meaningful decision.
0:32 It saves the replay. Awesome; one of my favorite features of Ikaruga was replays downloadable from XBL. Not so awesome: the menu to select the replay save slot is labeled “WATCH REPLAYS.”
0:34 After futzing around with the menus for a couple minutes, I start a new game as “Follett.” That's a character name, if it wasn't clear.
0:35 Enemies aren't dropping nearly as much stuff as they were a couple minutes ago. I guess I didn't notice it ramping up to the clouds and clouds of pickups that you get later on.
0:36 Oh man, this boss is firing so few bullets, too. I guess I forgot to bump up the difficulty like I said I would. That's okay, the final level drained me of all my feeling-awesome last time around, and I could do with some more of that stuff.
0:38 Just occurred to me, I can totally let go of the fire button to speed up. I knew that holding fire affected your speed, but I'm so used to firing all the time in this sort of game. That would've really helped with some of the attack patterns I'd been struggling with.
0:40 Man, I totally took a couple hits in that boss fight that I did perfectly my first time through. How embarrassing.
0:42 Gah, the tree boss threw apples at me this time! He totally didn't do that last time. Or maybe I was distracted by all the shiny and just didn't notice.
0:44 Game over on the stage 4 boss. I'm doing worse than last time. I'm gonna let the continue time out and poke around at some other modes.
0:45 Some of these modes say “single-player only.” I forgot this was a co-op game. I'll have to make that happen at some point.
0:45 I'll try “arcade mode.” Let's see what that entails.
0:46 Whoa. For one, it entails much lower-resolution art. I had gotten the impression that arcade-to-console ports were fairly low budget nowadays. Did they really redo all the art? I guess if it was pre-rendered, maybe they just rerendered it at a higher resolution.
0:47 Paying attention to the tutorial for the first time, there's some sort of lock-on firing scheme I hadn't noticed. That's interesting.
0:50 “Arcade mode” really might just mean the low resolution; after clearing the first boss, the game doesn't seem to be tuned much differently. I did take a hit during the fight, but as we've already established, I get worse at this game the more I play it. Clearly, at this rate, I one-credit-cleared the game at attempt negative six. Certainly I'd be shocked to find any arcade game tuned this easy.
0:51 Yeah, I think that you're supposed to use the lock-on attack on a lot of these enemies. I was just finessing them by ducking into alignment with them between volleys of hot pink bullets.
0:53 Between levels, you get a rank menu. (It was doing that in 360 mode; I just wasn't mentioning or paying attention to it.) But in this menu, the easiest is unavailable to me. Is arcade mode forcing me to play at a higher difficulty?
0:55 Even more apples during the boss fight this time through! I bet I'm going to have apple nightmares tonight.
0:57 Okay, this boss fight is way more dense than the first time. Don't know if it's arcade mode or the higher rank I had to pick, but either way, I'm dying a lot.
0:58 Now rank 3 is the only rank available.
0:59 Yeah, lock on is super useful. Human-figure-that-can't-turn-90-degrees-theming, you are forgiven!
1:00 Oh hai, it's Giant Cow Mary again. She's like an old friend now.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Sure, yeah. It's not sublime or anything, but it's a solid shmup and I enjoy a solid shmup. I'm especially looking forward to trying out the co-op.

More importantly, would I one-hour-review another shmup? Probably not. I've played for several more hours as of writing this paragraph, and I missed or misunderstood a lot of important mechanics. Modern games are very tutorial-heavy, such that one hour is about what it takes to get a sense of what the game is like. Shmups are a fossil genre, so in a sense you have a sense of what the game is like within seconds, but then going beyond that the learning curve of additional mechanics is very long and not explicitly laid out. You're supposed to pick it up on iterated playthroughs. Perhaps a five-minute review would be more appropriate.

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