Deathsmiles Deluxe Review

By Damien McFerran - 17 Feb, 2011

Deathsmiles comes in this deluxe package, with audio CD and other goodies

Deathsmiles comes in this deluxe package, with audio CD and other goodies

Nobody quite does zany like the Japanese, and Deathsmiles is proof of this fact. What other nation could dream up a shooting game set in ethereal parallel dimension where teenage girls with magical familiar assistants float around dishing out all kinds of punishment to an army of satanic bad guys? Combining cute, buxom witches with occult themes and a never-ending cascade of pink bullets might not seem like the ideal recipe for shooter success, but Deathsmiles is unashamedly brilliant. So much so that we’ve decided to give it a little mini-review here on The Mean Machines Archive.

We’re massive fans of horizontally-scrolling blasters; mention Hellfire, Zero Wing, Aeroblasters or Darius II and we’re instantly transported back to the glory days of EMAP’s finest magazine, when the shooter genre was the all-conquering equivalent of today’s FPS. Deathsmiles carries on this proud tradition and proves categorically that the 2D shooter is still perfectly relevant in today’s graphics-mad market - so much so that Rising Star Games have seen fit to give this obscure title a UK release - and a deluxe one at that.

Putting aside the bonkers occult storyline and the disturbingly busty Lolita protagonists for one moment, it’s worth explaining just how deep Deathsmiles is. Unlike most other shooters, you can fire both left and right. It’s a good job, too, because enemies flood in from both sides of the screen. Tapping the fire button unleashes a standard attack, but holding it down triggers a more powerful burst of energy, which comes at the cost of mobility. There’s also a lock-on mode which is initiated by pressing down both the left and right fire buttons simultaneously. This automatically targets nearby enemies, but can leave you exposed to stray bullets.

Developer Cave is famous for popularising the ‘bullet hell’ shooter sub-genre, and this title features floods and floods of shrapnel. Initially, this might seem a little intimidating and a tad overwhelming - expect to freeze up completely when faced with your first wall of projectiles - but as you play you begin to realise it’s all about winding your way through the labyrinth of fire, finding safe routes through the oncoming carnage. Although blowing up a hulking end-of-level boss is obviously great fun, there’s a sense of satisfaction to be had just from surviving a seemingly impenetrable hail of bullets.

Included on the disc are several editions of Deathsmiles, ranging from the original arcade version (which is provided warts and all, with low-resolution visuals and massive borders around the screen) right up to the Mega Black Label edition, which is an enhanced update that was launched in Japan’s arcades in extremely limited quantities. You also get the Mega Black Label DLC free of charge - this was previously a paid-for download in Japan.

There’s much more to Deathsmiles on the 360 than just straight coin-op conversions, however. The disc also includes other versions which boast radically improved graphics, with high-resolution characters and monsters. In total there are five different flavours of the game available and two different control mechanisms to master. In addition to this you’ll also find an online ranking mode and Xbox Live co-op multiplayer. While playing alongside a friend is fun, it’s the online leaderboards that are likely to soak up most of your time. Competing for the best score with other players is incredibly compelling and lends the game potentially unlimited replay value.

As the ‘deluxe’ tag suggests, there’s more to this package than meets the eye. It comes bundled an audio CD which features Manabu Namiki’s wonderful gothic rock soundtrack, and a separate disc containing all sorts of goodies for customizing your computer desktop. We’re usually quite picky about what video game soundtracks we listen to, and we’re pleased to report that Namiki’s audio accompaniment is of a very high standard indeed; it compliments the on-screen mayhem brilliantly, and is well worth sticking on your iPod for those rare occasions when you’re away from the 360.

The fact that Rising Star Games has so bravely localised this amazing game is commendable, and we heartily recommend that you pick up a copy before the inevitable happens and it becomes a highly sought-after collector’s item. You can grab Deathsmiles from our friends at Gamesbasement for the very reasonable £18.99. It may not have the cutting-edge visuals of Call of Duty: Black Ops, but we can assure you that Deathsmiles is easily as appealing when it comes to good, old-fashioned gameplay.

Jamie O'Neill - 19 Feb 2011, 13:54 GMT

I don't have an Xbox 360, but I've been reading about Deathsmiles with interest and some of the coverage/ comments I've read have suggested that it may have been better suited as an XBLA download. I personally think that it is brilliant that Rising Star localised this as a full retail release. Sometimes it seems as though, with the exception of Wii platformers or PS3/Xbox one-on-one fighters, it is really hard to buy a classic genre, 2D perspective game on a disc.

I was starting to think that it may be too costly for publishers to release older game styles as full retail packaged games, so I welcome the release of a Cave shooter on a disc and in a box! This review is spot-on when it says "pick up a copy before the inevitable happens and it becomes a highly sought-after collector’s item", Deathsmiles is getting lots of positive attention, I really hope that it achieves strong sales too. Fair play to Rising Star Games for including the extra editions, deluxe content and audio CD too.

If Deathsmiles is ever released on PS3 I would snap it up and display its box with pride, I can imagine it sat alphabetically on my shelf in-between Dead Space 2 and Demon’s Souls now.

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