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  1. #1
    NOT CONFUSING AT ALL Killer French Bread's Avatar
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    May 2008

    Default Deathsmiles (Xbox 360)

    The Metro newspaper actually wrote a decent review of this. And the Observer. I nearly didn’t write this because of that. It was totally unexpected. They are still only a couple of exceptions though. Nearly every other mainstream critic has the same universal problems with this, the shoot ’em up, genre: that the games are too short, too hard and have no replay value. You need to understand that people think this way to see why Deathsmiles turned out like it did. Because, as the arcade industry dwindles yet further, even in Japan, companies making its games need to branch out to the kind of console gamer who might never have used an arcade cab before. Hence this game being the first of its kind to be released by Cave onto consoles in the West.

    This is a horizontal shoot ‘em up by Cave, a change from their usual preference for verts, and, of course, this is a proper bullet hell game. Not just a normal shooter, like Omega 5 or Raiden 4 - both of which I have heard erroneously called bullet hells by clueless hacks - but a proper bullet hell with up to hundreds of bullets on screen at one time. Your character can shoot to the left or right using the triggers. There’s 3 type of firepower: the shot, laser and lock on shot. No power-ups and a stock of 3 bombs per life. 4 characters; the differences little more than a tweaking of power, speed and scoring potential. They are all female witches that make Harry Potter look badass, the theme being Halloween from what I could make out, and they all fly around with a ‘familiar’ which spits out another shot. A flower for the girl named Rosa for example.

    Nothing particularly radical there then, no. But there are other distinguishing elements from traditional shooters. One key difference you will notice is the choice; no other Cave game has let you pick the path through the levels before. You can pick from a group of three for the first sally, then another from a second group before going back to the first. You go back and forth like this until you have beaten all 6 normal stages then proceed to either the bonus stage, provided you haven’t credit fed, or the final stage. So that’s 8 in total. Espgaluda had 6 stages, but most Cave shooters usually have 5. Now most decent players know you can’t add that many stages too a shooter or it becomes too hard to memorise, so they couldn’t add many more than 8, but the level select means at least you can replay play the game in a different order (I’ve seen some braindead reviewers praise this aspect). Between the increased stage count and level select, it appears length, or at least perceived length, has therefore been addressed.

    Yet still, these players, who merely want to blaze through the game in a few different configurations aren’t going to be able to meaningfully beat any ordinary arcade shooter game in a hurry. So Cave added another option - you can choose the difficulty. Good players will probably knock the game into level three (the top difficulty), perhaps stepping down to level 2 to control the rank for the odd stage, so the dedicated audience isn’t ignored. Level 1 however, for about the first time in Cave’s history, means there is a chance for even the most cack-handed Final Fantasy player to actually be able to 1cc a game (beat it without continues). At least there isn’t the savage difficulty spike after a couple of levels, even if the last stage will take a bit of practise. The patterns are on the slow side and the bullets are highly conspicuous, usually being bright purple, with the hitbox of your character marked as a visible heart that helps dodging yet more.

    So Cave did these things that were a step away from their usual mindset to cater to a new players. And it’s a big change from games like Dai Ou Jou and Ketui, made about 6 years earlier, which were single minded in their relentless pursuit of difficulty to the point it almost totally alienated outsiders. But even these concessions can only go so far. This game was still originally an arcade game that had to be sold in arcade halls in Japan, and if a player does not at least understand the mindset of an arcade gamer they are going to miss the point. And anyone who has played so much as Space Invaders in an arcade knows the point is to get the high score. It sounds obvious, but so many reviews do not mention the scoring system. So really, they had no idea what they were playing (check out IGN’s for an example of a true fool in full flow). If an article about a shooter does not even mention in passing how to score, then do not take any heed of it, it was written by someone unqualified to write it. If a reviewer talks of “beating” a game using credits then they should not review arcade games at all. This might sound offensively hardcore, but that is how you play games like this, it is where the fun is derived from - playing for score. You cannot use credits for that.

    So if you don't understand the point is to play for score, and do not even notice that there is a complex scoring system underlying a game, it is only natural you will not see much replay value; which is the other criticism from the mainstream who seemingly so often consider that an error strewn credit fed run to the credits constitutes sampling all a shooter has to offer. The scoring system here is quite simple, a meter fills up as you collect skulls from shooting enemies, using the right shot for a certain enemy yields more, and when it reaches 1000 you can enter a ‘psycho’ mode which increases firepower and, more importantly, increases the multiplier. If you trigger this mode on certain busy areas of a stage swarms of the highest scoring skulls come pouring down. The trick is to find the best places to use it, because you can also refill the meter very quickly if you can collect enough skulls just as the last phase of psycho mode is running out, looping the whole process again. This gives the game depth, as with all shooters like this, and the replay value is as long as you are still motivated for that high score. It will take many hours for the average player to be competent enough to execute a decent run.

    The graphics are fantastic. I’m not too keen on the theme, which is some wimpy anime style as you might have guessed from the use of witches as characters, but in action it looks like a Castlevania game as flying cyclopses and crows all fly around in classic 2D full of rich colours and animation. The setting looks like a Victorian England, with stages set in castles and woods, which all end with wonderful battles against some really charismatic bosses. I’m not going to give them all away, but there’s an Evil Dead style tree monster and a rampaging cow which really impress when you first encounter them. Even the bullets themselves present a lattice of purple that catches the eye of those not tired of the novelty. The sound too is nicely atmospheric, with pleasant synth and even a bit of Bach at the end giving it a grand send off.

    Apart from what I have described (the main mode) there is an arrange mode which allows you to use the other stick to control the familiar. In effect the game becomes a twin stick shooter. Perhaps Cave have dipped into to what was an en-vogue trend when the game was made as another enticement for diffident gamers. It’s okay; I haven’t spent too much time with it. A better add on is the Black Label version of the game, which was a re-release in the arcades that added an extra level set in an ice palace. This cost 1200 points as DLC in japan, in the UK we get it free. Lovely stuff.

    I love this game. It has beautiful graphics, a considered scoring system and a long lasting challenge in the form of high score pursuit or a 1cc. So, in spite of all Cave did to pander to the caprice of the casuals, the biggest problem most people will have is the attitude you need to play it. It is still harder than most games, even when you take into account the selectable difficulty, but I don’t think a lack of skill is the only reason gamers are put off. Nor is it the time needed to get to a level of being able to score well - many games take tens of hours to beat. And even the repetition of doing the same thing is still evident in action games like God of War where you pull of the same attacks on a grillion similar foes.

    Perhaps it is a lack of discipline. It is a solitary experience improving your skill at a shmup, almost akin to learning to play a musical instrument. There is no carrot and stick to guide you, no superficial bonuses are unlocked or needless items collected, only your score improving as you play gives satisfaction. Without the game conning you into thinking you are acquiring something a lot of players give up. I’ve actually read some reviewers complain that the game doesn’t drip feed credits as an incentive to play. Pretty pathetic. Consider that some people will put 60+ hours into a turn based RPG to level up - a process whereby the computer PRETENDS you are getting better at something by arbitrating a higher level after a certain amount of repetitive battles, even though you are just choosing the same spell or attack and not actually improving any real ability. If I’m going to do something time consuming and repetitive, I’d rather improve MY abilities at something and not an avatar’s, and would rather get a high score instead of a cheesy cut-scene and some credits.

    If you feel the same way you will like this game.

    (P.S. for those who are interested, there are still cheesy cut scenes and credits in this, you just don’t need to ‘grind’ for hours to see them.)
    Last edited by Killer French Bread; 18-02-2011 at 19:54.
    Tic Tac, sir?

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