Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox 360
"Bullet hell" shooters are, indeed, a hell of a thing. These are games where you require absolute split-second timing to avoid bullet streams that come at you like fireworks, with even the slightest mistake costing you a life. Cave has been making these for years now, perfecting the art across the board – and Deathsmiles remains a personal favorite of mine.
Released years ago for Xbox 360, the game features a tale of sorcery, one featuring witch-like characters battling to save the world from being overtaken by demons. Of course, there are tons of them coming after you, from pumpkin-shaped bullet spitters to a devastatingly angry tree to a demonic cow. A demonic cow, for Pete's sake. But it's all in the name of fun, especially if you're a fan of the genre.
Shoot, Shoot and Shoot Some More
The name of the game in Deathsmiles is survival, as you'll take on increasingly tougher stages while using power-ups and alternate fire (with the help of an angel buddy), as well as limited bombs that can destroy everything on-screen. It follows the usual format of "shmups" of this type, but the characters each add something distinctive to the game, each with different assists and shooting styles that make each one worth playing.
On easier difficulty, the gameplay is a breeze – but if you're one of those devoted players that can't help but eat up a challenge, I highly suggest bumping it up to a more severe level. This is where Cave truly shines, throwing everything in the book at you as you weave past bullet formations and attempt to stay in one piece. What's more, you can bring a friend in two-player mode, with the bullet action truly picking up with only a slight hit on the frame rate.
The only downside is that the game comes to an end way too soon – you can probably blow through most of the levels within less than 45 minutes – but there are additional game types to take on, including a score attack mode where you can try and achieve the highest point count possible, as well as training if you really want to get the most out of your lady soldiers. It's not the most abundant content out there, but, for a "shmup", it's noteworthy.
A Be-Witching Presentation
Deathsmiles also has a pretty solid appearance. Sure, it's mostly just a port of the 2007 Xbox 360 game, but it still looks fantastic, with well-animated characters, beautiful backgrounds and plenty of bullets to wow you. Each boss is imaginatively designed as well, whether it's that pain-in-the-neck demonic cow or a large head popping out of the graveyard, trying to hit you with bullets and rocks. The in-between sequences add some great character as well, though there's not enough story to go around here. No matter – you'll want to get right back into the shooting action anyway.
Meanwhile, Toshiya Yamanaka's soundtrack is absolutely spellbinding, especially the level two music, Gravekeeper's Anger, which is one of my all-time favorite "shmup" tunes. It's simply fantastic and moody throughout, matching the mood of what's happening with the game's characters. The sound effects aren't bad either, and the voice acting is good in Japanese, although there's a decent English option for those who wish to take that route.