Back in 2009 a game by the name of The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai became the winner of Microsoft’s Dream Build Play contest. Created by just a single person, this side scrolling, button bashing blood-and-guts marathon proved to be an enjoyable romp for those with an interest in the genre, and stood toe to toe with some of the XBLA’s top titles. So now in 2011 we are faced with a follow-up game, the difficult second album if you will. Can Ska studios surprise us once again?[boxout]Treading in the steps of its predecessor, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is a 2D action platformer with a macabre twist. You start the game as Yuki, a dark haired girl plucked straight out of the ‘J-horror’ archives, who is trapped aboard a prison ship and trying to escape. Unfortunately Yuki is absolutely bat-poop insane, and you will regularly enter her mind and dreams (which have taken the form of a blood soaked hospital ward) where you are chased by something known as ‘The Creeper’. This isn’t scary so much as downright creepy, as, in your mind, you are injured and slow, and you must repeatedly tap the ‘A’ button to get away as The Creeper strolls towards you with a sword in his hand.
As far as stories go, it’s an odd one as you flip between realities, battling both the demon inside of your head as well as the people who imprisoned you aboard the prison ship. Cutscenes play out in the form of comic book panels, and it’s a nice effect and a good design choice. The story, though, is merely a vessel for the action, and this is where Vampire Smile comes into its own.
Playing like a side-scrolling version of Devil May Cry, Vampire Smile sees you flitting from room to room and tearing everything to shreds. Everything. The game is oh so violent and is not embarrassed to show it off. You start off the game with a sword and a pair of meat cleavers, but soon the ante is upped and you get your hands on the ‘Cloud Sword’ (a carbon copy of Cloud’s sword in Final Fantasy 7). Just when you think things can’t get any weirder you gain access to a giant syringe which you can use to suck the insides out of enemies.
The weapons are wonderfully designed, feel great and can be hot swapped at any time, allowing for some brutal combos. Dishing out enough damage to an enemy will allow you to deal a finishing blow, which involves actions such as decapitation and evisceration, followed by enough blood to make Michael Myers say “easy now love, that’s a bit OTT”.
Another interesting feature is Yuki’s ‘Blood Warp’ which lets you move forward several paces in the blink of an eye, as well as giving you the ability to pass though enemies and certain barriers. Clever use of the Blood Warp will see you run rings around your opponents as you dash around the room dealing out all sorts of limb-removing carnage.
You want some more? Well ok, Yuki also has a machine-gun/chainsaw for an arm, and has access to several types of magic and special beads which, when equipped, pass on certain powers such as the ability to swap weapons faster. On the surface Vampire Smile looks rather simple and shallow, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to the combat system.[drop2]Now here comes the good bit: If you get bored of playing through Yuki’s storyline you can take on the role of the Dishwasher from the original game and play through his version of events. Rather than just being a clone of Yuki, the Dishwasher comes with his own set of weapons such as the deliciously titled ‘Violence Hammer’, which is essentially a large girder wrapped in pointy, stabby, and spiky things. He also gains access to a massive pair of scissors which…well; you can probably guess how that turns out for the bad guys.
Once the main game is over there is still lots of content to plough your way through in the form of the Arcade Mode, which is a set of challenges allowing you to post your high score to a leaderboard, and the Dish Challenge which sees you face wave after wave of enemy until you succumb. You can also play through the story in two-player local or online co-op.
Visually the game looks sublime, with a really dark hand drawn vibe. The way you are dragged into Yuki’s mind is also very well done, and never fails to give you the shivers as you try and escape the ward’s blood soaked embrace. A serious warning though, if you suffer from epilepsy this game does contain a huge amount of fast cut camera work coupled with bright, flashing lights.
Through all the positives there are a couple of negatives. Whilst the normal difficulty is perfectly doable, there are a few difficulty spikes which are just insanely annoying. There are also one or two places where it’s unclear as to where you need to go, or if you need to backtrack. Whilst you can upgrade your weapons, the game is extremely stingy with the in-game currency, and almost forces you to focus on upgrading a single weapon.
- Looks fantastic
- Fluid controls
- Two story arcs
- The combat is extremely satisfying
- Difficulty spikes
- Some areas could be signposted better
Overall Vampire Smile is a fantastic blast through Yuki’s twisted psyche. The character control is so simple and fluid, and is coupled with slick combat and really satisfying, meaty weapons. This will in no way convert people who dislike this style of game, but for everyone else it comes highly recommended.