Let's face it, we're lucky when a publisher actually listens to the fans and delivers exactly what we want. Those rare, quirky yet lovable Japanese games being brought over from overseas are such rare occurrences that hardly any publishers take chances on them, and Deathsmiles is no exception. Originally thought to be too 'Japanese,' it seemed for the longest time that Cave's newest shmup would be the next in a long line of games that remain exclusive to our friends in Japan.
Thank you Aksys, for changing that.
Deathsmiles was released in Japanese arcades in late-2007 and was Cave's second shmup to be played using horizontal scrolling. The 360-port to follow included the arcade, Xbox 360, and 1.1 versions. Mega Black Label, which added a new character and stage, was available as DLC. Here in the western hemisphere, you get it all in one package, making this a great bang for your dollar. Many people might question a retail release, versus download, but it is hard to argue with all of the options that Deathsmiles throws our way.
You can keep the experience absolutely pure, or tone down the difficulty and boost the graphics in Xbox 360 mode, or completely alter the rules for scoring in 1:1. Each mode has a Mega Black Label variant, making for a grand total of six modes, all with separate leaderboards.
From the backgrounds to the lolis (more on that in a second), Deathsmiles is one of the most beautiful shmups in years. It is almost too easy to get lost in admiration - not always a good thing while trying to maneuver your way through bullet hell. Cave knows how to work the genre like no other, and fans will appreciate small touches like intentional slowdown and extremely apparent hitboxes.
You can select both your paths and difficulties, so even newbies can have fun (at least for a few stages) and still have the ability to unlock achievements. Dying doesn't mean a total Game Over either. You have infinite continues, which may seem too generous, but your score will reset every single time. Deathsmiles aims to please and has options to meet nearly every desire, but don't enjoy yourself too much. Our heroines are not exacly... legal, so you better behave – lest Chris Hansen come knocking on your door.
From the California Valley girl, Rosa, to the more introverted Follett, each of the 'four daughters' has her own unique magical power and a familiar that follows nearby and acts as a secondary shooter. My favorite girl is Windia. Her familiar is an owl named Hoo, and she fires off crescent-shaped projectiles that can be controlled to an extent.
Set in the world of Gilverado, a purgatory of sorts, each of these girls has experienced a tragic accident. Beneath all of the beautiful levels and endless bullets there is an emotional story, which is a bit surprising considering that most of the games in the genre don't have any. It's very melodramatic and reminiscent of a visual novel-style of storytelling - this Otaku's dream come true.
Shmups are slowly making the journey back into the hearts of westerners, but I fear that Deathsmiles may ruin it for other games to come. From the numerous modes and adjustable options, to the beautiful artwork and masterful touches, Death smiles is the new shmup to be reckoned with. It even has online co-op so you can compete with your friends to be the queen of the lolis, and that is something that even Pedobear can appreciate.