The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile Review
Game: The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile
Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
It should make you smile that with the advent of platforms like Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network and Wii/DSiWare, indie game developers are able to shock and surprise with the sheer audacity and innovation of their games, many of which are from straight out of the leftfield, barely registering a blip on our radars before dropping to rapturous acclaim. James Silva is one such independent games-smith, and one who prior to 2009 you would not know from Adam. But then, armed with a crackers idea about a brutal, murderous dishwasher on a bloody rampage, he got his hands on XNA Game Studio Express and crafted the superb The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, which he entered into Microsoft’s inaugural Dream-Build-Play contest, scooping a cash prize and a coveted Xbox LIVE Arcade publishing contract.
The game was an unashamedly old-skool 2D tour-de-force, following the titular Dishwasher, a bad-ass samurai character inspired by the fact that legendary martial arts god-head Bruce Lee himself once worked in a lowly pot-scrubbing job. Evisceration had never been so much fun, and of course the game was a critical and commercial success. Two years later and Silva, under his Ska Studios development moniker, has once again entered the fray with a sequel to his his debut blinder. The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile has arrived onto Xbox LIVE Arcade, and naturally GodisaGeek are on hand to rate this sophomore slice of bonkers action.
Side-scrolling beat ‘em ups are historically very, very good (Final Fight, Streets Of Rage, Viewtiful Joe), or very, very bad (Battletoads, Rival Turf). Innovation is key to a good genre piece, along with fun, accessible gameplay, which is why The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, with its wonderful graphical flourishes, darkly comic plotline and gruesome OTT carnage was such a treat and fell straight into the former category.
Vampire Smile provides more of the same, but ramps everything up several notches. This time, you are assigned the role of either The Dishwasher, or new addition Yuki, his unstable, psychopathic step-sister with an Evil Dead-style arm that can be equipped with chainsaws and rail-guns. It is your job to unleash utter carnage upon all manner of foes; zombies, deranged soldiers, robots and of course vampires, across 13 deliciously crafted levels.
Gameplay is, on the surface, fairly undemanding hack and slash stuff. New players could easily enter the fray and progress to a degree using the time honoured tradition of button mashing. But like the very best fighting games, and in this category I’m include the bafflingly deep likes of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, Vampire Smile has a profoundly satisfying combo system which, with practice, can see you performing mind-blowing 100 hit attacks, as the screen is filled with dismembered baddies and seemingly endless fountains of blood.
The Dishwasher and Yuki can carry out their attacks using a number of excellently implemented techniques. You can grab, throw, rip and tear your prey to bits; leap around the screen majestically swinging the impressive arsenal of weaponry, and use abilities such as teleportation to suddenly appear behind whichever poor soul you are facing and then slit them from neck to nuts. Bringing the samurai pain is tremendous on your own, but when you fathom that Mr Silva has seen fit to include a blinding on-or-offline co-op mode, your ways and means of bloodletting are increased as you and a pal team up to initiate some sick dual combo attacks.
Both of the characters have slightly different abilities and their own unique story, so in this sequel you are definitely going to want to have a crack at playing through with the pair of them. The levels are not all about a proliferation of violence, there is exploring to do and secrets to discover. As well as the story modes and the excellent co-op, there are breathlessly fun speed trials, and straight up online play in the arcade mode. Frankly speaking, for the price of 800 Microsoft Points, this is a stacked release and represents real value.
The coolest thing of all about Vampire Smile is the unique art style and overall feel imbued to it by James Silva and his small team. You can practically taste the passion and hard work that they so obviously poured into its design. The characters are rendered with panache and off the wall humour, whilst the beautiful backdrops are drawn with a muted, almost monochrome palette, meaning that the rivulets of crimson that spray and splatter the screen are all the more striking and frankly, just awesome. You find yourself becoming completely immersed in the action no matter how full the screen becomes with enemies and viscera, pirouetting samurai in an emphatic death-dance set to a cacophony of yelps, screams and screes of guitar.
VERDICT: This is a stunning game, and quite easily one of the best released so far this year. The extra clout afforded to Silva as part of his Microsoft deal has been fully utilised here, but crucially, on his own terms. It is heartwarming that someone with a vision, albeit one as deranged as this, can appear from out of nowhere and drop the proverbial gaming bomb in such a triumphant manner as this. It gives hope to other ambitious developers, and also shames those who pump out weak Xbox LIVE releases, many of which will end up costing a good 400 MS points more than this gem. I for one, cannot wait to see what Ska Studios come up with next.