The Dishwasher is a fairytale of sorts for game developers. The original game was created as an indie project by Ska Studios and was so good that Microsoft picked it up for the XBLA program. The original game was known for its brutal difficulty, fountains of blood and gore and, of course, some slick combat. It was also known for having some unforgiving checkpoints that made it a truly hardcore action title, the end of which most players would never see. With the sequel, the developers have definitely taken the criticisms into account. Vampire Smile feels more streamlined and certainly more approachable.
Vampire Smile comes packed with two campaigns: one that continues the story of our fabled Dead Samurai, and a new one, for his sister Yuki. To be honest, not a whole lot of this mess makes enough sense to follow, and the cut scenes are comic book panels with scattered text that had me scratching my head more often than not. But, it gives the developers an excuse to offer up two campaigns, and with it some diversity in the gameplay. Whether you play as the Dishwasher or Yuki the levels are pretty much the same, the difference comes with the weapons they wield.
Each character has access to a collection of melee weapons and a gun, all of which are designed to separate your foes from their appendages. Saying that Vampire Smile is a violent game is an understatement at the highest level. The focus on spraying the walls with blood is apparent and the heart of the game. It is also part of its downfall as you progress. Outside of a couple of button-timing mini games, every level here consists of moving from arena to arena clearing out the baddies and culminating in a boss encounter. This is not bad design, just one that can cause feelings of repetition after a few hours of play.
Thankfully, with a game so heavy on combat, it plays tremendously. Once you get the basic moves down and learn to fly around the levels using the right analog stick, chaining combos together becomes addicting. Imagine playing God of War or Devil May Cry in 2D and you will get the idea. Mastering the dodge is a must for the higher difficulty levels. Enemies are no pushovers and will quickly dispatch you if you let your guard down. Yes, the challenge is still here, but the developers have also compensated for that with better checkpoints and toned down difficulties.
Die enough times (and you will) and the game unlocks the easiest of difficulty modes aptly titled “Pretty Princess Mode,” which basically lets you walk through the game without much fear of dying. Don’t fear though, hardcore players, jumping above normal will definitely test your skills, and with modes like speed run and leaderboards, you will love mastering each area in order to brag online about your skills. The checkpoint system has also been re-tweaked making dying not such a disappointing endeavor. Now, when you perish, you are only set back a couple of minutes, as opposed to being thrown back to the beginning of a level. You can also team up for co-op sessions of the game, but if you find the single player experience hectic, wait until you try this mode out.
The visual splash Vampire Smile makes is definitely memorable. Sticking with the same gothic tones as the original game, you are treated to a palette dominated by black, white and, of course, splashes of red goo. The game moves so fast and is so hectic at times you can lose sight of your character. Just pay attention to the little arrow above their head and enjoy the fireworks. Sound is a mixed bag with incredibly rocking tracks for the score and generic sound effects that truly could have used some sprucing up. Still, you will hardly notice the lame effects when the music is kicking and you are spraying entire levels in hemoglobin.
Vampire Smile is a solid follow-up that pretty much ends up being a refined version of the original game. For those of us who really wanted to love the first one, but ended up in frustration, this is definitely the game to get. The combat is damn near flawless and the visual style is incredible. The level design leaves something to be desired, but with so much else going for it, it is easy to overlook. If you enjoy action games, and don’t mind seeing pints of blood splashed across the screen, this game is a must have.
Review copy provided by publisher.