The masters of ‘bullet hell’ return with a big deathly smile on their faces…
Be it the fast paced vertical shooters of Dodonpachi and Espgaluda, or even the slightly slower paced but no less crazy Mushihimesama Bug Panic, CAVE have perfected the recipe for creating intense shooter experiences.
The title DeathSmiles is an odd one. However, it does sum up the game pretty well. You’ll die… a lot… But you’ll do it with a smile on your face, grinning from ear-to-ear at all the batshit craziness that this game possesses.
CAVE games all seem to have two things in common; one of these is bullet hell, and for those unfamiliar with the term, it basically describes any shooter that features hundreds of bullets on screen at any time. The premise of these games then become as much about dodging the onslaught of bullets as much as doing the shooting. The other common factor is the addition of anime style characters and storylines, which for the most part feature young girls on a fantastical mission.
DeathSmiles is no different. Once again it’s fast paced shooter, but this time it’s played, for the most part, in a side-scrolling horizontal orientation. You play as one of four angel-like girls, each with different attack styles, and you must fight your way through eight levels infested with demons of all shapes and sizes.
Those familiar with CAVE’s other games will be right at home with the controls. Firing is automatic and there is no limit to ammunition. That leaves you to concentrate on manoeuvring your angel and avoiding enemy attacks. Moving your character is as simple as sliding your finger around the screen, it’s not relative to your fingers position either, so you don’t have to cover up your character in the process.
New to the CAVE’s shooters is the the ability to change direction. At any time you can tap a button to switch from right shot to left shot. This is important in that the enemies will come at you from both directions, however you are still continually moving right so the majority of enemies, including the boss encounters, primarily come at you from the right.
To kill enemies it’s simply a matter of getting them in the path of your automatic weapon. However, if you want to concentrate your fire on a particular enemy, for example one of the bigger ogres or bosses, you can activate a lock shot. To do this you must get in close proximity to the enemy and hold down the lock shot button. This will highlight the enemy in a circle of light, and once active you can move away and your shots will only fire at that enemy – as long as your lock shot button is held down.
As you fight you can switch to a more powerful attack, this works best when in power up mode (when your item counter reaches 1000) which when used together will cause your enemies to give off a larger amount of point items for you to collect.
Speaking of items, you can buy or sell items in an after level shop using gold converted from the amount of points you accumulated within the level. Different items of clothing, jewellery etc, can be purchased for your angel. While they don’t alter the look of your character, each item does upgrade your angels stats such as attack power, defense and magic power. Special items such as continues, can be purchased too. All upgrades will stick with your character, even after playing it through and after being defeated. This allows you to power up your character and be more powerful during multiple play-throughs.
As with all of CAVE’s titles, they have added a unique iPhone mode. In DeathSmiles this is an alternative version of the game, and instead of the angels it features a princess with her own storyline. The main gameplay is untouched, but you do get different story elements as well as a new end of game boss encounter. There’s a small addition of a mini game after boss encounters. According to the story this will allow you to send that particular demon to the depths of hell for good. This mini game plays like a version of simon says, where you must match the on screen order of flashing pentagrams.
I’ve always loved the unique look of CAVE’s games. They have a 16bit look to them, but with the bullet hell and huge amount of enemies on screen at anyone time, it’s clear that these games couldn’t have existed in the 16bit era. The visual style can be described as Castlevania meets R-Type, but with anime style storyline cutscenes featuring the angels. The leads themselves look pretty cool flying around and firing all manner of crazy weaponry, particularly the princess with her umbrella she looks like Mary Poppins on crack.
However, it’s the various enemy types that steal the show. The bullet hell is occasionally too intense to see what’s going on at all times, but now and again you have time to appreciate the cool art for all the fantastical creatures. My favourites being the hounds of hell, and the numerous boss types, many looking like they’ve been crafted as models and stop motion animated. The weirdest boss by far is a giant cow called Mary! I kid you not. The boss encounters are never the same, with the end of game boss (in arcade mode) being perhaps one of the most epic I have ever encountered.
The game requires multiple play throughs to get the most out of it, particularly if you want to experience a more intense challenge. After completing the Novice setting in any mode, you will unlock Normal. Here all enemies are stronger and take longer to kill, as well as the end of level bosses exhibiting alternative and more deadly attack patterns. The simon says mini game in iPhone mode gets trickier too. It’s a little disheartening to find how much harder the game is based on the word ‘Normal’, but this is a hardcore shooter and difficulty should be par for the course.
DeathSmiles is a thrilling ride from beginning to end. Its crazy japanese visual style combined with a mash up of rock and techno music (including a cameo from tubular bells) is a joy to behold. Combine that with intense shooter action, item upgrades, a bizarre storyline, and multiple endings, and you have one of the best shooters on the AppStore, joining it’s brothers and sisters from CAVE as the best of the best.
DeathSmiles hits the AppStore on July 7th for the introductory price of $4.99
Compatible Devices: iPhone4/iPhone3GS/iPod touch 3rd Gen and up/iPad/iPad2