The life of an action gamer can often prove discouraging. These days, so many developers and publishers elect to make games with "profound stories" and "moral decisions" and "open worlds" and "guns in the first person."
This isn't a problem. I love tons of those types of games. However, the nonsense happens when, in pursuit of either profit margins or their quests to make video games "deep," "meaningful" and "artistic," most of these developers and publishers forget to make actual games as opposed to barely interactive cinematic software (or pretentious vehicles for personal life views flimsily masquerading as easy-to-play "indie titles").
Where are the games, then, for people who simply wish to play a game? What about those who merely wish to throw themselves against an objective, tackle it as hard and as quickly as possible, purely in the name of spectacle, time and score, with maybe a few secrets littered here and there as a reward for dedication? What about those games where winning or losing depends on how quickly one can think and solve problems in the midst of action and reaction, and where practice lengthens a game's replayability? Do you know why people still consistently and obliviously buy space shooting games, Dynasty Warriors games, Virtual Console games and remakes of old retro titles? It's because so few game companies nowadays want to provide actual well-done alternatives — and the scant few who do, for some reason, keep filling their casts with extremely young anime girls. Cue desperation.
For action gamers, then, enter The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, a gallon-jug of water in the desert.
Ska Studios gets it. The action mechanics are easy to pick up, but they give full control to the player, allowing one to pretty much do anything: walk on the walls and ceilings, warp in any direction to avoid attacks (you'd think this would be overpowered, but in this game, you end up facing lots of attacks at once, so the warping power only adds extra depth), and use a variety of weapons, which include chainsaws, crowd-control guns, giant scissors, spiked cement blocks and swords. I haven't even named the entire arsenal, but trust me when I say that it only gets better from there.
Weapons — and thus fighting styles — can be instantly switched during any time, allowing players to experiment with creating their own combos and efficient fighting techniques. Aerial combo attacks and screen-affecting magic attacks are also present, as well as equippable "beads" that enhance player skills or change the game in unique ways. In campaign mode, players control the titular Dishwasher Samurai from the first game, or a new character, Yuki, the Prisoner, as they fight through the armies of an all-powerful corrupt corporation. Both characters bring their similar play styles to the table, but they're just different enough to make it worth learning both to deal with different situations.
The enemies in Dishwasher come fast and furiously, and each one has unique attacks that aren't telegraphed, but are pattern-based. This means that each crowd of enemies poses a viable threat so long as they're on the screen, and the player must find pockets of space to fight in, lest they become overwhelmed. It's coolest when multiple enemy types come at you at once, forcing you to separately create plans of attack against all of them while avoiding their myriad capabilities.
In short, what we have here is a fast-paced, skill-rewarding, stylish action game in the vein of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but in 2-D. It's an utter joy to play. Moves flow after but minutes of play, until you are one with the controller. I've been waiting for a game like this for a long time, yet so few developers would ever attempt one. This is the kind of game I expect to come out of a studio like Platinum Games or Treasure, but its existence matters far more than origins.
Rounding out the game are the Arcade and Dish Challenge modes. Dish Challenge mode is similar to the "horde" modes cropping up in 3-D shooters nowadays, except that the goal is less to survive and more to rack up the highest possible score in an endless battle. Arcade mode, meanwhile, is an extensive gauntlet of challenges that constantly change battle conditions, and honestly, I really would have loved some of these conditions to be switches that the player were allowed to control at his leisure, as some of them are actually quite genius. There's a condition that gradually saps the player's health as he fights, and that makes for a whole new game altogether. Even more awesome is a condition that slows down the speed of the entire game except for the player character to increasingly higher degrees, depending on how high a combo count the player can rack up! Conditions such these as are great ways to extend the longevity of a game like this, and I'd like to see them included next time — as player-enhancing beads or otherwise.
The icing on the cake is the multiplayer co-op options. Simply put, they're available for every mode, including local on one system. In an age where so many games try to squeeze money from players by allowing only for System Link and online multiplayer, this is a godsend. The multiplayer isn't perfect in its implementation; in local co-op, the camera can behave quite spastically, especially given the fast gameplay. The most glaring omission is the ability for players to start a fresh, clean campaign without creating an entirely new profile (none of the campaign's helpful tutorials show up, either), thus destroying any sense of progression and widening the gap between player skills. This can prove annoying when trying to get new players into the game, as the difference in skills will already be high, and such conditions could only leave them more frustrated. In online co-op, the camera problem is less of an issue since each player has his own screen. Beyond these flaws, the multiplayer works well enough, and if you've got two stylish action veterans at the helm, it's an utter blast in any mode. Hats off to its inclusion.
Beyond the multiplayer, there's really only one other aspect of Vampire Smile that is an acquired taste, and that's the overall tone of the game. Simply put, it's very ... "artsy" — sometimes ironically so — but not enough to avoid the eye-rolling effect. Like Madworld before it, the only real colors are red and the occasional light given off by the enemies. Everything else is a drab monochrome black-and-white, which can also make fighting enemies harder (especially in co-op). It's not simply boring or uninteresting; it's depressing. This game lacks the visual style to go with its exceptional mechanics. It's a great game to play, but not one the best of games to look at.
The music, while actually very well composed, also falls in with the depressing grittiness of the game's tone, and that's only in battle. The music that plays while not in battle for the entire game is only a slight step above the boring "ambience" that plagues so many other stylish action games. The thought that kept crossing my mind the entire time I was playing Dishwasher, beyond, "Someone finally gets it," was, "Wow, I wish someone made a game like this using a theme or even a license I actually liked." It's a borderline shallow criticism that falls squarely in the realm of personal taste, but it's something that just would not leave me during the review period. Atmosphere is something I feel strongly about. The best games will stay in the back of your mind and make you think of playing them when you're not playing them. They'll make you love the characters, the world, the universe, the mechanics — the entire package. This game should really come off cooler than it is, but thanks to its boring, colorless and sometimes depressing motif, Dishwasher is one of the greatest games that I sometimes forget I have in my library. That's a huge shame.
Regardless of theme, however, if you like action games of any sort, buy The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. Your $10 buys more substance than most video games dare to have these days, and it has the legs to last. Here's hoping the good folks who designed this fighting engine end up doing something with a cooler and more colorful aesthetic in the future, but for now, action gamers may rejoice. Even with its few faults, this title serves as a shining example of its genre, and I wish game companies would make more of this type of game.
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