Developer: CAVE Interactive CO.,LTD. | Publisher: Degica | Release Date: 2016 | Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up / Bullet Hell / Indie | Website: N/A | Purchase: Steam
Windia, Follet, Casper and Rosa. Four girls who during life threatening situations ended up travelling through a mysterious rift to the world of Gilverado. In a city looking much like a 20th Century Europe these girls were found a cared for by a man named Dior. Thanks to the supernatural powers active in the world each of the girls developed their own magic and became angels fighting for the protection of Gilverado. When monsters start attacking in overwhelming numbers the girls begin battling their way to the cause of the invasion to stop whoever is responsible.
Although you probably wouldn’t have guessed it from the storyline, Deathsmiles is actually a bullet hell shooter from one of the best developers in the genre, CAVE. A while back PC players finally got to experience the brilliance of their fantasy shooter, Mushihimesama, and now it is the turn of the gothic themed Deathsmiles. It is about time too as Deathsmiles originally hit arcades in 2007 before getting an updated Xbox 360 version a few years later. In fact, even iOS and Android owners had a taste of the action before PC owners, so this version is definitely long overdue!
Although it doesn’t look like anything really special was done for this PC version of the game, it still plays as well as the Xbox 360 version it is based on. The game actually features six different game modes, including the original arcade version, limited “Mega Black Label” arcade version, and “1.1” version. In fact, about the only thing missing would be the “Smartphone Version” from the iOS and Android releases. Most of the different modes only feature minor differences, such as an extra difficulty setting, level or tweaked scoring system, but these do make a difference to the gameplay. One of the modes even adds an additional character, Sakura, who is actually one of the bosses in the game. Her playable version isn’t simply shoehorned in either, but she has her own story and endings as well.
Since Deathsmiles is a bullet hell shooter, brace yourself for tons of purple projectiles heading in your direction. Like most games in the genre you don’t have to guard your entire character sprite, only the small glowing heart that represents her hitbox. This makes it a little easier to dodge and weave between the screen-filling bullets, but the game still poses quite a challenge. Depending on the mode you select, you can choose between five different characters to control, each with her own familiar and magic style. Windia is a young girl from London who has a white owl familiar and is a wind magic user. Follet on the other hand, hails from France and commands fire magic as well as a baby dragon familiar. There are also Casper and Rosa, from Germany and the USA respectively as well as Sakura, another London native.
The enemies you face are a varied bunch, although most of them look like they jumped straight out of a classic Castlevania game. You’ll be facing demons, ghosts, flying eyeballs, hellhounds and all manner of other freaks. The most memorable encounters are bosses, which include a buried baron, forest conjurer and wandering reaper, but most bizarre of all is Mary the giant cow. The game features a couple of different difficulty settings, but to truly experience the awesomeness of the bosses you really must play on the higher settings as these really ramp up the excitement.
Deathsmiles is pretty brutal if you aim for a highscore or one credit clear, but it is also pretty forgiving towards casual players believe it or not. The game allows you to continue as much as you want when you lose all your lives and you even restart on the same spot with only your score being reset as penalty. This means that anyone who simply want to experience the game and see all the endings will be able to do so with a bit of perseverance. The real fun starts when you begin mastering the game and aiming for the high scores though.
As the game is a horizontally scrolling shooter, you can expect enemies to pour in from all corners of the screen, but in a novel twist you can actually fire in two different directions. The game is even kind enough to show visual warnings of incoming enemies, so you know when to turn around and fire in the opposite direction. The screen continues to scroll in one direction, though, so you are not able to travel backwards when you change the direction of your shots. Your familiars are also there for more than just show and assists with the shooting. On some of the modes and difficulty settings defeated enemies spew out additional bullets, which requires you to use your familiars as a shield.
Killing foes also cause them to drop jewelry, which must be collected for points and to activate the item counter system. The item counter can be powered up from as low as 100 items on some modes and boosts your firepower and score while making your character immune to physical damage from enemies. Bullets can still harm you and the counter will revert back to zero if you don’t keep collecting jewelry, which adds some extra strategic depth to the shooting. The game does not feature any power-ups, but you do encounter extra lives and bombs, which are useful.
The original arcade version of the game is definitely showing its age with its small viewing size and pixelated visuals, but the other modes still looks pretty good. As we mentioned earlier the gothic horror theme of the visuals also makes for a very unique looking shooter. While the levels feature typical themes such as forests, swamps and lava caves the backgrounds are crammed with enough detail to make them stand out from the pack. Like most arcade shooters there are only a couple of different levels, but you are free to choose the order in which you complete them. The game can be played in windowed or fullscreen mode and you even have a couple of different options for the borders. Deathsmiles runs very smoothly for the most part, but you will encounter instances of slowdown, which is almost the only way to stay alive during some of the most hectic parts on higher difficulty settings.
We didn’t encounter any issues with the controls, but for the best results we’d definitely recommend an Xbox 360 controller. It is especially useful when playing the 1.1 mode as the second analog stick is used to control your familiar. The game features a different button for shooting in each direction and tapping the button results in faster, but weaker bullets. Holding the fire button down increases your bullet power at the cost of your movement speed. Those with more than one controller, or who have friends who don’t mind using a keyboard, can also try out the frantic two player local cooperative feature. Sadly, the game does not include the online coop mode of the Xbox 360 version.
As far as the audio is concerned, the soundtrack is really good and we still kept it cranked up even after multiple playthroughs. Listening to the sound of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor while taking down a huge boss just never gets old. The game does not feature any speech for the cut-scenes or endings, but the sound effects are good. The Steam version of the game does support Steam Achievements, trading cards, cloud saving as well as leaderboards.
Most fans of the genre should be familiar with this game, either in the arcade or on console, but it is still awesome to see it make an appearance on the PC. We would have liked to see some more PC exclusive features to make up for the long wait, but it is still a pretty complete package for the asking price. Overall we had a blast with Deathsmiles, despite already playing it to death on the Xbox 360 and hopefully other CAVE classics, such as Espgaluda and DoDonPachi will make the jump to PC too.
- OS: Windows 7/8/8.1/10
- Processor: Intel Core i3 2GHz or higher
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000, Geforce 9500GT, Radeon HD 3650 or better
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- Storage: 3 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectSound-compatible sound card