One of my many failings is that I am a complete sucker for bargains. Excuse me, that’s not quite correct. I am a sucker for a perceived bargain. I might never use that discount deep fryer currently available at Big Lots, but you better believe it’s going to start living in one of my kitchen cabinets because OMG it’s 50% off the MSRP. This thinking, of course, applies to a number of videogames, and accounts for why my inventory plumps up faster than a Crossfit dropout every Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I know it’s a collection of games I already own with the tiniest of extra features added, but it’s only ten bucks! Score!
This thinking, naturally, applies to Limited & Special Editions. I spend a lot of time at videogame stores, and I have a tendency to note exactly when a Limited Edition inevitably drops from its usual $80 price point down to $40, and then again to $20. That’s right about when I leap on the poor, forgotten game like a rabid dog, and I’ve got the Tron Lightcycle and Metal Gear Glowy Arm Thingy to prove it. And I can safely say that there are a number of videogames in my collection that saw less use than their accompanying art books. And here’s a fun fact: it takes me about five minutes to “read” an art book. Hey, at least having something to leave on the coffee table is more than Primal Rage ever gave me.
This brings us to Deathsmiles, our game of the day. Deathsmiles is an Xbox 360 title that… Let’s be blunt here: I found the game revolting at its release. The Deathsmiles Special Edition lived at the counter of my local videogame shop for what felt like years, and every time I went in the store, there it was, staring back at me. Lolis smiling back at me. Ugh. Pretty much everything about the Deathsmiles packaging was vaguely disturbing. Here are a group of young teenage girls in gothic Lolita fashion, and they’ve got that damn loli expression that is somewhere between “vacuous doll” and “maybe possessed by Satan”. The rear of the box featured, appropriately enough, the cast facing away from the camera in a manner so that the main character miiiiight just be flashing some unmentionables if the angle were just a little lower. And the special edition boasted of a unique Xbox 360 plate, so you could weld these creatures to your home console, and then have their cold, dead eyes staring back at you every time you played Bioshock. Deathsmiles appeared to be the worst kind of pandering to a community for which I have nothing but contempt (I actually kind of like gothic Lolita fashion, but the whole “women as fragile dolls” thing bothers me. And that’s before we get into the vague pedophilia angle…), and ire was good and riled every time I had to see that damn box.
Then it dropped down to $20. So I bought it.
Hey, it’s not like I had to put the loli faceplate on my Xbox.
And you know what? Of all the marked down special editions I’ve bought over the years, I probably regret Deathsmiles the least.
Deathsmiles is an arcade style shoot ‘em up. There are seven or so stages, giant bosses, and a parade of bullets to dodge. Deathsmiles differs from the Gradius mold in that there are not a long string of powerups to immediately lose upon death, so, combined with the console concession of “infinite credits”, Deathsmiles is pretty easy. It’s still difficult to achieve that all important high score, but this isn’t an R-Type situation where you’re never getting past the first level. Hell, there are even instant respawns, so I’m pretty sure you could finish this game without actually trying. Stand there and shoot, I’m sure you’ll eventually dust off that evil plant thingamabob.
But you know one thing this game doesn’t feature? Lolis.
Okay, that’s kind of a lie. The Lolis of the Corn from the box are the playable characters of Deathsmiles. And, after every stage, there is this quick flash of multiple images of those characters, complete with what appears to be one (fairly chaste) image of a girl taking a bubble bath. But that’s it! Even though a loli is on the screen at all times (she’s kind of your “ship”), this is not the typical fanservice game that revels in pantyshots or seeing the characters trip into increasingly tentacle-based situations. When you get down to the actual “game” of Deathsmiles you’ve got an experience that is less pander-y than even the Gradius successor.
What’s more, Deathsmiles mostly tosses the “Lolita” and keeps the “Gothic”. The huge bosses (and a healthy amount of the supporting monsters) all possess a creepy, otherworldly vibe. This is a shoot ‘em up, which means it’s in a genre that that hasn’t needed graphics more advanced than its 16-bit brethren, but the processing power of the HD era is used to great effect here to paint some… generally unsettling pictures. A giant head shooting fireballs from the floor is nothing new in the world of videogames, but it takes on a different feel when the horrid creature has photorealistic movements juxtaposed against a magical graveyard background. And, let’s be honest, there are a lot of expectations when you name your final boss “Tyrannosatan”, but I think the Deathsmiles art team pulled that one off with aplomb. Frankly, it seems almost crazy to say this, but the Castlevania series could learn a lot about “spooky” environments and monsters from Deathsmiles.
So I might be a sucker for a bargain, but sometimes it works out. Don’t judge a game by its cover ‘n all that riot, and learn to stop worrying and tolerate the lolis.
Article over. Enjoy your morals.
FGC #214 Deathsmiles
- System: Xbox 360, Arcade, and I think there are a few PC versions, too.
- Number of players: Assuming you can admit to another human being that you own this game, there is a two player mode.
- Tell me a story: Oh yeah, there is an actual plot to this game. Random teenage girls got teleported to a magical, semi-medieval wonderland where every damn thing is trying to kill them all the time, so they became witches that vaporize bitches. There’s also another witch girl that wound up in the Deathsmiles universe because of a car accident, and her father has decided to go completely insane. He’s apparently responsible for summoning all the monsters because he thinks it’s the way home, but it turns out he’s only summoning Tyrannosatan instead. Dad gets devoured, everyone else gets to become friends. I think that was the plot of a My Little Pony episode.
- What’s in a name? Evil Dad is named… Jitterbug.
- Favorite Character: I don’t know. The red one?
- Favorite boss: Mary. Mary is a giant cow. She apparently has some kind of magical, telekinetic abilities, but, by and large, she’s just a continually running cow. My mother once tried to become a vegetarian, but grew vengeful when she was bitten by a cow at a petting zoo, so I approve of any time I get to fight back against the bovine menace.
- Did you know? There are apparently three “drama CDs” available in Japan that expand the story of Deathsmiles. Look, I’m a guy that enjoys fighting game story modes, and even I think that’s a bit excessive for a shoot ‘em up that involves a guy named Jitterbug.
- Would I play again: Shoot ‘em ups go down easy, so this one is a definite maybe. The only hang-up is that I rarely look to my 360 for a shoot ‘em up experience. Maybe if I install the Steam version on some laptop…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction! Rawr! Hulk is the strongest one there is! Please look forward to Hulk!
What a magnificent cow.