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The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile

Arriving on the moon, selecting one of two characters, it’s time to end this once and for all, bringing down the men responsible for Earth’s demise in a hail of bullets and steel.

The blood and gore is over the top. Carmine reds spray from every cut and slash, as swords pierce organs and rib cages are split apart by four foot hypodermic needles. Heads are lopped from their bodies or smashed like watermelons under a sledgehammer; and in a moment of brilliance an enemy took his own life after seeing his colleague being torn limb from limb before him. It’s an old samurai movie, coloured in with charcoal and smeared with the blood of a thousand men, but this time you’re in control of the action.

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Between the beheadings and disembowelments a number of gaming legends are referenced. Faced with doors shielded by electric force fields you discover a new weapon – a sword called Cloud. A blade dedicated in name and appearance to another franchise, it’s a cheeky addition that’ll bring a wry smile to even the most stone-hearted of gamers. One scene is reminiscent of a classic lift sequence from a 16-bit legend of the genre and there’s more to find, from the mainstream to the most subtle of dedications, but these are surprises best left for the player to discover themselves.

A 2D beat’em-up in spirit, the combination of an extensive moves list, dashing, air-juggling and finishers creates a tight fighting system. Button-mashing will only get you so far and experienced players will reap rewards by keeping their cool, unleashing a lucid rain of attacks. Leaping into the air, snatching at a flying robot and launching it into the ground before slashing the jugular of a mercenary feels satisfying. It’s hard not to revel in the ballet of gore before you. There are four weapons per character that can be quickly switched in-game, with varying strengths and weaknesses to each blade/cleaver/hammer. Special powers can be unleashed to a devastating and gory effect as the body count increases.

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Finding the right combination of weapons and switching between them frequently will mix up attack methods and keep foes at bay. A machine gun helps to slow down approaching forces whilst planning your attack, providing a moment to analyse the situation and see who presents the biggest threat, taking them down as priority. Grapple your opponent and you can launch them into the air, creating a devastating range of airborne combos before slamming them face first into the nearest hard surface.

Outside of the main storyline, you can take the weapons and abilities you’ve unlocked into co-op play and vice versa. Arcade Mode is a long list of short challenges to test your resolve and vim, with varying ‘modifiers’ (lowering health, only damage in air etc) affecting play. Wading through the campaign with a friend, online or local, sends the fun-factor flying up into the air like a decapitated head. Vampire Smile truly shines in co-op.

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Vampire Smile feels tight and accomplished with its responsive fighting mechanics. While difficult, it’s a rewarding challenge that never punishes you too hard for failure. As an enemy approaches demise a small icon will flash below them, blue sparks firing from their body, indicating that it’s time to ring their death knell and finish them for good. The fatalities change varying on the weapon of choice, location of hit and type of enemy. It’s rare to see the same kill repeated in succession, but then it can hard to see anything under the fountains of crimson.

With so much blood, guts and entrails, it’s easy to quickly become desensitised to the massacre. And once you’re full up on viscera, eyes bulging from bloody overindulgence, the only pain that remains is in your thumb from hammering the buttons. Vampire Smile is so manic that it can become repetitive. The depth and enjoyment then comes from variation in creatures to destroy and landscapes to navigate.

The bosses throughout – which there are many – are a mix of the wild and insane. Delivered to help break the tempo, their name and title is stylishly splashed across the screen. Nightmares come alive and leap into the world, corporate leaders wait in boardrooms and giant mechanical constructions built from bone try to crush you as you hunt the men responsible for your planet’s enslavement.

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The vast majority of bosses were defeated by the same method, as attempting anything more diverse would often result in death. And it was annoying to be interrupted by the introduction to a boss every time I restarted. I know its name; I know it’s bloody hard – just let me back at it for another try. Additionally, the same boss could vary in difficulty in what appeared a random manner. Some attempts would be met with a barrage of attacks and the rapid depletion of your health. Then the boss would become a lot easier, leaving open gaps in its attacks or not spawning as many helpers.

Once you dig deeper through the cadavers there are other small oversights with the design. As you travel from the start of this adventure to the top of the tower, backgrounds varying slightly with some nice effects (particularly the water), the level structure rarely changes. Dark doorways join rooms and corridors, with everything feeling squared off. Some enemy attacks are unbalanced, a huge chunk of health being lost from a single blow, with no indication as to how powerful an attack is before it hits. And if you quit the game you’ll restart back at the beginning of the level, with the checkpoints during the stage not saving.

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When using the shopping store it wasn’t clear at first that you could scroll down to more weapons, health and magic power-ups. There is no arrow indication and it was by chance from scrolling to the bottom of the list that additional products became visible for purchase. Beads are hidden away in present boxes, providing the player with additional benefits, but in the midst of combat it’s hard to tell what benefits are being provided. A visual indication of beads working would have helped to measure their effectiveness. To expand the RPG elements further, having additional points following a boss battle to power-up your favourite beads would have been a nice addition.

Vampire Smile’s faults are hereditary of the genre. The combat and level design can become repetitive during long sessions and its difficulty may put some people off. But when it plays so well, looks unique, is filled with zest and the fun doubles in co-op, it’s ultimately a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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