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We couldn't tell you exactly what happened during The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, but we do know that it was awesome every step of the way. From the very beginning, the story unfolds about as simply as the latter half of Metal Gear Solid 2, which is to say that it's a completely incomprehensible mess. “You blew up the Earth! Now you're on the Moon, but wait... you were dreaming! But you really are on the Moon. Now you're dreaming again; go kill that guy! Now he's dead, but it wasn't a dream! He's dead in both the dream world and the real world! This was your destiny.”
Vampire Smile prompted us to murmur “wait, what?” about every ten minutes for the entire game, but while it probably fails at delivering a well-constructed narrative tale, it never ceases to be vaguely awesome. And that's not even counting the combat. Once the swords start flying and the shotgun-arms start blasting, Vampire Smile is quite simply one of the slickest, smoothest 2D action games we've ever played.
Vampire Smile is what we call a one-trick-pony, though that phrase has picked up an unfair connotation over the years. Sometimes the pony does its one trick so well that it never bothers to learn another one. Such is the case with Vampire Smile. The combat is so fluid and fun that it would really be a shame if Ska Studios wasted our time with other types of gameplay (although there is a seriously fun Parappa the Rapper-style guitar minigame tucked away inside a couple levels).
You'll spend almost all of your time slicing and dicing enemies inside small, closed rooms and being too enamored by the guts and fun that you won’t care that you're fighting the same ten enemies over and over again. Or that the rooms are all essentially the same. If you want to switch things up then switch your weapon to one of the many different choices. The smooth-slicing katana was our favorite, but the Cloud Sword (which is a self-aware mock-up of the famous sword from Final Fantasy VII) and a giant hammer wrapped in barbed-wire came close. And of course, after a few levels you'll earn permanent secondary weapons like the chainsaw-arm, shotgun-arm, or machine gun-arm - plus a set of screen-clearing magic attacks with different effects.
All these are worthless on their own though. While on his/her feet the two heroes are sitting ducks, slow and plodding. But you're given a very cool warp maneuver that you can use endlessly. You can warp 40 times into the sky and complete entire battles without touching the ground. Far from just being cool, this ability is completely essential to beating the game's litany of awesome bosses.
When you get stuck on a boss (and you will) it's usually because the game is trying to teach you a new way of using that ability, or it's simply trying to tell you that you should be using it a hell of a lot more often. The pacing of the game is impeccable like that. It steadily gets more difficult so that you'll always be pushed to get better.
You should come for the combat but stay for the awesome style and creativity found everywhere in this game. The entire game looks like the cover of an AFI album. The rampant use of gray throughout gives it a unique look, but it also makes every area look the same. Plus, once the blood starts splashing as you execute a finishing move you're completely unable to see what's happening.
There's a ton of variety in enemy and boss designs, and even enemy behavior can be surprising. Every once in a while some types of enemies will actually run away and try to kill themselves to keep you from getting the bonuses that come from their deaths. The first time we saw an FBI-agent-esque enemy run away and put his pistol against his temple it was more than a little bit shocking.
There's plenty of this to go around, too. The game is suitably lengthy for a mere 800 MS point purchase ($9.99), plus there's a fun “arcade mode” where you are placed in a room and given a short challenge. These can be as simple as surviving for one minute, or they can be elaborate and change the rules of the game (e.g. drastically increasing both the damage you take and the damage you deal) forcing you to adapt to new circumstances. Not to mention there's full support for both local and online cooperative play.
All the negative aspects that you could hold against Vampire Smile are tiny infractions compared to the game's huge, soaring successes. The end result is one of the finest games available on Xbox Live Arcade, and a fantastic value for 2D slasher fans.
Apr 18, 2011