Why we are not perverts for liking DeathSmiles

Gothic Lolitas in lacy outfits face bullet hell in Aksys Games’ Deathsmiles. From what we’ve seen so far, the 360 port of the Japanese arcade shoot ‘em up (or shmup), features gorgeous levels and thick waves of bullets to needle your way through as you pilot your fashionable princess past bosses and enemies. But really, it’s the game’s sexualized Gothic Lolita girls – not the actual game or its gameplay – that seems to be getting all the attention recently.

From left to right: The bookish one, the innocent princess, the tough girl, and the flirty seductress. Looks like the all the sub-fetishes are covered

This is a bit of a shame, but isn’t surprising. Despite the complete lack of adult content, the game’s promotional art is full of sexually charged images, like the box art on the right, which shows the main characters cuddling with each other on a bed of roses. Fortunately, once we made our way past the knee-high boots and frilly skirts that dominate the menu screens, we found a straightforward, yet solid, shooter that should satisfy shmup fans, regardless of whether or not they're into DeathSmiles Gothic Lolita gimmick.

You’ll be able to switch between shooting to the left and right sides of the screen as enemies assault you from angles. You’ll also get extra points for grabbing items from fallen enemies, which boost your score multiplier – and the usual “bombs” that clear the screen whenever you find yourself in a tight spot. In this sense, DeathSmiles is a fairly conventional shooter. But the game’s real attraction is its lush background art and bizarre bosses.

Above: Saying that DeathSmiles is just a game about sexualized little girls is like saying that Lolita was just a movie about a pedophile

Above: This creepy boss reminds us of something you'd see in Altered Beast

Expect to fly past everything from colorful Victorian cities, to gloomy graveyards and ballroom dances. One of the game’s more unique bosses takes the form of a hideous face that emerges from a mountainside to spit rocks. Another boss battle finds you struggling to keep a raging bull at bay as it chases after you.

After playing through a recently released preview build, we found it a little disappointing that a horizontal scrolling game like this doesn’t take full advantage of a widescreen monitor. Instead, it pads the left and right hand sides of your screen with background art.

Above: You only take damage if a bullet or enemy hits the heart at the center of your character’s sprite, which means that you’ve got more room to play with

Even though you can choose your own route through the game, the singleplayer modestill seemed a bit short. But we expect that the online leader boards will add a lot of replay value to the otherwise short, but sweet, shooter. Even casual shooter fans should be able to blast through the singleplayer story mode with few continues, but if you crank up the difficulty level to boost your score, the game will smother you with thick swarms of enemies and bullets - and it’s these sorts of impossible situations that call for pinpoint precision that hardcore shmup fans will really love, and they’ll be rewarded for surviving these scenarios with lots of extra points to help them climb the leaderboard.

Here’s to hoping that DeathSmiles will join Geometry Wars and Ikaruga on our list of games that we’ll keep on playing long after we’ve beaten it just to improve our rankings on Xbox LIVE. DeathSmiles is already out in Japan, but it’ll be available for the 360 in North America on June 29.

May 7, 2010