Sequel to the 2009 game The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai , the latest beat ‘em up from Ska Studios is a frenetic, hyper-violent title loaded with enough emo nuances to make the Care Bears start slitting their furry little wrists. Vampire Smile continues the story of the first game but offers a diverging plotline depending on which character you choose: either The Dishwasher or his stepsister Yuki. There are numerous references to the previous game’s storyline, but even if you haven’t played that one you will pick up the gist of what’s happening as you progress. Suffice it to say, the storyline reeks of anime angst and vengeful rampages, but that makes for some pretty awesome gameplay. Plus there’s a cat with bat wings so that’s got to count for something, right?

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As far as beat ‘em ups go, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile features tight controls and super-fast gameplay. Combos are straightforward and are primarily made up of X and Y button strings. There are numerous passive power-ups to collect that can be assigned to five slots in your inventory, and throughout the game you’ll be given a steady trickle of magic attacks and new weaponry. At first glance the action on screen might appear overwhelming with its frantic camera zooms, spurts of blood and flashing imagery, but after you’ve traversed a few stages you’ll find yourself reaching some weird, Zen-like existence with the chaos playing out before you. You’ll soon be stringing 100-hit combos and juggling corpses as if it’s second nature, and I think that is one of the major plus points of the game. Ska Studios has managed to translate hyper-kinetic, frenzied action into something entirely controllable and undeniably accessible.

There’s a lot to praise in The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. The most obvious place to start would be the game’s stylised aesthetics which are enough to induce ocular orgasms. The eclectic array of enemies will keep you on your toes as each requires a specific tactic if you hope to slash them to a bloody mush as fast as possible. Boss battles are frequently tough but not impossible. One particular fight against a character called The Invalid practically made the game for me.

Still, there are some misgivings here and there. The main gripe I found with the game was the frequent difficulty spikes that seemed to plague some of the levels and boss encounters. Furthermore, the majority of boss battles all require the same tactic: dodge, dodge, hack for a bit, dodge, dodge, mash the B button when prompted; repeat until bad guy dissipates into a fine red mist. While some of the boss battle encounters feel rewarding, others come across as cheap and overly difficulty in order to slow your rapid progress through the storyline. Additionally, while you can switch between four weapons on the fly, they all feel rather similar and more like purely aesthetic changes. Still, it’s great that each character has their own set of swords and guns, and some of them are deliciously outlandish and violent.

Considering the game costs 800 MS points, there’s a huge amount on offer here. You have two single-player campaigns (each will take you about four hours to complete) even though they overlap in locations and enemies. There’s also local and online multiplayer as well as an arcade mode, challenge mode and speed run mode. To top it off, extensive online leaderboards allow you to track your progress against your friends and the rest of the world. It’s a thoroughly meaty offering and entirely worth the 800 MS Points.

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