The Shump masters have returned
There is a reason CAVE is considered masters of shumps. The DonPachi series is considered one of the most well respected series for this genre and Mushihime-Sama Futari has, what is considered, the most difficult final boss and single loop run. Before, Muchi-Muchi Pork was considered the best game for newcomers to shumps and CAVE games. That was until DeathSmiles came out in 2007. The game was a horizontal shooter, similar to Progear No Arashi, in which players take control of one of four angels and stop a demon invasion in Gilverado. The game was well known for its unique visual style, gothic theme, scoring system, and accessibility to new players. Two years later, Deathsmiles II was unleashed on arcades and represented a new approach for CAVE by swapping out 2D graphics for full-on 3D visuals. The game is now available via Games on Demand in its original state when it was released on disc back in Japan.
The game switches up the Halloween theme for a Christmas one, which is a welcome change. The story, from what can be understood, is that Satan Claws has taken these golden notes from Count Dior to get revenge from a previous battle. The angels then go in pursuit to get the notes back and send Satan Claws back to the hell he belongs to. Very minimal setup, but this is great. What might get some players is that the angels are all young teenagers and may feel uncomfortable playing them. All the dialogue and voiceover are all in Japanese, but isn't that hard to pick up.
Once past that, the game is one hell of a ride. This plays the same as the first game, so crazy enemies and screen filling bullet-patterns are here. However, the game still retains the pick up and play approach that the series is known for. There are two types of shots, left or right, which have a different pattern if the button is held down or rapid pressing. On top of that, there's a lock-on attack, when both attack buttons are held down, where the angels familiar targets enemies on and off the screen. Each angel had a different familiar and shot style. There's a good sense of variety between the angels and play style to try and 1CC the game.
When enemies are defeated, they drop items (kind of look like rings) and are picked up and increase the item counter. One counts to 1000, which lets the player enter 'fever' mode, by pressing both attack buttons, and a number underneath going to 10000 which represents a score multiplier. When 'fever' mode is activated enemies release suicide bullets when defeated and more items are dropped as well. The scoring system is simple to grasp, but has a lot of depth and complexity to achieve higher scores.
There are multiple modes available here. Deathsmiles IIX mode is an updated version of the arcade game, redesigned for the 360. The game is presented in 16:9 and the bullet patterns are modified to work for this mode. There are two extra stages added and cutscenes before boss fights for each stage. Arrange mode has a modified scoring system and mechanics. The familiar can be sent out and collets bullets that turn them into items to add to the counter. After the counter hits 1000, fever mode is activated and all the bullets are slowed down. When the familiar is sent out, the counter starts to count down, but can be refilled. This is a little tricky to grasp, but with practice can be kept going for a whole level and insane score count. This is my favourite mode in the game, and is probably the reason I'll be playing this again.
While the jump to 3D is an interesting change, this isn't for the best. This is CAVE's first attempt and it shows. The game looks as if this belongs on the original Xbox because of low polygon counts on the characters and detail of the environments. Even though Deathsmiles IIX mode and arrange mode are in true widescreen and have updated graphics from the arcade mode, this still doesn't help the presentation. The art style is pretty cool, and would have been better if more effort was put into this area.
Deathsmiles IIX is easily one of the better shumps available on the 360. The game retains the pick up and play approach as the first Deathsmiles and insane action. Compared to spending 80 dollars for the game and buying a Japanese system to play it on, the 30 dollar asking price is reasonable. With this launch of Japanese Imports on Games on Demand, hopefully this will lead to more games for the service. Just remember one thing, if this game is played with friends, they may have a different outlook of you if there's a smile on your face.