Wanted: Dishwasher, ninja skills req.
The Dishwasher is the prodigal child of Microsoft's XNA suite, which allows just about anyone to make a game on their PC and lets people buy and play it on their XBOX 360. While The Dishwasher started out as one such XNA game, Microsoft has chosen to release this as a fully-fledged Live Arcade title, presumably to make people aware that this XNA stuff is actually worth your time, when done well. The good news is that they chose the right title to do this with.
The Dishwasher takes place in a weird, dystopic future-world where cyborgs and zombies rule the world. Or something. It's kind of hard to tell, because the story is conveyed in graphic novel form from the not-so clear perspective of the eponymous Dishwasher, who probably doesn't have all his dogs barking. I'm unsure whether this is supposed to be a jab at some recent, artsy games or if it's an attempt to be one of those games. Or perhaps it's neither. The story is really just the flimsiest excuse to hack, slash and throw your way through a bunch of stages filled with things that are in need of killing, be it by a cleaver, katana, dual scythes, a chainsaw or a pair of guns.
So it's a familiar setup to anyone who's played a hack 'n slash game over the last 5 years. Be warned, though, that this game is more Ninja Gaiden than God of War: it does not mess about. You will have to time your attacks, be mindful of incoming enemy attacks and dodge a lot. Random button mashing won't get you very far in this game. While punishing those who don't think, being methodical is more rewarding than being a god at fighting games. You don't necessarily need to know all the combos to succeed, as long as you know how not to get killed. As such, while there will be the occasional moment of frustration, patience and learning will usually see you through without too much trial and error.
Graphically, this game is kind of the antithesis of Behemoth's cheery, cartoony games. While it has the same kind of cartoony style, in place of vibrant colours there is a grimy quality to the graphics. Environments are dark and dreary, and not a little bit repetitive. If there's one major fault in the graphics, it's that the backgrounds are uninspired and repeat often. Animations are also a little light on the frames, but then, this game was made by a single person, so it's easy to forgive.
I also feel I have to mention the guitar peripheral support in the diswasher. In a few places, you will find a guitar set up with an amp, and you can play a killer solo to get a Psycho Pick, which is needed to upgrade your weapons. Because yeah, Dead Samurais love to rock out, duh. You can also just do this on the controller, of course. A second player can also pick up the guitar controller to help you out, but I'm unsure as to how this works as no one was on hand for me to try this with.
At any rate, once you're done with the story there are still 50 Arcade stages to tackle, which are a series of challenge rooms filled with enemies, occasionally with special properties. Sometimes enemies will move at half speed, or you'll do quadruple damage, or your health will drain and you have to kill to refill it, or only arial combos do damage. These stages are quite enjoyable as they are challenging, but rarely frustratingly so. As such they're brief, intense bouts of fighting that focus on your ability to effectively manage crowds under altered circumstances.
The Dishwasher is a pretty unique offering for Live Arcade. While there are a few other scrolling beat 'em ups on there, most of those are retro games, and few seek to emulate the sort of action found in 3D games like Ninja Gaiden. It's got a finely tuned difficulty curve and offers enough content to warrant its 800 points (10$) price tag. If you don't mind a challenge, the Diswasher will satisfy anyone craving for a bloody action game.