By: Justin Hobley
Shoot ‘em up fans, rejoice! Degica and CAVE are back with another bullet hell release on Steam. This time, we have Deathsmiles, a horizontal scrolling, hellishly themed story pitting five Angels against the worst that Hell can throw at them. This beautiful release has Steam achievements, Trading Cards, Steam Cloud support, and the full OST available for download. Grab your familiar, and let’s dive in!
Deathsmiles proves its out-of-the-box readiness with friendly, on-screen references for mapped buttons, an easy-to-use menu to map things where players need it. One of the perks afforded by this port is the addition of the Targeting Magic button.
While on an arcade setup, holding the left and right firing buttons is easier due to the hand neutral position of the buttons — it becomes tiring in extended engagements to hold the “A” and “B” buttons together with one finger on an Xbox 360 controller. The addition of a single button that activates that same feature was most welcome in later gameplay portions.
My only gripe with the controls is present in the 1.1 and Mega Black Label editions, which is the movement of one’s familiar. I found that my familiar jumped across the screen faster than desired, making it feel somewhat pointless to manually control it unless I needed the excessively fine-grained control that happened with the Angel I selected.
The wallpaper that comes with Deathsmiles is gorgeous and high resolution, ready to grace any large, widescreen display, and the main menu is also gorgeous to look at. For the three play modes, the Arcade variant faithfully replicates the visual experience one would have playing on the original hardware.
On high resolution displays, this presents an issue when using the sizing options in conjunction to fill the display. The graphics were very blocky and less than pleasing to the eyes. Turning on smoothing left everything blurry and distracting when playing.
The 1.1 and Mega Black Label modes did not suffer a similar fate, as the graphics were properly upscaled to accommodate higher resolution displays. Even with the sizing feature in the menu to help with filling a 1080p display, the distortion and blockiness are significantly less apparent. Turning on the smoothing filters still netted a pleasant experience.
In all modes, the easy visibility of the hitbox stands out, reminding players that as long as there isn’t a shot to the heart, it won’t hurt you. The color choice for the heart also offers contrast in the sea of purple, making it much easier to track.
The music is very fitting with the theme that Deathsmiles presents, with a deep, driving auditory experience. Sound effects were fairly standard, with the seemingly typical blips and chimes of picking up floating items and blowing up demonic mutations.
Deathsmiles, having its start in the arcade, is a fairly short playthrough comprised of six main stages that can be tackled in a semi-randomized order, an optional bonus stage and the final Boss stage, with a three-point difficulty selector that appears before each selection made on the map.
Players will first select an Angel, one of the adorable young ladies tasked with protecting the land of Gilverado from the impending demonic invasion, before being sent off to battle. In Arcade and 1.1 modes, there are four Angels to choose from, with four firing styles and different familiars:
The young Windia in command of the Wind Blade, paired with her familiar, Hoo, the white owl and in command of Wind magic; the fire-aligned Follett in command of the Tome of Judgment and Staff of Justice, paired with the equally toasty Bobo the baby dragon; Casper and the petit evil Kiki direct the Haunted Scissors and wield powerful Death magic; the eldest, Rosa, takes to the task wielding Spirit magic and her Rose whip, assisted by her spirit familiar, Tee-Tee, a flower nymph.
In Mega Black Label mode, these four girls are accompanied by Sakura the magician as a playable character. Her story is revealed and explained in the other modes through the relatively sparse story that is told as you select the other four girls.
Playing is fairly direct once an Angel is selected. Using your selected Angel’s abilities, players will be put to the test, dodging bullets and collecting the jewels and skulls that slaughtering hellspawn brings. Each of them play differently, with variations on how they fire, and the secondary firing that their familiars offer, so each level plays differently based on that choice.
Deathsmiles is one of those games that you can pick up, play through quickly, and put down while still enjoying every second of inching around and dodging bullets. The release on Steam gives those of us who live and die by our desktops and laptops the chance to enjoy the curtain firing barrage from the convenience of our PCs. It’s well worth the cash and time. Enjoy!