Thursday, June 13, 2019

Deathsmiles II X (Xbox 360)

Horizontal
Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
7 Stages
Ship speed selectable at start
- - - - - - -
Developed by Cave
Published by Cave in 2010


Truth be told, even though the Dodonpachi franchise seems to have been squeezed to the point of exhaustion, Cave was never a company to repeat itself from one game to the next. From the groundbreaking gameplay of Guwange to the unique ambience of Dangun Feveron, Cave was always bold enough to try new things. One of their last arcade forays into bullet hell territory, for example, was the remarkably polarizing Deathsmiles II, a sequel that drew lots of criticism from the get go due to the departure from sprite-based art to polygons as well as the game's housing in PC-based hardware instead of regular arcade boards.

I couldn't care less about the latter since I'll probably never venture into the world of arcade boards. The new design with polygons is a debatable part of the package, and my only real gripe with it would be if Cave had kept in this console release the inability to skip those dreadful cut scenes prior to boss fights. Fortunately there's a reason why the Xbox 360 version is called Deathsmiles II X instead of just Deathsmiles II. This enhanced port, which conveniently appears as "Deathsmiles II X mode" in the main menu, not only allows you to get rid of the cut scenes but also revamps the arcade game completely in glorious HD resolution while adding many gameplay improvements, thus making the original arcade iteration obsolete at the eyes of many (myself included).

The arcade version is, of course, also included in the disc. It just didn't receive any special makeover and originally had some bugs that can be corrected with a patch. Unless you're a diehard fan of arcade games in their natural form you should go directly to X mode since it's just so much more accomplished in terms of the usual intensity we all love about Cave titles. Arcade Deathsmiles II is simpler, has less rings/gems, less stages, less characters (Follett and Rosa are exclusive to X mode) and lacks the famous rank selection at the start of the level that was one of the most distinct trademarks of Deathsmiles. In essence, X mode is the definitive version of the sequel and that's the one I'm gonna write about for the rest of this blog post.

Windia against evil chess pawns in the final level

Christmas is the general setting this time around. The story involves a villain named Satan Claws who raids the castle where the heroines live and steals some magic music notes while injuring their father figure. And out they go get them notes back in order to heal him. Two new characters join the battle: a little girl named Supe, who's 7 years old, and a boy named Lei, who's 12. The visual catch (or outrage, as some might put it), is that Lei dresses as a girl. I read somewhere that there's a sensible reason for his unusual attire, but if you can't decipher Japanese you'll probably be kept thinking the Japanese are becoming weirder and weirder with their loli-based games. Fun fact 1: Lei and Supe are brother and sister. Fun fact 2: Supe's familiar is none other than a miniature of Tyrannosatan, one of the final bosses of the first Deathsmiles.

Once the game starts you'll notice that Cave preserved the same exact inputs for the sequel. Two buttons (A and B) shoot left and right (laser – when held makes the character fly slower), another two provide rapid shot left and right (shot) and a further one can be used to execute the lock shot (A + B). There's also a bomb for panic functions. Important: this time the lock shot also targets enemies that lurk in the background. As you shoot back and forth you'll notice that your familiar – the little creature that flies with you and provides additional firepower – freezes in place or moves around when you're using laser or shot (a situation that's reversed depending on the character). Familiars are important not only because their able to block some shots, but also because they can be used to influence the scoring system, the aspect that represents the biggest departure from the original Deathsmiles.

Now that's where things get a little complicated.

Two number displays appear on the bottom of the screen. The upper one is the counter, which goes up to 1.000. The lower one is the multiplier, which goes up to 10.000. To increase the counter you should collect smaller red rings, which are released by hitting/killing enemies with shot. The multiplier is increased by getting light blue rings from hitting/killing enemies with laser (even more with the familiar's firepower while lasering), and also by red rings if the counter is already maxed out. A proximity effect is in place, which means the closer you are to an enemy when hitting it the more rings you'll spawn for collection. Once the counter reaches 1.000 sperm-like suicide bullets appear when enemies are killed with shot. These bullets can be normally blocked by the familiar.

Having the counter at 1.000 gives you the ability to activate power-up/fever mode. All you have to do is use lock shot (don't use it if you want to build up the multipler first!). All bullets are instantly turned into rings and the counter starts decreasing. Enemies can't harm you when in fever mode, and two kinds of projectiles might emerge and follow you around. The first kind are the blue suicide missiles spawned from destroyed enemies; every time you press lock shot these missiles and their trailing lines are turned into a shower of rings (light blue if multiplier is not at 10.000, dark blue if it's maxed out at 10.000). The second kind are the bigger unblockable sperm-like suicide bullets, which emerge whenever you hold lock shot for a few seconds; they turn into even more blue rings when you let go of the lock shot button. Note that regardless of where you stand the lock shot is only effective as long as that circular aura around the character doesn't close at the top, a resource that must be constantly refilled by continuously collecting more rings.

If the counter gets to zero the multiplier is instantly reset and power-up mode ends. Then you'll have to build up those numbers again for another fever round. However, whenever fever mode is about to end you can generate another big shower of blue rings to immediately max out the counter, thus allowing you to instantly reignite fever mode with a decent boost on the multiplier. The trick is to reflect a bunch of missiles/suicide bullets with lock shot when the counter is about to reach zero, an action that can be executed lots of times within a single stage. Finding the best places to trigger lock shot and squeeze the most out of suicide missiles/bullets is the ultimate goal for high score players. Just remember that getting hit or bombing takes you out of power-up mode while eating away good chunks of your counter/multiplier.

Official trailer for the Xbox 360 release of Deathsmiles II X
(courtesy of YouTube user otakuxgamer)

Does the scoring system sound overly complex and convoluted? At first sight, yes. In spite of that, once you get the hang of it the game acquires a whole new level of fun that makes it hard to put down. As for the aesthetical appreciation, Deathsmiles II X is by all means a worthy sucessor to the first game. The music is great and every level comes with a very specific enemy gallery that reflects the current theme. I do believe the visuals are in general a tiny bit darker and more macabre in the sequel. Bosses remain large, menacing and visually impressive. Tamecos, the skinny old man, is quite a sight when you see him for the first time, and Tartaros seems to have come straight out of something like Mushihimesama. Only Mad Teddy & Mad Bunny are kinda silly as the bosses of the extra stage, but then again with the exception of the boss the whole level is a bit of a letdown in terms of challenge.

Speaking of diffficulty, Deathsmiles II X is easier than Deathsmiles thanks to the more linear design, the many bullet cancelling resources available and the copious slowdown that comes with it. Even when going for full level 3 rank selection the game does not sting that hard. Satan Claws surely is the toughest boss in the game, but you can also pursue a last fight against true last boss Pidgeon Blood Jitterbug. To earn the honor of facing him you need to go through the extra stage (thus playing all seven levels), beat every boss by using lock shot (it must be the final attack on the boss) and also pick up the large cake released by Satan Claws when he dies. If possible, try matching a boss kill lock shot with the activation of power-up mode. Since counter/multiplier values get transported to the next stage you'll then start it in full throttle to rack up a whole lot of points.

Score-based extends come with 20 million and 1 billion points, and you can also get extra bombs or refill lost health/lives by taking the small/large cakes. The problem with these items is that their spawning routine is a mystery that I wasn't able to solve this time around. Sometimes you get them at determined spots in the level, but most times you don't.

Besides X and Arcade, the disc also includes an Arrange mode that allows the player to throw familiars around so that they lock on to enemies while swallowing bullets (power-up mode is activated automatically once the counter reaches 1.000, multiplier increases with no limit). Extra Mode (a.k.a. Tukaima Race) is just a maze game where you play against the clock with the familiar gallery in scenes taken from the first Deathsmiles. There's a series of adjustments you can apply to the game as a whole, but each mode also allows specific tweaks as well. The ability to record/watch your replays and to download other players' runs from the online leaderboards complete the assortment of useful resources (protip: download one of the highest scoring runs with your character of choice and watch it to get a faster grasp of the whole gameplay).

The difference between the regular and limited editions of Deathsmiles II X is the soundtrack CD that's included in the latter. Unfortunately the game is region-locked to Japan, but at least it saw a digital release in the West through the Games on Demand service. I scored the 1CC result below on X mode with Follett, playing all stages at rank level 3 and beating the TLB. Sadly this is yet another one of those ports where you're not allowed to input your initials in the high score screen. Bummer!


1 comment:

  1. Nice score!

    I've had this sitting on my 360 for some time, waiting for me to clear the other Cave games in my queue. After reading your succinct rundown of the scoring system, I wanted to give it a try while that was still fresh in my head. And I got the all-clear by accident, on my very first attempt.

    Admittedly it was only rank 2 and I didn't play the extra stage (plus I've cleared both versions of the original Deathsmiles, so the gameplay is very familiar), but jeez, I've been practicing Mushi-F for at least 50 hours and STILL haven't beaten that.

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