|Manic 2D horizontal shooter by Cave done in a sort of Halloween style with cute little underage witches and assorted purple-bullet-spewing monsters. You fly through the stages from left to right, and can shoot either left or right simply by pushing the left or right fire button. The colors are very lush in a dark purpley orange way, with colorful bullets and explosions going on constantly. Some of the sprites appear to be pre-rendered CG stuff, which I'd hoped we'd seen the last of in oh the late 90's or so, but otherwise the game looks pretty nice, if you can withstand the bizarre appearance of some of the boss creatures, which include such things as a giant diseased cow, and a giant screaming head strapped to the ground. The music is dark driving stuff with organ and piano, and of course the electric guitar the Japanese seem to love so much in their action games.|
This being a Cave production, there are of course numerous complications in the scoring mechanism. You don't have to "chain" kills of enemies together, thankfully, but there is something to do with weakening enemies with your regular shot, then finishing them with your alternate sort-of-homing shot, which is supposed to cause them to yield more point-rewarding gems. This is difficult to do because the alternate shot is slow and of limited range, and it takes a while to get the hang of how many shots a given enemy can take.
You don't want to use alternate shot before they're almost dead, because it decreases a counter that builds as you collect gems. Once the counter reaches 1000, the max, you can activate a powered-up mode by pressing both fire buttons together. In this mode, which lasts until the now-decreasing counter reaches zero, or until you take a hit, your shots are larger and more powerful, and enemies drop many more gems than usual. Furthermore, there's something to do with a hidden gem value that can go over 1000, which gives you a contant bonus on each enemy you kill.
The stages are lovely and fairly standard Cave length, which is rather short. You can pick the order in which you play some of them, and the difficulty at which you want to face each one (except for the last), which determines how many points you can score: the harder the difficulty you undertake, the more points you can earn, if you survive.
I'm not sure I like this emphasis on score so determining progression through the game, because I don't tend to enjoy playing shooters for score: I just like to blow things up. Left to myself, then, it is hard to resist simply playing each stage on easy difficulty, right up to the last one, where I get trashed in short order. I suppose that would get old soon, and maybe I'd start trying harder difficulties per stage just to give myself more of a challenge, but since you have to play through them eventually anyway, why not just have the game send you through them itself and save you the agony of picking.
The bosses, at least before the last stage (and there's an optional very hard stage right before the last stage, too), die relatively quickly for a Cave shooter, and are--relative to other Cave shooters--not all that nasty in their bullet patterns. The real challenge seems to come in the middle of stages, where on higher difficulties, thick clusters of clusters of bullets coming from both sides (you get a warning before enemies approach from the rear (left), so the game is at least very fair in that respect) can catch you in a fatal trap before you realize it. Even so, scuttlebutt I hear from those who listen to the hardcore is that this is one of the easier Cave shooters.
I like the look, the bizarre style, and the lovely blowing up of things. I think it's a little less linear than I would prefer, and I try to ignore all the scoring gimmickery as much as possible. It's nice that the bosses aren't ridiculously more dangerous than everything else, and overall for a rather casual shooter player such as myself, DeathSmiles is a rather pleasant outing.