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Deathsmiles II X (Xbox 360) artwork

Deathsmiles II X (Xbox 360) review

"Released on the Xbox 360 as a retail title in Japan, it did not meet the same fate elsewhere, dooming it, like so many standalone shoot-em-ups these days, as an NTSC J exclusive. However, the Cave-developed horizontal shooter still managed to find an outlet in the most interesting of places: Xbox Live's Games on Demand US service."

Deathsmiles II X is a title that has always piqued my curiosity, but more for its unusual predicament as a product than the actual game itself. Released on the Xbox 360 as a retail title in Japan, it did not meet the same fate elsewhere, dooming it, like so many standalone shoot-em-ups these days, as an NTSC J exclusive. However, the Cave-developed horizontal shooter still managed to find an outlet in the most interesting of places: Xbox Live's Games on Demand US service. Here, players are able to download this title easily without the hassle of importing the region-locked Japanese disc. But my curiosity stopped at the purchase option, though not due to its $30 (or 2400 points) tag; for me, the concern was what that $30 entailed. Having played the original Deathsmiles, I enjoyed the experience, what with its trademark bullet hell template by Cave and the... "interesting" scenario of Lolicon-Goth girls battling a demonic outbreak on All-Hallows-Eve. It's fun, but there really isn't anything new or groundbreaking, nothing that made me want to go out of my way to buy a sequel that, on the surface, looks and plays like its predecessor.

Tis the season, though, and since the sequel has a Christmas theme, I figure now would be as good a time as ever to give it a go. Even if the voice acting is in Japanese and all text in its native language, I thought, "Hey, it's a shoot-em-up, what's to miss?" And that's the mindset I had going into the slideshow intro, displaying one of the girls from the previous adventure prancing around a city littered with Christmas decoration. The beginning of this introduction gave the impression that II X would be a lighthearted journey to defuse an insignificant crisis.

Then, the rest of the intro played out, where the girls' caretaker, Dior, lay injured on the ground.

This happens, too...

Flabbergasted, as well as cursing out Santa Claus for being a bastard, I did a quick search on the Internet for the plot. Because there's nooooo way I was just going to let that slide without some explanation. Turns out, the "jolly" man in red clashed with Dior in the past, then returned for payback, stealing special golden notes in the process and unleashing an invasion on the city while escaping. And you wanna know his name? Satan Claws. I thought this second-hand info was a little whack... until I saw the name in-game. The kicker? This is tame in comparison to some of the other absurd stuff that goes down in II X. You know, I jokingly defended the first game for being a little off, thanks to abstract enemies and the fact you control a bunch of flying teenage girls that get sucked into another reality, because it never gets too weird or uncomfortable. Play Otomedius Excellent for that feeling. On the other hand, Cave thought, "Screw it!", and decided to be silly with this successor.

Despite the gloomy, asinine opening, the devs still give you a snowy and colorful Christmas Eve in the first stage: bright lights are strewn over houses, dressed trees aplenty, and street lamps are designed like candy canes. Showing their sense of humor, you'll also fend off killer snow men, Santa (Satan?) boots, zombies in the streets, and to top it off, a boss fight where Claws rides a ginormous reindeer named Lilly, giving chase through town. Later on, there's a stage that takes place in an amusement park called Hell(o) Land, where chef pigs shake their booty on ferris wheels, mutant Dumbos flap towards you, and a stuffed bear and rabbit duo fight each other, which force projectiles to spew out. The latter somehow constitutes as a boss fight. There's even a Frankenstein-esque man in one stage that shouts MERRRRRRRRR!! as a way of releasing attacks. All this occurs, too, in a visual overhaul from 2D to mostly-3D. Cave did a pretty good job in this department, as the predecessor's demonic and gothy style has been transferred over without any awkwardness; not even after one playthrough, you stop noticing it's in 3D.

Even with the change in graphics that encompass a sillier theme, my gut instinct regarding how the sequel functions rung true after two playthroughs: it plays eerily too much like the first game. Seeing as how Deathsmiles is already like a template of previous manic shooters, II X almost seems like it's bordering on parody by being a template on top of a template. Both titles begin in the same town, have a dreary area in some no-man's land, an outskirts-of-town level, and an optional bonus stage that's intentionally difficult. There's even a camp fire intermission before the final stage! Following suit is the array of ways to play II X in the Xbox 360 edition, including the arcade version that omits some of the original cast, and two additional modes that integrate the full cast, modifies enemy attacks, and voice acting to go with the text. Though, in terms of the US releases, the first Deathsmiles just barely edges out its sequel with concrete extras, like the Mega Black Label mode with a steep difficulty option. However, II X gets browny points for having a cute mini-game with the girls' helpers, ranging from a book owl to a little dragon, where you have to speed bounce through several mazes.

I don't want to make it sound like what you're getting with II X is bad, there's still a solid, bullet hell Cave game underneath the winter wonderland dressing. The issue is you're getting more or less an "extension" than a full-blown sequel. If you've been interested in the series and don't know what would be the better pick, the original Deathsmiles is the best choice. Deathsmiles II X is mainly for those that really got a kick out of the first and want more, even if it's more of the same. The goofiness just isn't enough to differentiate it from the first, and even if it's a shooter, you do miss a bit on its absurd charm if you don't understand Japanese. I mean, when I was doing research on the plot and characters, I discovered something surprising... one of the protagonists isn't who I thought they were. See, you get two new playable characters, a really young girl and her elder sibling, who happens to be wearing a maid uniform. Thing is, the older one is actually male. Cave's excuse is that the teenager needed a change of clothes, and the only pair available was the maid outfit... given by a booze-carrying bum. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

Of course, he was my first pick to see the game to its completion, which led to this super-duper awkward ending scene:




pickhut's avatar
Featured community review by pickhut (December 24, 2012)

Even after reviewing all these Double Dragon games, it's crazy to think there's still a ton of games left to review due to varying interpretations.


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