PAX East 2010 Hands On: The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile

The sequel to dark and bloody XBLA action title Dishwasher: Dead Samurai will be hitting in 2010, and was on display at PAX East for us to check out.

Never having played Ska Studios’ The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, I jumped at the opportunity to try its recently announced sequel, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, at PAX East 2010. The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is an Xbox Live Arcade title developed solely by James Silva that won Microsoft’s Dream-Build-Play contest in 2007, and now Silva and Ska Studios are back for another go. For now, it’s expected to release “when it’s done.”

Vampire Smile is a 2D side-scrolling action game with a great visual style and hectic combo-fueled action. The game stars an extremely badass Dishwasher that has many attacks and weapons at his disposal. In my demo, he could switch between a samurai sword or dual butcher knives, each suitably brutal, though equipping the butcher knives appeared to reduce the Dishwasher’s manuverability. He also uses guns, magic, and grab attacks, making for a wide variety of ways to dispatch the game’s enemies. Foes consist of everything from zombies to S.W.A.T team members to giant robot dragons that emit crackling electricity.

Maneuvering the Dishwasher was pretty intuitive despite the wide variety of moves available. The right analog stick will make him do a quick dash in any direction, a very important part of the action. Mixing deadly ground slashes with jumping aerial attacks followed by rapid-fire gunplay was easy and fun. As an action game, The Dishwasher works just as well as any other title out there that might be more well known, but is also unique in its own way. It was a blast to play even for the one demo level, which still took me through various environments and gameplay situations, including a boss made of corpses.

One of my favorite parts of The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile were the graphics. They’re dark and gritty, but with a hand-drawn style that seems inspired by Ben Templesmith’s work in the 30 Days of Night graphic novels. Vampire Smile apparently uses a brand new engine that, according to Ska Studios, allows for an even more gruesome experience than the first game, and I can attest to this. Blood is everywhere, but I didn’t find it to be used in a distasteful way. Instead, it seems more like part of the game’s style, rather than being thrown in as a way to shock. Still, when I killed the demo’s boss, an insane amount of blood shot out of its head. I loved it.

What makes me most excited about games like The Dishwasher is how their developers are beholden to nobody. James Silva told me that he might change all of the game’s blood to rainbows if played on the simplest difficulty. While hilarious on its own, this type of comment expresses why independent development is so important: freedom. Silva can put nearly anything he wants in his game, and nobody will tell him that the Dishwasher character should have a spikier haircut or that the game should use the latest 3D graphics. Ska Studios is also putting out a game called Charlie Murder that I got to check out, a four-person brawler similar to Castle Crashers but with a heavy metal vibe, which was also pretty fun. When an indie developer can find a measure of success, it only leads to more creativity in more genres.

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