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Go To (Bullet) Hell: Deathsmiles Arrives On PC

Deathsmiles [Steam page], the goth bullet hell game from genre-kings CAVE, has landed on Steam. It’s one of the games I remember being briefly excited about when I was going through a phase of playing every Treasure and CAVE game I could find. I never did find this one. Originally released in 2007, it’s appeared on all manner of platforms since but yesterday’s release marked its PC debut. The gimmick – for there is always a gimmick – relates to Counter bullets, which enemies fire when you kill them. Even in death, they strike.

There is – and I’m convinced of this – an alternate reality version of me who devoted the best years of his life to bullet hell shooters instead of devoting them to strategy games (and an extremely useful master’s degree in medieval literature). He probably fashions his goatee just so every morning and has a collection of figurines. They’re obscure characters from obscure Japanese games that were never translated into English. Not officially translated, at any rate. Alternate Adam translates them though, in his spare time.

He’d look at this trailer and understand everything that’s happening. I just watched the entire thing and said, “Tiny witches” out loud.

In an effort to educate myself, I just read Simon Parkin’s review of the 2011 release over at Eurogamer. He talks about how players can approach the game in various ways – to clear stages or to aim for highscores – and how that leads to a pleasing flexibility in the difficulty. It’s a game that allows you to learn its systems as you play. That’s reassuring. Here’s his conclusion:

It has all of the score-attack appeal of Bulletstorm in a far more dense and concentrated form. Those able to see past the idiosyncratic, somewhat stale visuals to perceive the zeros and ones ticking away beneath the surface will discover one of Cave’s finest achievements: a game that lowers the barrier to accessibility without compromising its ultimate depth, a new Defender of the shoot-’em-up faithful.

That’s Defender with a capital ‘D’ because of a link back to the 1980 arcade game of that name, which, Parkin sez, kicked off the concept of score attack games. Games that you play to show how perfectly you’ve mastered their systems. The person who uploaded this video, Antipika, seems to have mastered Deathsmiles.

Tiny witches, eh? I wasn’t even right about that – apparently they’re angels. Angels who control familiars and ride broomsticks.

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Adam Smith

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