What’s black and white and red all over and it’ll stretch a bloody smile across the face of any hack-and-slash gamer’s face? It’s Ska Studios The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, and if you’re fast enough you might find your own copy lurking in this article.
In 2004 James Silva was a dishwasher, a position I myself held at one point in life. Troubled by the fact that the job garnered little or no respect and inspired by the fact that legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was once a dishwasher himself, Silva began crafting a game in which a dishwasher tore through hordes of skilled minions and their more powerful leaders.
Eventually his designs led him to Microsoft’s XNA Game Studio Express, the development platform indie developers use to create games for the Xbox 360. He entered his design in Microsoft’s first Dream.Build.Play competition, and walked away with $US10,000 and an Xbox Live Arcade publishing contract.
The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, released on Xbox Live Arcade on April 1, 2009, was bloody brilliant. A side-scrolling beat-em up, the combat was lightning-fast, unapologetically gory, and rendered in an art style that calls to mind the work of black and white indie comic book creators like Jhonen Vasquez of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Invader Zim fame. The game rocked so hard it included a guitar mini-game, compatible with both the Xbox 360 gamepad and the guitar controllers used for Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
And now the sequel is out. The story is a bit deeper, with two playable characters – The Dishwasher and Yuki, his sister that seemingly suffered a horrible fate in the original game. Two stories to play through is just the tip of the “more” iceberg. There are more enemies, more weapons (love the scissors), more bosses, and more ways to tear your enemies apart and keep them separated for good.
The action feels more natural than ever. Slicing, dicing, grabbing, and throwing your enemies about is a simple task, and using the right stick to dash about the screen both for navigation and evisceration purposes soon becomes second nature. Magic attacks light up the screen, and in between battles there are plenty of hidden items to discover as you traverse The Dishwasher’s stylized corridors.
If you didn’t enjoy the first game, more of the same won’t mean much to you. I loved Silva’s initial outing, so Vampire Smile has me grinning ear-to-ear. There are times when the art direction reminds me uncomfortably of the angry notebook scrawlings of a disenfranchised teenager, but then more enemies show up and I take out my troubles on their innards with a pair of meat cleavers.