Lolitas in Bullet Hell
To be clear, Deathsmiles does do at least a couple of things I haven't seen in shooters before (or maybe I have and it's just been a very, very long time). The iOS version is a port of a Japanese arcade title, which incidentally was also ported to Xbox 360. You take control of one of four beautiful Betties (or Princess Tiara in the game's Smart Phone mode) and fight your way through seven levels (plus one optional bonus level).
The levels are each quite varied, offering incredibly delightful hand-drawn artwork – the game's extremely gorgeous. You move about the touch screen by simply dragging where you want your character to go, and they auto-fire, either regular shots or lasers. One of a variety of spirit creatures tags along with you offering additional firepower, and as is typical of a bullet-hell shooter, you'll be weaving in and out of a kaleidoscope of enemy projectiles.
Switching between regular shots and lasers is actually quite important, as the different enemies leave behind better drops depending upon the weapon you're using. Drops count not only toward your overall score - which is, of course, uploaded to leaderboards on either Open Feint of Game Center – but a counter builds up that allows your character to go into a sort of super-charged mode, racking up even more points and doing increased damage. The game mostly scrolls from left to right, with a few exceptions, and you'll utilize a reverse-direction button to deal with enemies who appear from behind your character.
Translation: Deathsmiles is frantic, funny, sexy, and a helluva lotta fun. The Smart Phone mode allows you to purchase items that help beef up your character, and completing item sets unlocks puzzle pieces that reveal hidden portraits. The levels are essentially the same for either mode, though the difficulty is skewed a bit differently.
And of course, Deathsmiles has an excellent soundtrack, complete with a few hidden goodies unlocked by tapping on glowing areas subtly placed within the world map. The sound effects and music make for a symphony of gaming goodness.
It's hard to justify paying top dollar for a game on iOS when the platform has gotten us so used to $0.99 apps and freebies. Deathsmiles is short, sweet, and it can get pretty darn challenging as you dip into the higher levels. Nonetheless, the game has replay value and good vibes to spare, making the asking price kind of a bargain.