Ska Studios' The Dishwasher returns in Vampire Smile, and he's not alone, as his previously dead sister Yuki takes up arms against an army of twisted enemies, Machine Girl style.
The Dishwasher was the winner of Microsoft's first Dream-Build-Play contest, earning creator James Silva $10,000 and an Xbox Live Arcade publishing contract with its over-the-top violence, fluid fighting controls, and grungy grindhouse sensibilities.
Now The Dishwasher returns in Vampire Smile, a sequel Silva says takes the formula from the original title and refines it. The visuals are more defined, the special effects flashier, and poor dead Yuki returns as a playable character, scoring her own story that runs parallel to the titular hero's.
I stopped by Ska Studios' booth at PAX East this weekend and got a chance to put Yuki through her paces with the game's creator looking on. At Silva's suggestion, I played through on easy mode, as many visitors to the booth found the normal setting too challenging. Wanting to play the game the way its creator intended, I complied.
Yuki begins wielding only a sword, hacking and slashing her way through various commando-looking enemies. I take a lot of hits until Silva reminds me of the game's most important control, the dash, mapped to the right stick. Using the dash allows Yuki to zip past enemies, avoid damage, and reach higher heights. Enemies fire on me and I dash behind them, mashing the attack button to combo them until blue sparks flash on them, at which point I can hit a button to execute them in spectacular fashion.
It's hard to see in the screenshot, but Yuki is always followed by her pet cat. When she stops for a breather, the cat begins to preen itself. Blood flies everywhere, caking on Yuki's weapon as enemies die left and right, and the cat just hangs out, chilling.
A cat that actively follows you? Has James Silva ever seen a real cat? "Actually I have two," he tells me, "one of which does follow me everywhere I go in my home." As I write this, one of my cats is curled up on my foot, so I suppose anything is possible.
Eerie flashbacks featuring simple button presses - I suppose you could call them quick time events - tell Yuki's backstory and herald the addition of new weapons to her arsenal. Seems Yuki has a machine gun grafted to her arm, and she's not afraid to use it.
"I love the machine gun arm," I tell Silva. "Have you ever seen Machine Girl?" he asks, The Machine Girl is a Japanese action film about a girl whose bother is killed. She loses a hand and replaces it with a machine gun, seeking revenge. And so we have Yuki's inspiration.
The machine gun doesn't seem to do much damage, but it does push enemies back, setting them up for a charged sword swipe, sending blood and limbs flying.
Just as The Dishwasher uses Dish Magic to clear the screen of enemies, Yuki uses a sort of blood magic, effectively doing the same thing. Once a meter fills, a simple button press causes a sigil to be drawn on the screen, and then the camera whips from enemy to enemy, doing damage and killing them outright more often than not.
Once her weapons are all in place, Yuki faces off against the demo's final boss, a large, hulking beast that telegraphs his impending attacks obviously. Defeating him was simply a matter of waiting for the attack, dashing to avoid it, and then laying into him with the tools at your disposal.
Perhaps easy was a bit too easy, at least in my case. Unfortunately I didn't have time for another go. Silva took the controller and showed off a little of The Dishwasher's gameplay, with the hero running about attacking enemies with a giant pair of scissor blades. When one enemy staggers, Silva takes him out with an attack that joins the blades together and decapitates the enemy like a paper doll.
Silva grins, much like I was grinning while playing through the Yuki demo. He was enjoying playing as much as I did. I'd call that a good sign.
So when will Vampire Smile grace Xbox Live Arcade? "When it's done," says Silva. When it's done. I suppose that's as good a time as any.
As for Silva's goal of delivering a more polished follow-up to the original game, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile looks to be right on track to do just that.