Inside Pulse 12

Review: The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai (XBLA)

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai
Genre: Action
Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Ska Studios
Release Date: 4/1/09

Over a year ago, Microsoft gave the gaming community a taste of what would eventually become Xbox Live’s Community Games. Last year, for a limited time on Xbox Live, several Dream.Build.Play nominated games were available for download. Among those games and the eventual winner of the competition was The Dishwasher. I loved the short trailer of the game and couldn’t wait for the full Xbox Live Arcade release. After a lot of anticipation, the game was finally released last week for 800 points.

So is The Dishwasher worth your digital Microsoft money?

There’s certainly enough to do in the game. The game has a full story mode with multiple difficulty levels, an arcade mode, an online co-op arcade mode and a survival mode. The story mode is told through comic style panels and it quickly becomes clear that we’re joining the story in the middle rather than the beginning. The game provides a backstory along the way, but the way the story is told is confusing. It’s a story about cyborgs, souls, alien blood, revenge and family. After awhile it starts making sense and there’s at least one good twist thrown in there, though at the end there are still more questions than answers.

The story can be played with just one player to start, but after finding amulets in the second level of the game, you can play local co-op. One of the amulets will let another player join in at any time on a second controller as The Dishwasher’s shadow, with it’s own lifebar. However if either player dies, you get the game over screen. There is also an amulet that allows a third player to join in using the guitar controller. That player controls a floating guitar on the screen that can attack by playing chords or lifting the guitar. The guitar player will hover around the first player and can also lock onto enemies with the whammy bar. There is no health bar for the floating guitar, and since it is nothing more than a small addition to the gameplay, it gets old pretty quickly. Still, if you are stuck in a section it means you can always ask a friend to grab the guitar controller and help out.

The Arcade section of the game breaks down the action into rooms where you have to beat different waves of enemies while trying to score the most points. Before each arcade level, the game shows you what weapons you have to switch between and what Dish magic, if any, can be used. Some of the levels have different themes to them as well, like having the enemies move at half speed. Once you beat the level, you can compare your score to others online. With fifty different levels and full online co-op this mode is almost as long as the entire single player game.

Then there is the Dish Challenge mode. Essentially this is a survivor mode. At the beginning of the challenge, you choose which weapons to start out with and then you try to survive wave after wave of enemies while trying to rack up a high score. This mode also has a leaderboard, and already some of the scores at the top of the list are amazing.

Graphically The Dishwasher has a very distinct look. The game relies on a lot of black, gray and white coloration, with bold lines for the characters and for much of the backgrounds. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of color in the game, as there are heavy splashes of red from the blood of The Dishwasher’s enemies, as well as Dish Magic and explosions. The backgrounds are simple and done in a clean style that offsets the chaos that is usually taking place onscreen. Chaos is the best name to describe what is on screen when you play The Dishwasher since at any time there can be several enemies onscreen running around with several different graphical effects taking place. Even with everything going on screen, I only once ran into any slowdown.

Of course with all of these effects going on and the speed at which The Dishwasher moves, there are times when you might not even know where the character is. This a far more noticeable problem when playing with a friend since you’ll get confused as to which character sprite is yours. This might only take a second to figure out, but The Dishwasher is a game where a second delay can mean the difference between life and death.

Other than occasional visual confusion, The Dishwasher has a huge issue with screen tearing. There are levels where it’s not as noticeable, and then there are areas where every other step you take you can see screen tearing. How the hell did this not get addressed before release?

The audio for the game at least is excellent. The music in the game fits the theme perfectly and were done by the developer’s band. There are also three different occasions where it’s possible to have The Dishwasher do guitar solos that are fun little distractions in the course of the game, even if they’re oddly placed. They are also pretty cool little solos, which can in fact be played on a Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitar if you own one. In fact if you play the harder difficulties, you’ll pretty much need one unless you have incredibly quick thumbs.

Actually having quick thumbs is nearly a requirement in order to play The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. This is a hard game. The Dishwasher is a 2D equivalent to such action games like Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry. There’s a weak attack button, a strong attack button and mixing them together produce different combos. There are five different sets of weapons, each with their own combos to utilize. There is a jump button and a grab button, there is a button to switch between weapons and the right trigger is used for Dish Magic. Dodging is mapped to the right thumbstick.

This all works extremely well in the game. With a few simple button presses you can have The Dishwasher running up walls, teleporting around the screen (after the first level), juggling enemies in the air, and finishing enemies off. The control system had to be nearly perfect though since at anytime the screen will be filled with enemies throwing grenades, shooting guns or launching missiles.

Switching between the weapons reminded me of a similar system used in Devil May Cry 3, my personal favorite of the DMC series, except it is not as smooth here. After acquiring the Switch Blade, it becomes a sort of default weapon, and when you press the right bumper you can switch between it and a secondary weapon. The secondary weapons are mapped to the D-Pad. Unfortunately, switching between the secondary weapons isn’t very fluid. If you want to switch between the kamas to the chainsaw you have to select the chainsaw using the D-Pad, press the right bumper to flip to the switch blade, then you have to hit it again to bring out the chainsaw. Once the game really gets going and you have a couple of weapons, it’s fun and useful to use different weapons combinations to make different combos. It just isn’t as easy as it should be, and I would’ve rather just used the D-Pad to switch between the secondary weapons and leave the right bumper for just the switch blade.

It would be easy to describe the game as a button masher since the enemies take a good deal of damage before dying and you have to hit the buttons quickly. However that suggests that there is no strategy in the game, which is incorrect. If you play the game by just mashing the attack buttons, you will not get very far, even on easy mode. There are a ton of skills at The Dishwasher’s disposal and using them correctly is the only way to get through the game.

One thing anyone who is interested in The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai must understand is that it is a tough game. Even the Easy mode can be unforgiving. Enemies take multiple hits to kill and come in swarms, as the game progresses these enemy types get more difficult and at times they will even be invisible. The boss battles are tough as nails. The game gives you a couple of continues, but once those are gone you have to restart the level from the very beginning, losing any upgrades you might’ve acquired in the level. It is possible to play through the Easy mode of the game, get many of the upgrades and then tackle the normal mode with those upgrades. This makes it less difficult, but it is still far from being an easy feat. Beating the normal difficulty of the game unlocks a harder mode and a ranked Tourney mode.

With most games now having a checkpoint every few steps or regenerating health, or all of the other concessions that have been made to games to make them more accessible, it’s great to play a game like this every now and then. The challenge will put some people off of the game since if you try to button mash through it or do not get the hang of managing enemies and using combos, then there is no way to progress. You either get the hang of it, or you feel like you might have wasted 800 points.

My only issue with the difficulty is that it isn’t always consistent. Once you obtain the chainsaw some bosses can be killed by just hacking away at them. The Viking boss near the beginning of the game is one of the more difficult bosses due to the zombies that can get in the way. Since you can upgrade lives, magic, get more powerful weapons and upgrade them as the game goes on, it feels as though the game gets easier instead of harder as it goes on.

While the game might not appeal to everyone, the white knuckle difficulty combined with the non-stop action is a great addition to Xbox Live Arcade and it’s still mind boggling that this was all created by just one person. If you enjoyed the art style of the game you might also want to check out Ska Studios other games in the Community Games menu.

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Classic
Final Score: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
If you’re looking for an Arcade game that’s brutal and stylish, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is what you are looking for. If you don’t like a challenge or bothered by screen tearing, you might want to spend your MS points elsewhere. For my money, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is one of the best original titles on Xbox Live Arcade.