Collected items tally up a number at bottom-left of your screen, and when this hits a cool thousand you can choose to activate a powered-up mode where you accrue a cumulative set of bonus points from everything else you knock down, all while your item counter rapidly ticks back down to zero. Deft use of this tactic, if you hadn't already guessed, is the real key to massive high scores.
It's not a particularly friendly game. Very few of the fussy mechanics are ever adequately explained, though European publisher Rising Star Games has produced a guide for registered members of its community website. Deathsmiles is a stubborn game that puts the onus of understanding the ropes onto the player, leaving you to decipher and unravel everything that's going on in your own time. It might come as a bit of a surprise, then, that it's easily Cave's most accessible shmup in years, with far less complex bullet patterns than many of its contemporaries and a more forgiving life bar.
The European version comes with its own Xbox LIVE leaderboards, so at least you don't have to worry about the upper echelons being populated by impossibly talented Asian players who can probably play blindfolded and without fingers. Instead they'll just be topped off by some dude named Barry who lives in Cheshire and is unimaginably better at the game than you or anyone you've ever known.
But maybe you're not convinced. You might dismiss this as yet another attempt at cashing in on pretty much the same bullet hell formula which made Cave the talk of anyone still interested in the arcade scene way back when in 1997 - you know, back when the arcades were callously and inevitably lingering towards death like Trinity at the end of the third Matrix film. You might say that Deathsmiles isn't even as good as quintessential shmups like DoDonPachi and Ikaruga, and you'd be right.
But you'd be missing out on all the little details which make the game so charming. Cave might be a bastion of impenetrable difficulty, archaic design, and indecipherable mechanics, not to mention ten years behind the curve in terms of technology, but the infrequency and scarcity of the genre means Deathsmiles still feels as unique today as DoDonPachi did fourteen years ago.
And because of its relative simplicity compared to the rest of its ilk, Deathsmiles is the perfect Cave shooter to bring to the European market. It will still be far too difficult for most, but the game is one of the developer's most accessible titles to date, and while its jagged 2D art and unpopular genre will never grant it more than an extremely niche audience, the few who are interested will be more than satisfied with both the game and Rising Star's commendable publishing efforts.