You might think a ceaseless torrent of advertisements and shameless self-promotion is what powers Xbox LIVE, but it's actually the base thrill of competition holding the service together. Deathsmiles understands such sentiment: it thrives on egging people into toppling the best efforts of others, but there's very little chance a side-scrolling 2D shooter, and one that doesn't even run in widescreen let alone high definition, will capture the affections of a sizeable crowd.
That doesn't mean it's not worth playing, however. I have no idea why the game's called Deathsmiles, but its kaleidoscopic carnivals of projectile dangers and addictive scoremongering neatly combine to make a compelling game for anyone with even the slightest touch of OCD. For a game with only eight short stages and infinite continues the large majority will be dissuaded by the diminutive length, not to mention the tedium that comes from being so inexperienced you simply drop continue after continue into the difficult later stage, but there's definitely plenty of interest to be had for those dedicated to unearthing its delights.
Such as how the game is riddled with a bevy of sights and sounds you're unlikely to see elsewhere. Not many titles have you fighting a colossal horned cyclops that spits out pink globules of raw danger, or a cow called Mary who conjures up cuboids of indescribable peril and then chucks them at your head, and I can't think of one other game that gives you an indestructible owl accomplice that can slaughter hundreds, absorb bullets, and wear a little red bowtie like a pro.
You fly around the screen as one of five (depending on which of the three versions you choose to play) scantily clad young female witches, one of which is thirteen years old. We'll sidestep that issue entirely, I think. These girls might be delicate and waif-like, but they each sport the destructive power of a thousand thermonuclear bombs and will immediately put that destructive potency to good use in clearing out vast screens of enemies.
Unlike Cave's usual repertoire, Deathsmiles scrolls horizontally instead of vertically. Firing left and right is handled by individual buttons, with a more destructive but slower laser attack also available when holding down said button, and another button mapped to your cache of screen-clearing bombs for when you back yourself into a corner. If you fancy something a bit more complex, holding down both attack buttons will initiate a powerful homing attack that eats into your high score. Occasional scenery can also be used to shield yourself from attacks, but in most instances you'll just accidentally blow it up along with everything else.
The trick, as it always is with these games, is not simply to clear the level but to claim a high score while doing so. Style is rewarded with buckets of desirable points, and perseverance breeds the skills required for clearing stages on the higher difficulties, which in turn gives you more opportunities for score grabbing provided you can avoid zooming straight into one of the hundreds of enemy bullets peppering up the screen at any given time.
Deathsmiles' scoring system is also thrifty shopper's wet dream: it's all about getting added value from everything you do. Like jewellery-stuffed piñatas, enemies pop into sprays of crowns, tiaras and rings when destroyed, with certain enemies cashing out more sparkly goods based on whether you take them out with your regular bullet streams or fancier, bulkier laser. The game describes virtually none of this, however, so you'll need to hit up the internet to work out what enemy is best killed by what.