Despite the relative success of the original, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is still primarily the work of one man: James Silva, winner of Microsoft's 2007 Dream Build Play contest, but most well-known for creating indie channel darling I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1. Silva has, once again, managed to produce a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up of enough quality to put entire studios to shame.
The game juggles its mixture of extreme hyperviolence with a charming art style and brooding themes of revenge, and in the meantime you juggle swathes of bloodthirsty cyborgs in the air with a trusty mix of blades, shotguns, and a giant hypodermic needle you can use to skewer people to death. You can switch your arsenal on the fly, though mixing and matching two loadouts with two weapons each means this is often easier said than done in the midst of the game's rough-and-tumble battles.
Most of the game is spent progressing in one direction while stabbing everything in your way, but levels often branch into large, multi-storey affairs that encourage you to stray from the beaten path and explore for extra goodies. There's a bevy of collectibles to pick up, too, with the game knowing just as well as you that you'll probably resort to a FAQ for the locations.
The majority the game is solely focused on frantic combat, with enemies having no hesitation to clutter the screen, but much of The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile has been reworked to bring out the best in the combat engine. Enemies still drop a manageable string of audio and visual cues before launching their offensives, but no more do your adversaries feel like near-invincible damage sponges - my enduring memories of the original is the phrase "fire in the hole" and having to basically set up a standing order for continue hearts from the in-game store.
Often with The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai I felt like the only way I'd be able to see it to conclusion was to mechanically augment my eyes and hands - which seems somewhat at odds with the game's anti-cyborg vibe. Now necessary features like continues aren't limited by item stock, and your health bar takes less of a battering after making silly mistakes. This means you've got enough currency left over when running into the various robot vendors to actually invest in upgrading your weapons and abilities, thus making the game passable on normal difficulty by regular human beings.
Even relatively high concept inclusions have been tweaked. Warping, handled by flicking the right stick in the direction you want to go, has been specifically attuned to naturalistically lock-on to enemies while avoiding attacks and, while you'll still curse it when you come up against some of the hulking end of level behemoths, there's generally little frustration outside of lamenting your own incompetence.
The campaign is primarily structured around Yuki, a prisoner aboard a penitentiary spaceship orbiting the moon, who just so happens to have completely lost her marbles; the game intersects its carnage with skittish and frenzied dream sequences that often feature messages on the wall written in blood. She's the formerly crazed stepsister of original protagonist The Dishwasher, who returns after an introductory sequence to trigger a second arc, which features most of the same levels but with different storyboard panels.
While they share the same basics - hitting the enemies until they're flashing, then going in for clean or messy executions - the pair wield fairly different arsenals. Yuki tends to be the more brutal of the two, with weapons that bludgeon and batter, whereas The Dishwasher ops for slicing: he sports a rather lovely pair of giant scissors, for instance.
Offering Yuki as a character also affords the game some much-needed versatility for when it comes to the score-driven modes. A survival challenge and a 50-stage arcade mode has been included, which pits you against a prescribed set of enemies and demands you make good use of the game's combo meter to rack up a high score for inclusion in the game's online leaderboards. If the original is any indicator then you probably won't stand a chance of making it anywhere near the top, but there's the now-standard option to see where you factor in amongst your friends.
The game still offers up a delightfully scrappy aesthetic that comes across as an intricately realised world of frustrated teenage doodles. Lighting has been massively improved over the original, and the mix of oily blacks with thick, smudgy lines, a shaky camera and veritable buckets of blood goes down particularly well with the overall tone of the game.
The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is a more inclusive and competent game than its already accomplished predecessor, and anyone with a taste for intricate combat and a combo meter will find themselves right at home. I don't know where James Silva intends to go after this, but I'm even more interested to find out now than I was before.