App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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Given their track record, it's almost impossible to imagine Cave providing iOS users with an experience that's anything less than phenomenal. So it shouldn't come as a surprise when I say that DEATHSMILES does absolutely nothing to break that hot-streak. In other words it's yet another utterly fantastic 2D shooter.
For the unfamiliar, DEATHSMILES is a 2D arcade shooter following the exploits of four monster-slaying angels as they cut a swath of destruction through the land of Gilverado. The game is broken up into multiple themed stages with three tiers of difficulty for each (in Arcade Mode), which should keep leaderboard fanatics busy. Each of the angels is playable, although aside from aesthetics and some minor differences in projectile patterns they all function the same. However, a fifth "angel" has been introduced specifically for the iOS version: Princess Tiara, who wields her own unique magic (i.e. her shots look different) and is the sole playable character in the also-new "iPhone Mode."
As much as I love to mindlessly blast stuff, I have to say the iPhone Mode is where I've been spending the bulk of my time. The controls and levels are the same as they are in Arcade Mode, but the inclusion of loot drops and purchasable equipment that can change Tiara's stats make it feel like a much more full-bodied experience. That's not to say that Arcade Mode isn't worth playing, as it's every bit as fun and hectic as the new mode, it just doesn't have the same (albeit simple) depth.
As for the overall game, Cave fans know exactly what to expect here: a high-quality shooter with lots of glowing bullets, explosions, points, particle effects and skulls (used to boost scores) everywhere. The controls are as tight and responsive as any iOS shooter could hope for, with movement fine-tuned to that indefinable sweet spot between speedy and accurate. And the horizontal scrolling combined with a button used for facing left and right breaks up what little monotony there could be with stages tossing enemies around from all sides. It's every bit as chaotic and thrilling as it sounds.
However, everything is not perfect in Gilverado. The visuals, as well-animated, well-designed and colorful as they might be, are fairly rough and pixelated. The game is still perfectly playable (and amazing) regardless, but anyone obsessed with retina displays and HD resolutions might want to give the Lite version a spin first. A more tangible issue is that there's no save feature in either mode. I can understand leaving it out of the Arcade Mode, but the progression-based, story-focued iPhone Mode could really use one. Thankfully the game will save any gear that's been bought/found/equipped, but actual level progression is reset whenever the app is fully closed.
DEATHSMILES is still an arcade shooter fan's dream, just like virtually every other Cave game. A few minor shortcomings bar it from total perfection, but that shouldn't deter anyone from playing (or even buying) it. It's just a fantastic and well-made game, pure and simple.