Everyone has dreams, some possible, some impossible, some simply formed by strange images and events. James Silva (an independent programmer) found the way to combine those three options when he applied to Microsoft’s “Dream Build Play” contest, where small videogame developers had the opportunity to send their games, and where the best would be published on Xbox Live. His game quickly got a lot of attention and was chosen as one of the winners. The developer had realized a dream impossible to most, based on a game of weird aspect, styled as if taken from the fantastic visions in his very own dreams.
The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai (TD:DS) tells us the story of an unnamed dishwasher, who is also a samurai that has died (hence the name of the game). The story, told in comic book-style panels with nice drawings and average writing, is nothing out of this world, and in fact you could say that it’s unnecessary. Being honest, I don’t think anyone should seek this game out for its story, because they’d be in for a big disappointment, since the game’s plot is never adequately explained and there are moments when you are left with more questions than answers.
The game includes a Story mode made up of 14 levels; an Arcade mode where, armed only with two weapons and a spell, you have to beat all of the enemies that keep appearing through 50 levels; the Dish challenge mode where you have to survive waves of enemies and get the highest score; and a Training Hall, where you can learn the protagonist's skills.
The game is a 2D Beat’em Up with some platforming elements. It’s also quite linear, but it’s filled with frantic action and blood at every stage. The essential mechanic of the game is to advance through enemy filled rooms and beat them, then to go to the next room, beat more enemies, and so on until you reach the boss of that level. To do so you can use some of the character’s many abilities, decided based on the available weapons, ranging from a katana to a butcher’s knife, a chainsaw, and even a machine gun/shotgun combo. Every weapon has its own combos; both the melee and the fire weapons, something that helps prevent the action from becoming repetitive too quickly.
The controls work smoothly; with the left stick you can move your character in the desired direction, and with the right stick you can perform evasive manuevers that change depending on your equipped weapon. As for the buttons, you can do quick attacks with the X, strong ones with Y, and of course create bloody and devastating combos combining the two. As well as that, you can also grab your enemies with B and jump with A. The RB button is used in combination with the others to launch magic attacks (represented by green skulls), which you’ll be gaining as you make your way through the levels. Besides those options, which refer specifically to the action part of the game, there are also a batch of abilities for the other facet of the game - the platformer one - like jumping with the A button, running along walls, and the ability to teleport to reach inaccessible zones.
Your weapons (as well as your health and magic meter) can be upgraded in exchange for “Spirals” (the in-game money) and “Psycho Picks”. Spirals are obtained from beaten enemies, while Psycho Picks can be obtained in special events, like a fun minigame where the samurai shows his rocker abilities, or in scenarios where you have to beat all of your enemies before the clock reaches zero. The spirals you get are also used to buy breads and fishes that you keep in your inventory and help you to recover your health.
Another interesting element of the game, which keeps it out of the button masher camp, is the implementation of quick time events, commands you have to do from time to time after almost beating an enemy. For example, if after executing a combo on an enemy you see the X button, if you press it you can do a fatality-like attack where blood covers the entire screen. There’s another novelty as well; if instead of the prompted button you press another one, you’ll still kill him, but you won’t get any bonus, that’s called a “dirty death” instead of a “clean” one. In this last case you usually get energy or green skulls that refill your magic bar.
The level bosses are varied and quite aggressive; you have robots, vikings, pumpkin heads, and so on. Their attacks are devastating, but almost always with a pattern, which you’ll have to learn if you want to beat them. These enemies in the latter levels become quite difficult, so you’ll have to pick your weapons and combos carefully, and you’re also advised to always keep handy a batch of bread and fish in your inventory to recover health during those difficult moments.
The game’s difficulty is high; if you think that you can button mash your way to the end you won’t get past the first few levels, even in easy. You have to study the attack pattern of the enemies and know which combos work best and when to perform the appropriate evasive movement. If you fail to do this then you’ll be seeing a lot of that nasty red screen that appears when your character is killed and which makes you want to smash your controller against the floor. And here we face one of the biggest problems with the game, the satisfaction level. The game is occasionally very repetitive, you just survive an enemy-filled screen and you feel good, only to realize you have to do the same thing all over again with the same enemies (but this time there are more). This causes the game to become frustrating at times, with your hard won victories not tasting as sweetly as they should.
The game can become very complicated after a certain point, so you’re best advised to face it with some company or you’ll probably end up frustrated. To do this the game offers multiplayer options, both local and online. There are also co-op options for the Story mode, when you have obtained certain amulets, but here it only works in local mode; two friends can join you, one as your Death shadow and one as a ghost guitar... yes, using your Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitar.
In the technical department, Dishwasher offers simple but well elaborated 2D graphics with a unique art style. Grey is one of the most used colors of the palette and contrasts well with the splashing red blood of your enemies that will cover the screen at times. The game has a strong dark look that is interrupted by explosions, smoke and lighting effects that are all well executed, though not very varied. The simple and repetitive backgrounds are a bit disappointing, after some levels you will not want to notice them, they're certainly the low point of the graphics. The characters are hand drawn and look great, all of their animations are smooth. The game doesn't have any slowdown, even when the screen is full of characters, but the agglomeration of enemies on the same screen creates a visual chaos that prevents you from being able to see what's going on, making the experience more difficult because the screen gets a little too 'busy' at times.
Concerning sound, the game doesn’t sport voice acting and the background music goes on completely unnoticed. Battle actions are accompanied by a somewhat accelerated rock, while the exploring scenarios utilise a slow-paced japanese music. Both the enemies and our hero only emit grunts and battle screams, which along with the explosions, shots and metal clashes are going to be the sounds you remember the most from the game. It’s worth adding, though, that the music from the three guitar minigames that you’ll find through the game is quite good and very catchy. Those minigames offer you the option of connecting either a Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitar and play them the way it should be done.
The story mode is quite short and can be finished in less than 4 hours, but the difficulty of this game will probably double that for anyone playing it for the first time. The Arcade mode, with its 50 scenarios and the possibility of playing with your friends, adds a few more fun hours to the game for anyone who dares to face the challenge.
The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is a fun, action-filled game; its high difficulty will keep you on your toes at all times, its only flaw is that the game turns repetitive after only a few minutes. Try the demo and if you like what you see, you like its challenges or, better yet, if you have a friend who’s willing to play it with you, don’t hesitate to get this game for 800 MS.