What’s worse than being buried behind stacks of dirty dishes for less than minimum wage and no respect? Try having your heart ripped out, being systematically hunted by zombie cyborg assassins, and your sister willfully becoming one of them. This is the plight of the nameless Dishwasher from SKA Studios latest game. The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai may have been the winner of Microsoft’s Dream-Build-Play game development contest in 2007, but does the finished product get the blood pumping or leave you checking for a pulse?
The graphical presentation of Dishwasher is striking and crisp. Watching the game in action is the visual equivalent of those “black, white, and red all over” jokes. The game has a smeared ink aesthetic which aids in adding personality to the otherwise lackluster character sprites. From the black puffs of teleportation smoke that trail across the screen to the bountiful geysers of bright red that splatter on your TV, Dishwasher boasts a graphical gusto that hasn’t been seen on Xbox Live Arcade since Braid or Castle Crashers.
The brush with which to paint this macabre masterpiece is an arsenal of conventional and improvised weaponry. A chainsaw, butcher’s cleavers, and scythes all populate your sub weapons arsenal, each with frenzied quick attacks and brutal strong attacks that can carry you through the game themselves. If you don’t feel like stringing kill combos together by hacking and slashing, you can take a break with the clever “arsenal” weapon, with which the light attack is an Uzi, and the strong attack is a sawed-off shotgun. While not very functional, the visceral velocity of a pointblank shotgun blast sending a baddie across the screen with a red ribbon flowing behind him is truly satisfying. The real star of the game’s armory is the “shift blade,” a samurai sword with teleportation properties, and your primary weapon. With the flick of an analog stick you can perform split second midair dashes for an infinite amount of time, leaving you nearly invulnerable to enemy attacks. After each enemy has sustained enough damage, a button icon will appear above their heads indicating they are ready to be “finished.” The brutal fatalities trigger the camera to zoom in and the background to turn crimson as enemies are dismembered and executed. The variety of abilities included in Dishwasher offers a sense of true empowerment usually reserved for the final bosses of most video games. Gameplay is smooth and responsive, but requires apt reflexes and a myriad of button presses.
With all these tools at your disposal, you may be wondering how anything could possibly stand in the Dishwasher’s way? Well, even on normal difficulty, the enemies’ tenacity has been turned up to eleven. Just when you feel like you’ve become the ultimate badass and are fricasseeing cyborgs into bloody microchips, the challenge-o-meter gets cranked up and you’ll be profanely threatening the game’s existence. Expect some trial and error until you chisel out a combo that works for you. If you’re feeling especially sadomasochistic, ninja and samurai difficulties also await to draw deep from your well of patience. Some of the enemies (green eyed commandos in particular) are incredibly annoying in large numbers, spamming grenades and pounce attacks that can drain your health bar in a heart beat. While there are only a handful of different enemies, Dishwasher likes to throw over a dozen in a room with you at once, producing a chaotically cluttered screen that begs to be proliferated with your room clearing “dish magic.” For those that have trouble following intense bouts, searching for your character may be harder than spotting a raw meatball in a piranha tank, so be prepared. During the more intense fights you might find yourself throwing technique out the window in exchange for button mashing or move spamming, which unfortunately works more often than not. The addition of a block feature would have been useful, but mastering the teleport dodge of the shift blade will allow you to evade most attacks.
Whether you tackle the game’s single player “story mode” or choose to play co-op, the game will consist of entering rooms, killing enemies, and moving on to the next room. In the single player game you hack and slash through different levels such as a restaurant, cemetery, and skyscraper which are all tied together by comic strip story snippets. The story isn’t overwhelmingly unique, and it definitely won’t be what drives you through the game. What will motivate you is dodging and mincing waves of enemies to earn points spendable on weapons, health, and magic upgrades. You’ll spend a small amount of time traveling from room to room, and a door will inevitably seal shut behind you as trap. The only down side of this layout is that oftentimes engaging enemies without the locked doors in place will result in you accidentally exiting mid-battle with one faulty teleport.
The co-op mode consists of progressing through a list of single room brawls that feature unique battle conditions. With the vampire condition, you must kill enemies quickly to restore your ever-draining health, in quad damage there is 4x the damage, and in bullet time every enemy is slowed to a snail’s pace. The heart of co-op, however, is all about you and a pal slicing through as many grenade throwing, chainsaw wielding enemies as you can, either locally, online, or via system link. On some of the larger maps, co-op suffers from a character being needlessly cut-off by the screen, which could have been easily remedied by panning the camera out.
However, if you feel like tackling story mode with a pal you are only a couple items away. One item found early in the game allows a second player to jump in as your shadow and aid in combat, sporting an identical arsenal. The other item allows for the incredibly original experience of a buddy firing up your trusty guitar peripheral and jamming away on it to do damage. The guitar sidekick is perfect for someone who wants to do more than watch the frenzied combat, but doesn’t have the skill to quite keep up with all the intense action. This same guitar peripheral can also be used to shred out Guitar Hero style minigames to earn “psycho picks” which are then used for upgrades.
Ultimately, Dishwasher: Dead Samurai feels like two fully realized games in one. Whether you decide to tackle the single or multiplayer mode, both will have you button mashing for around three hours, depending on trial and error. This isn’t even including the “challenge room” in which you slaughter enemies in the attempt to string together an epic combo within the time limit. Think you can get the achievement for a 100,000,000 point combo? This is the place to do it. Online leader boards are also in place to check your standing for every segment of the game.
For ten dollars, Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is a steal. Immediately after beating the game on normal mode you’ll be tempted to pack up your upgraded gear and head into the next difficulty full force, or call up a friend and try to aim high on the co-op leader boards. In all, Dishwasher is a game unlike any other on XBLA and is begging to be downloaded. It is a game that smelts your patience with its punishing difficulty, and tempers your will like the folded layers of your blood soaked samurai sword.
The graphics are fresh in their intentional sloppiness, creating a unique high definition bloodbath. Enemy types are recycled, but contain enough personality. The settings lack much originality.
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The controls are tight and responsive, but sometimes quicktime button presses aren’t as instant as they should be. Dodging is a bit too touchy, but otherwise the game controls just fine.
The music is done by Jon Silva’s own band, and sounds great with its hard edged rock/ traditional Japanese sound. The enemy sound bits are overused and lack variety, however.
With two replayable game modes, a challenge mode, and online play this game boasts value not otherwise common in XBLA games of its ilk.
Dishwasher: Dead Samurai is one of the best deals on XBLA for $10, and they could have easily have gotten away with a higher price tag. The fact that this game was created by a single person is reason enough to take a look. Download the demo now if you don’t believe me.