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The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai Review: Dishes Are Done Man

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai

“Button-mashing” is a gaming term that has a long and sordid history. Many people don’t like to hear it used as an adjective to describe a game, thinking that it implies mindlessness, and ease. However, this unfortunate stigma doesn’t always applied to every game that can be described as a “button-masher,” and Ska Studio’s “The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai” is prime example of one game that is, in fact, a button-masher that is worthy of steering clear of that unfortunate association.

There is something instantly familiar about the gameplay in “Dishwasher” – it’s a 2D sidescrolling action game, where you basically need to chop anything and everything that moves into tiny little pieces. It screams of inspiration from “Alien Hominid” and (to a lesser extent) “Earthworm Jim,” but that’s great company to be in, and, in the end “The Dead Samurai” does its inspiration justice, and is a solid addition to the Xbox Live Arcade lineup.

“The Dishwasher”’s story is simple, but well developed – you play as a dishwasher, who wakes up, alive, without a heart. He has no real recollection of what has happened to him, or how he is still alive, but he knows that there are people are after him. As the story unfolds you learn more about the cyborgs that are behind the game’s world, as well as the dishwasher’s journey to find his missing sister. Told through comic panels between levels, the narrative is short, and to the point, keeping the player engaged the entire way through the game, developing the dishwasher into a deep, sympathetic character along the way.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai

The gameplay is straight out of the 90’s, without any of the technical restrictions you might remember. As the Dishwasher, you have a selection of different, upgradable, sharp objects and guns at your disposal, the two most notable of which are the Meat Cleavers and the Shift Blade. You carry the Meat Cleavers from the very beginning of the game, and they allow you to strike at your enemies in a crazed fit of rage at almost lightning speed, and prove to come in very handy throughout the entire course of the game. The Shift Blades are possessed with a magic that makes it extremely easy for the Dishwasher to transport himself around the screen – Nightcrawler style. In addition to being handy kitana-esque blades, the Shift Blades are possessed with a magic power that the Dishwasher can exploit to avoid his enemies attacks, or get the drop on some the bad guys in the game by taking them out from behind. As the game’s diffculty progresses, perfecting your combos, and well timed attacks will be the biggest key to your success. As you may be able to tell by this point, there’s a bit of blood in the game, so it might not be fit for the whole family.

Swords and guns aren’t the only attacks that the Dishwasher can bust out. As he progresses through the game, he learns different magical attacks that are accessed by collecting green skulls that appear when you perform certain kills. The skull magic allows you to strike out at specific enemies, or clear the whole screen, depending on which attack you use. It’s a great compliment to the game’s weaponry, and the scarcity of skulls throughout the game force the player to ration their use of them.

In one word “Dishwasher: The Dead Samurai” is hard. Even the game’s easy setting is repeatedly punishing. Each screen offers a steady wave of enemies, which will eventually force the player to succumb…. over and over again. While it isn’t a hurdle that can’t be overcome, bear in mind that death is a key element of this game – both in terms of plot, and gameplay. Who ever said being a (dead) samurai in a game was supposed to be easy anyway?

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai

If the game is too hard for just you, it offers one of the most creative two-player options available in a long time. Aside from the standard co-op modes “Dishwasher” offers a drop-in, drop-out second player options, where the second player can play with using a guitar. Typically for rhythm games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” it made this gamer extremely happy to see that his formerly propriety controllers, that had been sitting in the corner for so long, were finally getting some new use. If the second player opts to use the guitar to play, they can offer their own attacks by playing solos, which generate electric lightning strikes that shoot off the end of the Phantom guitar that can inflict damage on the enemies that are attacking the Dishwasher. Additionally, there are certain parts of the game that require you to play guitar solos, in the same style as the aforementioned rhythm games, to unlock items that can be used to upgrade the dishwasher. This is easily the best use of a peripheral I’ve seen since “Dance Aerobics” for the NES.

“Dishwasher” is a great game, with a lot of replayability - as long as you’re okay doing the same thing over and over. After about an hour or so into the game it becomes pretty repetitive, with the only real mid-game variety being the guitar breaks, and stopping to admire the game’s scenery. It doesn’t really hurt the game as long as you go in to the game accepting that there’s going to be a lot of slicing and dicing … a lot.

On the plus side, if you can’t get enough of the single player mode, “The Dishwasher” offers a nice quick-hit arcade mode, where you take on waves of enemies simply for the high score. Which, if you happen to get stuck on any particular level in the story, is a great way to pass some time while doing your best to climb the game’s leaderboards.

Playing through “Dishwasher: The Dead Samurai” I was somehow reassured, not only about how good the game is, but also about the potential for the platform on which it was built – XNA. One man, James Silva, has created a fun, beautiful looking game with an interesting story, and creative gameplay mechanics, and really, that’s all you need to make a game good. The challenge of the game shouldn’t stand in the way of its enjoyment - it never has in the past - and it just means you need to play “The Dishwasher” until you’re actually good at it… remember? Like you used to - when games didn’t baby the player?

Rating: ★★★★½

“The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai” was released on April 1st, 2009 for Xbox 360, on Xbox Live Arcade.

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