In Double Indemnity, insurance agent Walter Neff comments that if you work too long behind a roulette wheel you can't help but wonder how to crook the house. Extending the same principle to being a dishwasher, spending so much time around cleavers, butcher knives, and other sharp objects has got to make you ponder their violent possibilities. How else to explain The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile?
Created by dishwasher-cum-game designer James Silva, it's the follow-up to his 2009 smash indie hit, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. The main character is presumably a dishwasher, but we never see him wash any dishes – or do anything other than stab, for that matter. Instead we follow his other career path as a dead samurai, ridding the world of cyborgs, aliens, and the undead.
Vampire Smile differs from its predecessor in the addition of new playable character, Yuki, The Dishwasher's similarly dead, possessed step-sister. Each character has their own campaign, which share the same levels but differ in story and weapons.
The narrative structure is ambitious, but the script is too convoluted and obtuse to make sense of The Dishwasher's gothic universe. Despite the "Jhonen Vasquez meets Tim Burton" aesthetic, there's plenty of humour along the lines of another Xbox Live Arcade treasure, Alien Hominid. One gets the sense that Silva encourages players to take or leave its story when the tutorial explaining how to use the new chainsaw grafted to your arms ends with, "Most importantly: have fun!"
And fun it is. Playing like a mix of Devil May Cry and 2D Castlevania, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is an exuberantly gory side-scrolling beat'em up with extremely responsive controls. Collecting upgradeable weapons and ability-enhancing beads offers a fair amount of customisation and depth. You can even toggle between different equipment sets at will, and there's a couple of firearms available to use in tandem with melee attacks.
However, the best offense is a good defense, and you're not likely to last long without mastering the art of dodging. Thankfully, Vampire Smile handles this maneuver like a champ. You can dodge in any direction with a flick of the right analog stick, allowing you to fly by continually warping around the room.
While its normal difficulty isn't particularly grueling, Vampire Smile's harder settings require players to learn the intricacies of its combat. Paying attention to enemy tells becomes a necessity, and weapon switching is encouraged. Even if the difference between the campaigns is largely cosmetic, I found my second playthrough on a harder setting more enjoyable as I had a better sense of what I was doing.
Aside from being a blast to play, Vampire Smile is a stylish game, sticking primarily to a "black and white with red all over" color scheme. Finishing moves are spectacularly violent and pack a lot of oomph as the screen fills up with blood. If there's one downside to this madness it's that the action can be hard to follow, especially in co-op – though the camera intelligently zooms in an out to portray both players.
The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile borders on pretentious overwrought angsty teenage drivel, but it won me over with its hyper-stylised vision and polished mechanics. As trashy escapism its systems are deceptively sophisticated. Its themes of revenge, free will, and the plight of blue collar workers are only skin deep, but its vicious slaughter cuts deeper.
Next Page: Our Expert Verdict.