Platform:Xbox Live Arcade Publisher: Microsoft Price: 800 MS Points
Microsoft has made sure that the Xbox 360 has plenty of games that the core gaming demographic will love, focus grouping and play-testing each iteration of Halo and Gears of War – but it’s also tried to promote smaller, more unique games from a diverse range of developers.
Games such as Geometry Wars, Braid and Castle Crashers might not have pulled in quite the same amount of cash as the big franchises, but they’ve won gamer’s hearts, and if you’re a 360 newbie asking for recommendations, chances are they’ll get a mention.
The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai might just be Microsoft’s boldest move yet in terms of plugging indie developers – not only has it been made by one man (James Silva), it earned its place on the Xbox Live Arcade by winning Dream Build Play, the gaming equivalent of Pop Idol.
At first, The Dishwasher appears to have little in common with the winners of Pop Idol. Whereas talent show winners tend to be the musical equivalent of Halo in terms of how they’re tuned for mass market success (although they’re generally less handy with an assault rifle and have better skin than Master Chief), The Dishwasher boasts a defiantly strange story and gory visuals.
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You play a washer of dishes who, armed with two rusty cleavers, is out for vengeance. The story is told through inky, smudgy comic strip panels and eventually you learn that cyborgs and robots are somehow involved. You'd probably need to pay a visit to Wikipedia to figure out the details of the plot, but it’s not hugely important to be honest.
What is important is the vengeance – regardless of whether your character really is a Dishwasher or a Samurai, he’s one violent man and is quite happy to dice up his opponents as if he’s preparing to make soup out of them. While you can jump, progress through the levels isn’t hugely complex – there aren’t many fiendish puzzles or moving platforms to confuse you. It’s simply a case of slaughtering the requisite number of baddies, getting to the boss and showing him the error of his ways.
The game is 2D and initially appears to adopt the side-scrolling fighting action established by classics such as Double Dragon, Streets of Rage and the more recent Castle Crashers. The ‘initially’ is because The Dishwasher doesn’t really do much side-scrolling. Disappointingly, it opts to fade to black in between most segments of the level, meaning most areas aren’t any wider than one screen. Instead of rolling down the road like a vengeance-seeking conga party of one you need to clear each set of bad guys before advancing.
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At first, it seems as if this would be a good way to ratchet up the intensity of the action – especially as The Dishwasher isn’t afraid to pile on the enemies. Unfortunately, enemies take absolutely ages to kill – even armed with a pair of meat cleavers, you can expect to be whacking the standard goons around twenty times or more before they drop. Even Kwik Save’s cheapest beef burgers aren't that tough. The static environments combined with lumpenly tough enemies can make the combat feel monotonous quite quuickly.
It gets worse though, as the more enemies you meet, the more you realise how bizarrely unbalanced they are in terms of difficulty. Some, such as the ED-209 robots, look remarkably tough but are very easy to kill. Others are insanely difficult. Ever had a party ruined by one person? Green-eyed mask-wearing gimp enemy is that guy.
He can shoot you across the entire screen, stun punch you in the face when you get close, drop bombs with an enormous splash radius and climb far higher than you can jump in order to reign destruction down upon you. Granted, unless you’ve thrown parties involving a skip full of controlled substances you’ve probably never had anyone quite that weird show up, but the affect is the same, and your heart will sink every time another set of them appears.
In fact, as time goes on, you start to realise one of the problems with the enemies is that they almost all have ranged weapons, while you, in most levels, don’t. Couple this with the fact you’ve got no way to block, and a very limited space to move in, and you’ve got a recipe for frustrating, unbalanced combat.