The 2D side-scrolling genre is usually a gentle breed, content mixing the tender bouncing off the head of a Goomba with a vibrant pallet of colour and whimsical soundtrack. Even when the genre places weapons in the hands of a character, rarely does it indulge in the fetish of violence and gore common in the three dimensional world.
The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai disperses with these ideas, blending severed heads with a tirade of crimson in a fashion evidently reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden, though it has more in common with fellow arcade title Alien Hominid. Both flaunt their own hand drawn distinctive artistic flair, comic brutality, and a bastard difficulty level.
This isn’t a narrative driven game, what occasionally flutters on screen, in the form of comic strips, just about manages coherence. Instead the frail story acts as a relentless excuse to stack the screen with enemies leaving the player to battle royale after royale. The enemies are definitely inventive (pumpkins with chainsaws, frag fumbling military, giant mech monsters) but there’s precious little else to each of the samey levels passed constant carnage, much of which can be ignored.
Though fleeing battle rarely rewards, the combat itself is hugely rewarding, due mostly to its overtly savage nature both in difficulty and stylistic violence. It’s safe to assume many people won’t survive to end The Dishwasher’s vengeful mission.
Combat yields a currency used to upgrade weapons, increase health, or buy continue hearts and health items. Emerging victorious from tougher battles often rewards items of a more valuable nature. At a basic level the combat is hugely addictive, dispatching foes with one of the execution moves and learning the many, often insane, moves The Dishwasher himself is capable of. Later stringing together huge combos and utilising the shift blades shifty special ability become the defining addictive elements. Difficult yes, but victory is all the sweeter due to it.
Besides the inventive standard issue enemies, most levels have their own exclusive boss battle. These rival the creativity of the standard enemies, though often result in frustrating grinding battles as a reluctant health bar falls slower than a feather. More annoying still, failure results in having to restart the boss fight without any of the health items or powers (think Ryu Hayabusa’s nimpo power) used in the unsuccessful attempt. Failing is harsh enough, but forcing the player to begin again with less of a chance is downright tactless.
Fittingly if there’s one big criticism to be aimed at The Dishwasher it’s the incessant difficulty. Even on the easy setting, the first of five, it’s hugely, often harshly, challenging. It doesn’t accommodate far passed the opening level, rather leaving you alone to be hacked to bloody fragments by foes far outnumbering you. It begins to grate.
Outside the story mode there is an amusing Guitar Hero esque mini-game found in a a number of levels. There’s also the ability to play cooperatively on one console (and the crazy inclusion, if you find it, of allowing a second player to utilise a Guitar Hero controller to play as a floating guitar that fights beside The Dishwasher), and an arcade mode spanning fifty different challenges. Value for money The Dishwasher is.
Relentless and often infuriating but also consistently rewarding, all the more impressive due to the fact it was developed by one sole designer using the XNA developers tool. Swamping the screen in a battery of body parts and crimson tide, The Dishwasher is a welcome addition to the 2D side-scrolling genre, even if it does often lose itself in its own devoted aim to challenge.