Video Game Rentals Delivered

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai (XBLA)

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2009-04-08 03:31:30

Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, The (XBLA) - Rank B

Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studio
Date: 4/01/09

The Dishwasher is a side-scrolling slash-em-up, that plays essentially like a 2-D Americanized cousin of Ninja Gaiden. It's the sort of game where button mashing only takes you so far, until the punishing difficulty either breaks you, or elevates you into a combo-chaining ninja master. Between its stylishly moody presentation and slickly frenetic combat, The Dishwasher claims a unique and noteworthy spot in the XBLA lineup.

The story, such as it is, doesn't make much sense. It doesn't need to. You can glean everything you need to know from the title: you play as a dishwasher (kitchen laborer, not an appliance), who is now dead and also a samurai. Each chapter is prefaced by a Sin City slash Max Payne type of "camp noir" comic strip that vaguely communicates a tale of vengeance, uncertainty, and longing (mostly vengeance). The Dishwasher's tone is set by an invitingly murky art style that blends a The Crow-esque Gothic sensibility with a Kill Bill fascination with copious amounts of gushing blood. This game is black and white and red all over.

You start with a pair of meat cleavers, chopping up a seemingly endless stream of G-Men, commandos, zombies, and cyborgs with a few basic combos of quick and strong attacks. Once weakened, your enemies are vulnerable to blood spraying fatalities. The first boss fight grants you a katana called a "shift blade" that allows you to teleport around the screen, slicing up foes like a samurai Nightcrawler. As you progress further, you also accumulate a pair of kama sickles, a chainsaw, a submachine gun/shotgun combo, and screen clearing "dishwasher magic". By this time, you've either quit the game, or learned how to freestyle link together combinations of attacks and evasions that feel and look TOTALLY RAD. We're talking powerful chainsaw executions followed by wall runs and aerial enemy juggling capped by teleporting in close to unleash shotgun blasts to the face. The learning curve can be steep, but once the strengths and weaknesses of each weapon are internalized, chaining together massive series of kills all over the screen makes the investment satisfyingly worthwhile.

The chief reason this all works is the razor sharp controls. The dead samurai is extremely responsive, and will unleash your defensive maneuvers and offensive onslaughts with lightning rapidity and laser tight accuracy. You'll need it. It's the only thing that prevents the many, many inevitable deaths from feeling cheap. The Dishwasher is a throwback to the days of unabashedly challenging the gamer's intestinal fortitude. We're talking old school boss fights of the hurl-your-controller-at-the-wall-in-frustration variety. Like Ninja Gaiden, even the basic flunkies are capable of annihilating you if you let your guard down for just a moment. The Dishwasher requires vigilant attention; the current of mayhem is so relentless, a lapse in concentration can result in broken combo chains, or worse, losing track of the dead samurai in the chaos. Your enemies can quickly turn the tables on you and pummel you into oblivion.

Some critics are labeling Dead Samurai as "shallow", but I see it rather as "focused". The action can become tediously repetitive, but I feel that it isn't meant to be played in large doses. It's best enjoyed in smaller spurts when you want to cleanse your gamer palette with single-minded violence. Maybe it is somewhat shallow. If so, there are times when you want a Jacuzzi rather than a swimming pool. And this whirlpool spa comes replete with a full set of features, including local or online cooperative play, and a massive retinue of arcade and challenge modes in addition to a lengthy story campaign. There's a slew of content here.

The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai probably isn't for everyone. You need to be willing to subject yourself to rage inducing difficulty, and dedicate yourself to mastering a structurally simple combat system that's ridiculously complex in potential execution. But if you can stubbornly channel the hardcore gamer in you, it'll provide an engrossing and rewarding gaming experience.

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