There’s no sense in intellectualizing a game titled The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, or pretending it’s anything other than what it is. An unabashed salute to beat ’em ups that takes cues from forebears like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, the sequel to 2009’s The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai boasts a story just as messy and blood-caked as every enemy in it. It’s full of hallucinations, confusing time dashes, and grimy visuals clipped out of Marilyn Manson’s brain. Vampire Smile is stupid, gory, loud as hell, and easy to love.
When the story does poke its head in, it sounds familiar. You’ve probably heard this one before in any number of games released this year alone: The titular protagonist and his stepsister are on a quest to unravel their mysterious pasts, which of course they can’t remember. Fortunately, Vampire Smile leans on those crutches only to expand to the vocabulary of its genre, sprinkling in incredible moments that benefit equally from a macabre sense of humor and a color scheme lifted from Hot Topic.
To wit: You’ll lock horns with an electricity-breathing fire while riding a glass elevator, you’ll face down an anthropomorphized tank with a bazooka for an arm, you’ll try to swat a building-sized butterfly with skulls on its wings and a bowie knife for a stinger, and much later on, you’ll be possessed by a vegetative necromancer who bends the game to his will in an unpredictable moment. Strokes of such unbridled creativity are rarely exhibited in these sorts of titles—usually, all the player or creator can imagine is fighting a bigger version of the enemies they’ve already demolished. Only with a palette-swap.
Vampire Smile isn’t bulletproof. While both characters have a great range of weapons—oversized scissors being an instant favorite—the levels all succumb to the “just keep running right” design-flaw risk inherent in most side-scrollers. There are keys you’ll need to hunt down to shake things up, but those are minor detours that also ultimately fall into the binary “if this, then that” logic to exploring each stage. But again, the standout moments make the monotony that much more worth enduring.