For more than a year now, CAVE has had a reputation of releasing high quality shooters on the App Store that featured hefty amounts of action, depth, and replay value. Their bullet hell shooters Espgaluda II [$11.99/Lite] and Dodonpachi Resurrection [$11.99/Lite] are two of the finest shooters around, and they proved they could translate their particular brand of manic gameplay to a more traditional action game with Mushihimesama Bug Panic [$6.99/Lite]. CAVE’s latest title, Deathsmiles [$11.99/Lite], furthers their reputation of offering top quality shmups and us yet another excellent shooter to add to our collection.

Like the aforementioned CAVE shooters, Deathsmiles consists of a mode that mimics the arcade version of the game as well as an iPhone-specific mode with exclusive features. The arcade mode features 4 different playable characters and 8 total stages to play. The underlying gameplay mechanics are fairly straightforward. Your character automatically fires, and a button in the bottom corner toggles firing to the left or right. There’s also a button to toggle between a regular shot and a laser shot, and a third button that performs a lock-on shot.

Enemies approach at a dizzying pace, and every level from start to finish you are constantly being bombarded by an assortment of awesome baddies in all shapes and sizes, as well as absolutely massive boss battles. Slain enemies will drop items which can be collected and go towards filling a counter in the lower left corner of the screen. When that counter reaches a thousand, you can activate a powered-up state that will give you increased firepower for the duration it takes the counter to return back to zero.

These base mechanics are pretty standard shmup stuff, but as with most CAVE games the real brilliance comes from the hidden depth in the scoring systems. Playing through Deathsmiles simply to complete the game is an exhilarating (if brief) experience, but players who want to score big and are looking for an extra challenge must take advantage of the many nuances to how enemies are killed and items are collected. If you want to take the game to the next level and really learn the ins and outs of the gameplay, our forum member ColdCoffee has put together this excellent detailed FAQ thread that explains pretty much all you need to know about arcade mode and scoring tricks.

Then there's the new iPhone mode which is similar to the arcade mode but is played with a brand new exclusive character that has an interesting alternate storyline. It also features a sweet weapon and equipment system that lets you customize your character with different items that have unique attributes. You can buy items from a shop in the game or collect them when they are randomly dropped by defeated enemies. The ability to collect items adds a very slight RPG element to the game, which is awesome, and your items and gold are carried over persistently to each new play of iPhone mode.

Just about the only flaw I have found with Deathsmiles isn’t something that’s the fault of the game itself, but rather it’s an inherent problem due to actually controlling the game right on the touch screen. It’s a horizontally scrolling game rather than a vertical one, and enemies come at your from both sides of the screen rather than just the top, so your character spends a lot of time right smack in the middle of the screen. This means that by nature of controlling your character with your thumb or finger, you’re going to be blocking a good amount of enemies and bullets that enter from the sides of the screen. It doesn’t entirely hinder the gameplay, and it’s manageable with some practice and experimenting with the 3 available screen sizes, but it’s really the only area where Deathsmiles falters and is worth noting.

If you can deal with the less than ideal control situation, Deathsmiles offers a just as robust and enjoyable shooter experience as their previous efforts, if not more so. On the easiest settings, the game can be enjoyed by even the biggest shmup newbie, but deeper below the surface lie advanced difficulties and complex scoring mechanics that will tax even hardcore veterans of the genre. Multiple characters and storylines as well as Game Center achievements and leaderboards ensure that Deathsmiles can be played over and over again for a long time to come.

So far, CAVE is 4 for 4 with top-notch game releases on the App Store. If you’re any sort of shmup fan then you’ll definitely want to at least try out the lite version of Deathsmiles, and if you do be sure to check out the scoring FAQ thread and the general discussion game thread in our forums to get the most out of the experience.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Nightshift Nurse

    It just kills me that Cave can't be bothered to release a native iPad version of this or any other game in their iOS catalog.

    Though it's a trend I've noticed among most, if not all, Asian iOS developers - which is the reason why my miniscule iPad game library remains almost wholly Western and very, very PC-like.

    • Anonymous

      I have plenty of Western developed, excellent titles on my iPad 2, but I totally agree with you about Cave (and other Japanese developers). I played the demo in 2X mode and I love the style, but I'm not forking over $11.99 for zoomed in,  colorful mud. Surprisingly, a lot of games work well in 2X mode -- particularly the puzzle types with geometric shapes - but games which boast this type of art style do not lend themselves well on the big screen.

    • Bruno Scheele

      CAVE actually mentioned that they really couldn't release a native iPad version, since it would take up far too much RAM (basically, they made the game too awesome).

  • daizyujin

    What bothers me is the price.  Seriously they just went through and blew up the price of every one of their games by $3-$4.  I mean I know that these are well made and polished titles but that price is very high when several other games of comparable polish are selling for a few dollars.  We are starting to get into a pricing area that feels, at least to me, uncomfortable for a cell phone game.

    • shmup fan

      The price increase is because Apple recently changed the exchange rates on the App Store.  This change meant that games made in the US are the same price in the US and are more or less expensive in some countries.  So, basically, Cave changed the price so that they are still getting the same amount of money per sale with the new exchange rates...

  • Drucifer

    I'll admit that I only paid $4.99 when it first released but I must admit if this released for $11.99 I would have still purchased it in a heart beat.  DeathSmiles is even more addictive for me than Cave's other App Store titles, probably mostly due to the items found in iPhone mode...unfortunately this is also a down fall as on the hard difficulty the drop rates are insanely rare and it is taking forever to find better equipment.  I still keep going back to play it again and again though.

    Thanks again Cave.  🙂

  • Dave

    Cave has already explained the reason why they can't release a native iPad version. That's because iPad doesn't have enough RAM.

    • Dave

      I find this a bit hard to fully believe. All of Cave's games play great on my 3GS. The iPad is far more capable. But clearly they don't feel the coding effort is worth the payout...and given that Touches and iPhones combined out sell iPads 10 to 1 you can't really blame them. 

      I tip my cap to all the developers who do choose to support the iPad. 

      • shmup fan

        It has to do with resolution versus RAM.  It takes a lot more RAM to play at a higher resolution and because of this the iPhone 4 and iPad are stuck with the lower resolution of the older iPads.  Cave has stated that if the next iPhone RAM gets doubled to 1 GB, then they can probably get there games to run in Retina Display resolution.  While the graphics in the Cave games may not have that new fangled third dimension, there are an awful lot of bullets, enemies, and drops flying around and all of those take RAM.  Adding 4x more pixels requires a lot more ram.

        This has always been a downside to buying larger than average computer monitors in the past.  If you buy a high resolution monitor and run a game at that native resolution, you will get much crappier frame rates than if you run it with every setting the same and drop the resolution in half.  

  • Tom

    Quit complaining! These are some of, if not the very best games on iOS devices. They are fucking masterpieces! 

    Support every one so they keep making them and hopefully produce more titles for the US market!

    • Mrsmartiepants

      Bullet hell games in no way appeal to everyone. I know why you like it, but don't even kid yourself that it's the best series of games on iOS or at the majority of customers would agree with you.

      • spidey

        agreed. I for one do not like bullet "hell" games. The only cave game that i have liked and bought is bug panic. I have tried lites of their "shmups" as they are called and just couldn't get into them.

    • Mrsmartiepants

      Bullet hell games in no way appeal to everyone. I know why you like it, but don't even kid yourself that it's the best series of games on iOS or at the majority of customers would agree with you.

  • HisDivineOrder

    No matter the reason for their recent price hike spree on the App store, I think the combo of them raising the prices by a large amount and the fact that none of their games supports any method of Universal even if you do have iPad 2's nor retina if you have an iPhone 4...

    I mean, there's just not enough being offered to warrant these high prices.  If at least it had universal in place for when said memory is available, maybe it might be worth it.  But they won't even commit to doing that.  They're just telling you a reason (and I'm not convinced they couldn't work around it like every other developer on the app store) they didn't do it now.

    So you pay $12 now and then... next year, the iPad 3 shows up and they will re-release it again but now at $19.99 for the "HD version."  "Memory's finally enough!"  Nah, I'll wait for the day they decide to hunker down and work around the memory available.

    • shmup fan

      You don't seem to be understanding what happened.  Cave did not raise the price.  Cave picks a price for there games in Japanese Yen.  Apple changed the exchange rates they are using for foreign currencies, so the price of all apps in the Japanese app store has changed and any Japanese app that had the price based on Yen has changed.  Cave didn't do anything.  They are getting paid the same now as they were before the US saw a price increase, because they are paid in Yen and the amount of Yen didn't change.  Due to the changes Apple made, the price of Cave's games has increased in some countries, and possibly decreased in others.  The simple reality is that the US dollar is worth less in relation to the Japanese Yen then when Apple last adjusted the rates.  

      They did work around the memory that was available and have offered the game at standard iPhone resolution with almost as many bullets as the arcade console.  Cave mentioned in the past that they had to tone their games down a bit because of RAM issues.  

      Personally, I would rather have almost as many bullets on the screen as the original arcade cabinet (some of which were at a lower resolution than the iOS version) than have the game running at a higher resolution with 1/4 the bullets.  

      Look at the PS3 and XBox 360.  Both are capable of 1080i, but a lot of the games on those consoles only run at 720p because of performance issues...

  • Dave

    Moderate the board please. That language is completely unacceptable. 

    • Mrsmartiepants

      Calm down, mother. This board was never designed for children to use. Eat a bag of dicks.

      Anyone who thinks any language is "unacceptable" has a tiny mind. Words are words.

  • Anonymous

    I was excited to see some new items show up in the shop today, then disappointed to see they were:
    a) in-app purchases with real money instead of "gold"
    b) not actually that exciting; you can get a gold umbrella that actually reduces your stats over whatever loot I have now, or more continues

    I had hoped there'd be like a pumpkin gun that shot pumpkins or something.

    Oh well, it's still a good game and I bought it on launch day so it was pretty cheap for me!

    • shmup fan

      Yeah, I thought the same thing when looking at those items, they are all crappier than what I already have found.  Cave mentioned before launch that they were going to put some IAPs in DeathSmiles, and I think it may be due in part to past complaints about the difficulty of their games.  If one really was struggling at the game, a $1 may make it much more enjoyable and playable while allowing one to get further ahead and find even better items.

      I hope they don't ever put any IAP items that are superior to what you can find by just playing because that would really skew the leader boards and require people to make additional purchases to seek competitive scores.  I don't have any problem with them offering pretty good but not great items like what they just added.  

      In the end, I just think it is awesome that Cave even bothers porting their arcade games to iOS.  

    • BulkSlash

      Yeah I thought the same thing too, although from looking at the small description box the paid items do have certain advantages like recharging your health if you don't move or improving the chances of item drops etc. Having said that, I'd rather stick with my better gear!

  • The Frost

    11 dollars? really CAVE? for 11 dollars i can buy 11 excellent iPhones games

    • Someoneelse

      Well then, go and buy 11 excellent games, why do you care? Not trying to insult anyone, but if i regard something as to expensive i just don't buy it, why fill pages on forums with a discussion that leads to nothing. Similar thoughts to those who discuss about the lacking iPad-version: Cave states they are not doing iPad at the moment - that's a statement, not a dicussion topic. Who cares why they are not doing iPad, it just won't happen now, that's the message.

      Anyway, to add something constructive:

      This one is my insant new cave-favourite, though all 3 Cave bullet hells are very very close together. Again perfect balancing of gameplay, the side-switching aspect add's a lot to the choreography of dancing smoothly through the hords of enemies and bullets, the graphics artwork is the best i've seen even from Cave so far, same goes for the music and of course the scoring mechanisms are plain perfect again.

      Still a bullet-hell is a niche product when it comes to the Appstore and will never sell the quantities as all the more casual stuff. As a big fan of bullet hell and with Cave beeing the leader in this genre, i'm happy to pay 11 dollars if this helps to get more Cave titles released. That said the 3 Cave bullet hells are so much better than the rest that even if the others only cost 99 cents they are overpriced - or Caves's games are to cheap - just a matter of perspective.

  • postmanmanman

    Argh, please stop complaining about no iPad-native versions of Cave games. You people don't seem to realize that the games are already running in an incredibly tiny resolution --  the actual arcade cabinets have a resolution of something like 320x240. Really the only thing that would improve with an iPad version is the menus, and I don't think you people care THAT much about the menus.

  • chengkun he
  • chengkun he
  • chengkun he
DEATHSMILES Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 4.5