[[image:090404_dishwasherdeadsamurai.jpg:I am…the Dishwasher!:center:0]]
It’s something most of us have to deal with, sooner or later. We all reach the age when parents begin to hand off household responsibilities, exposing us to one of life’s bitter truths: washing dishes sucks. That must be why The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai feels so right — the seeming absurdity of an undead dishwasher exacting bloody vengeance on legions of cyborgs makes a little sense, if you think about it. The torturous existence of a career dishwasher must surely fill a reservoir of repressed, unhealthy rage…and when that reservoir overflows, well…. Or at least, that’s my justification. Paper thin or not, it makes about as much sense as the vague, blurry comic book narration jammed between each level of The Dishwasher’s story mode, which somehow manages to be more nonsensical than I’d expected.
Thankfully, story isn’t really a major concern when it comes to the beat ’em up genre. Weapons, combos, enemies, and levels are what matter, and Dishwasher delivers those in spades. Each of the five weapons can be upgraded to unlock new attacks, as can the health and dish magic capacities. Castle Crashers is arguably the premier brawler on XBLA, but Dishwasher provides some surprisingly fierce competition. While I miss the four-player co-op, comprehensive leveling system, and wonderful aesthetics of The Behemoth’s $15 title, The Dishwasher may have just stolen my heart; it’s the 2D equivalent of Itakgaki’s Ninja Gaiden, right down to the medium and heavy attacks, brutal finishing moves and blood-spurting, eviscerated torsos. But as much as I love all of those things, there was one final element that pushed it over the edge: the chainsaw.
Seriously, why doesn’t every game have a chainsaw? It’s the ultimate flesh-rending device, a hellish steel contraption perfectly tuned to rip any living thing into a mass of bloody chunks. James Silva, The Dishwasher’s creator, may well have been taking clues from the Evil Dead book of ultimate badassery — we’ve got the undead, a wieldable chainsaw, and a shotgun (complemented by a rapid-fire Uzi, in case the boomstick was lacking in firepower). Bruce Campbell would be proud.
The chainsaw’s only downside — yes, shockingly, it’s not quite perfect — is that it makes the game too easy. Or it would, if Dead Samurai didn’t offer several unlockable difficulty levels for those of us who want to contract an RSI before middle age. And the carnage doesn’t stop there — in addition to the short-but-sweet main attraction, a lengthy Arcade mode offers piles of brief arena battles to power through, and a Challenge mode hits you with never-ending waves of enemies.
Not everything holds up as well as the combat, which is a real shame — for every delectably gory finishing move, there’s an unattractive, bland, and ultimately forgettable backdrop. The entire game sports a soft focus, washed-out look that feels like an unsuccessful shot at film noir. In some cases, it does work — the animation and blood splatters look great and the cyborg baddies have some character (though, truth be told, a few look like they were plucked straight out of a Behemoth game), but not a single stage is visually memorable. Despite the uniformly unremarkable stages, the branching level design offers a surprising number of secrets to be found, most of which are put towards weapon upgrades. And as much as the Gothic/heavy metal vibe drags the visual elements down into blurry mediocrity, I can’t help but grin foolishly at the hidden guitar solo minigames. Sure, it’s no Guitar Hero, but he’s already an undead chainsaw-wielding samurai — why not thrash out some mad riffs, too?
Castle Crashers may still be the best brawler on XBLA, but The Dishwasher is a welcome reminder that $10 is still a viable price point for quality games on the service. With more and more arcade titles trending towards $15 and up, it’s refreshing to see the effort of one man offer so much content for 800 Microsoft Points.