Death Smiles gives you a choice between three characters and since the cursor was already on Windia, I picked her. She’s the girl in the white dress with the owl on her shoulder. The snow white owl isn’t just there for decoration. When you start a level the owl acts as a gunpod, which gives Windia two steady streams of fire.
Unlike most of Cave’s games, Death Smiles is a horizontal scrolling shmup and it has an excellent twist. Most horizontal scrolling shmups only let players shoot from the left side of the screen to right and enemies have to fly head on from the right to the left. In Death Smiles you can shoot in both directions and this system allows enemies to attack from both sides too. Instead of hugging the left side of the screen you’re forced to stay in the center. When enemies appear on the right you can tap button II to shoot a burst of bullets. Or in traditional Cave style, you can hold the button down to do a piercing attack. Button I acts the same way except it makes Windia turn around and fire bullets towards the left side of the screen.
Death Smiles starts off easy with alternating waves of enemies. Right, Left, Right. When you inevitably get surrounded it’s time to utilize the lock on attack. If you hold down button I and button II, a pink circle will extend out of Windia and she will fire at any enemies within the border. This allows players to focus exclusively on dodging since your shots will automatically home in on enemies. There is a catch to the lock on system; you need skulls to fuel it. As soon as you open fire with the lock on laser the skulls start to deplete, which keeps the game in balance. If the lock-on laser was unlimited Death Smiles would be way too easy to play. Actually, for a Cave shooter Death Smiles isn’t that difficult. This isn’t a bullet hell game like Espgaluda and Death Smiles is way more inviting than the Shoot ‘em up Test sitting next to it.