Survey the field of games about drawing with crayons, planting seeds and playing with flowers, and you reach a startling conclusion: Indie developers are a bunch of pansies. Aside from the occasional medieval brawler or psychedelic racing game, it's a field dominated by its least masculine elements. Just look at this trailer for Erik Svedang's 2009 IGF grand prize-winner Blueberry Garden. The fluffy clouds, the children's book colors, the kissy faces ... what videogames did this guy grow up playing, Hello Kitty World?
Against this rainbow-colored backdrop, it's nice to find a game like The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. There are no flowers to tend to, no puzzles to solve and no contemplative string quartet soundtracks to lull you to sleep. Instead there's just you, a pair of meat cleavers and a never-ending stream of cyborgs, zombies, government operatives and Vikings to dispatch in the bloodiest way possible.
It only takes a glance for The Dishwasher's hardcore ambitions to become apparent. Unlike most indie games, it makes no attempt to look pretty - indeed, it's one of the most eye-gougingly hideous games I've played in recent memory. Its color palette consists mostly of various shades of blood red, with inexplicable bursts of Dayglo lightning and fuchsia muzzle flashes. The game's character models have an ad hoc, hand-drawn look, and while the titular Dishwasher himself is well animated, enemies often look like they were dragged from a nearby MS Paint window. It's abundantly clear that no one with any artistic aspirations had a part in creating The Dishwasher.
But The Dishwasher isn't about pretty visuals - it's about gruesome 2-D carnage. And while James Silva isn't much of an artist, he's a surprisingly competent game designer. The Dishwasher's combat is complex and varied enough that you wonder how a one-man team could have pulled it off. There are five weapons to choose from over the course of the game, and each weapon has a number of combos that you can unlock by purchasing upgrades from in-game vendors. Once you become accustomed to each weapon, you'll be air-juggling your helpless opponents in no time.
By far the most useful weapon in the game is the Shift Blade, a katana that allows you to teleport across the screen by aiming with the right thumbstick. The Shift Blade is less of a weapon and more a vehicle that you'll increasingly rely on in the game's later stages. You'll use it to dodge bullets, body slam jetpack-wearing jumptroopers and access areas that are otherwise unavailable to you. It's The Dishwasher's main innovation, and it's almost worth the price of admission by itself.
The Dishwasher's nasty difficulty curve and twitch gameplay will likely limit its audience to a select group of players who enjoy a challenge but don't mind if it's a little rough around the edges. While there's plenty of variety in the weapon types, you wonder if perhaps the game would have benefited from a more focused approach. That's especially true of a bizarre guitar mini-game where you earn item upgrades through a primitive, gamepad-based version of Guitar Hero. You get the feeling that the designer included more out of an enthusiasm for guitars than any vision he had for the game.
After a few hours with The Dishwasher, it becomes apparent that it's less an indie title and more a hardcore beat 'em up in a shabby disguise. That's both a compliment and a complaint: creator James Silva has proven that he can succeed in the game industry, but probably not by himself. While most indie designers limit themselves to only a handful of game mechanics and use the extra time to polish each one to perfection, Silva threw a bunch of ideas at a wall and hoped some of them would stick. Unfortunately, that makes for a frustratingly inconsistent experience.
Bottom Line: Given its constraints, The Dishwasher is a surprisingly decent indie approximation of a AAA brawler like Ninja Gaiden. Unfortunately, it lacks the level of polish that you'd expect from an XBLA title.
Recommendation: Spend 15 minutes with the demo before you lay down $10 on the full version.
Jordan Deam's dishwasher leaves a filmy residue in all his glasses, but it's still better than washing them by hand.