The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai was a smash hit on Xbox Live Arcade and rightfully so. But now there's a sequel coming next year and, with it, higher hopes. The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile stars a new protagonist, adds a bevvy of new challenges and, perhaps most importantly, runs on a brand-new engine. "Dishwasher 1 was the second project I made in XNA, back when I was clearly in the 'hobbyist' realm and more or less planted in the 'hobbyist without a clue' subcategory," James Silva, creator and head of Ska Studios said. "I've had miles of experience since then, both in terms of how to better structure my code and how to make the end result look and feel a lot better. The bottom line is that gamers will see much more fluid, expressive animations, better networking, deeper worlds, and more dynamic combat."

And the combat feels good. It's easy to engage multiple targets and move between them. In typical Ska Studios' bloody fashion, I ripped out throats, clawed faces and used the gatling gun mounted to my arm to shred up enemies. The demo itself was running on the normal difficulty level -- I was promised there would be a wider range of difficulty settings this time around, which should alleviate concerns for those who had a really tough time with the first game.

"I think game difficulty is important because, when done fairly, a difficult game gives gamers a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that they won't find in games that set the bar very low for skill because they're so invested in everyone getting the same experience," Silva said. "That being said, Dishwasher 1 had definite approachability issues and an uneven curve. I designed Dishwasher 2 to let players mash buttons a bit at first; but they'll need a bit more finesse by the end of it. I had a friend who, when playing Soul Calibur, would mash buttons so hard he'd usually stand up mid-match so he could mash them harder. People who play games like that probably won't like Dishwasher 2 all that much."

The demo available at PAX took me through the entire first stage and, while mashing buttons was certainly a viable option initially, once I was forced to engage multiple enemies at once, it just wouldn't work. Using the right stick to quickly dart left and right, and comboing attacks together was the only way to progress. With two melee attack buttons, it wasn't a hard thing to grasp, even when adding another player into the mix.

"A tweaked version of the solo campaign (it's a bit lighter on story) lets the Dishwasher and Yuki play through together and there are another 50 arcade challenge rooms," Silva told me. "It's all playable online or locally, which now features a much better camera system than in the first game." And I can attest to this: the camera is more dynamic, moving in and out depending on player orientation and proximity to each other.

I was only able to play the first level of Vampire Smile, as well as a few challenges, but it's obvious how much time Silva has put into improving the sequel. The game doesn't share the original's dirty, grainy look; as a result, the new, clean look brings the animations and characters to life even more and the proof is in the arterial pudding. Look for The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile next year on Xbox Live Arcade.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.