Gradius is back! Or should I say, it's evolved, merging genes with Parodius and scantily-clad anime-inspired pilots to become Otomedius Excellent. I wasn't even sure what the title meant at first. Otomedius is actually a splicing of two words with 'otome' meaning maiden and Grad'ius' representative of those old space shooters I both loved and dreaded when I was younger.
The game was playable at the Konami booth at Comic-Con, so my wife and I took on the local multiplayer mode. Otomedius Excellent was classic, side-shooting gameplay at its most ‘excellent’. You choose among the 9 female pilots, and I played as Aobo Anoa who pilots the Vic Viper (the ship from Gradius) while my wife picked Diol Twee. Each ship has different powers and upgrades available such as speed, missiles, and weapon types. The pilots have 'cutesy' animations and are dressed in revealing uniforms which are all the more amazing considering the ships they fly are more like aerial motorbikes that take them through space and Earth -- nothing like zero-g in a bikini and mini-skirt.
- The flashy visuals nicely complement the retro gameplay -
The first enemies we faced in Otomedius Excellent were the Fans, Garuns, and Rugals from the Gradius series (at least ones that looked like them). Destroying groups of opposing craft resulted in a Gradius-resembling power-up icon. Space underwent a dimensional warp and we found ourselves in a city that resembled a seaport. Bigger ships appeared and waves of enemies flew at us. We made mincemeat of them as we listened to the catchy music beats playing jauntily in the background. A red alert warning flashed across the scene and an image of the cat/pirate/female boss, Neko Sancho, popped up. The fight was against her ship, Mirrored Core, constructed of flipping pentagonal glass, similar to the Core Warships in Gradius. It had an outer shield that you had to break through before taking out the central generator.
As for the plot of this game, I know the world is at stake (as it always is in games like this), but I don’t know much else. The characters were constantly saying things to one another in Japanese, bantering, and giving cautionary warnings. I am looking forward to the humor and tongue-in-cheek moments I fully expect from the 'Parodius' half of the game. It wouldn't be far-fetched to expect crazy villains, outrageous plot points, and ridiculous anime humor.
The next level of Otomedius Excellent had us soaring through the nightlife of a modern metropolis, warding off a pair of pilots -- the Gofa sisters. The regular enemies were, for the most part, the same, though the action intensified with blasts and beams coming from all corners. The level culminated with a battle against T. B. Rika who drove a Tri-Pod Core, a vehicle that resembled behemoths from The War of the Worlds, with their tentacles and three-legged set-up. Fortunately (or unfortunately for hardcore gamers), we never felt overwhelmed by the difficulty. While not hard, it wasn't easy either, and the game felt tightly balanced.
- This is a shooter you're going to want to share with friends -
Considering previous parts like Gradius 1 and Gradius 3 used to give me fits with their difficulty, Otomedius Excellent felt like it was designed with casual gamers in mind. There is an expert level, and the parts we played were fairly early on, so it's hard to say more on how challenging it will be. But all in all, the whole game was abounding with old-school appeal and a retro-feel that was a whole lot of fun. The anime aesthetic is geared towards a male audience (I don't think there will be any male pilots), but even my wife enjoyed the shooter elements. Coming out for the Xbox 360 (with a projected release date of September 20, 2011), keep your eye on this latest iteration of this classic side-scrolling shooter.
He has been working in film and games for over a decade. On his off time, he likes to travel the world. His short story collection, Watering Heaven, was just published by Signal 8 Press.
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