Thursday, April 16, 2015

Otomedius Excellent - Thoughts

I really like Gradius—it's a peculiar series, chock-full of some quirky tropes (Moai heads & feeble final bosses), a wide variety of customizability, and some absolutely brutal gameplay that demands an R-Type level of memorization. I also like the concept of Parodius, Konami's spectacularly bizarre way of turning Gradius into a nonsensical cartoon. Otomedius though... I struggle with. My first foray into Gradius-meets-moe is with Otomedius Excellent, and I'm not exactly sure how I feel on it other than embarrassed for its existence.

The idolization of young anime girls isn't something new to video games, and many STGs have veered into this area over the last decade—CAVE in particular has touched upon this with recent DoDonPachis and Deathsmiles. In some series like the eXceed or Touhou games, I don't mind the all-female cast seeing as the fetishization is minimal (arguably?). But my ideal anime girl involvement—if it must be there—is in something like Mushihimesama, where the protagonist is the token example. On most occasions I try to let the gameplay overrule the art style and/or character models (like with Castle Shikigami), but Otomedius Excellent is the prime example of a game that tests these boundaries.

The game is unabashedly eager to please the player right out of the gate. It opens with the an animated intro, showcasing its scantly clad, nonstop-grinning magical girls as they ride about on top of their ship like a hood ornament. It looks even more ridiculous in game as the model jostles back and forth as you steer it around, like she's trying her best to hang onto her cosmic chair. Each girl can only be leveled up individually, prompting you to pick your favorite and stay with her, and during the loading screens you can poke her with a pointer to induce cute catch-phrases and exasperated vocal foleys. The theme of the game stands somwhere between Gradius and Parodius, containing a self-serious story wrapped up in a bunch of nonsense like your sensei being a stage boss, unexplained time travel, and a gothic loli maid equipped with an armada-disintegrating doomsday laser. Visually it looks quite a bit like a PS2 game at times, being bright, blocky, and colorful.

One of the enjoyable oddities about Excellent is that it is a very newbie-friendly game. It can be easily 1cc'd on normal (as long as you memorize some of the safe-zones on the last boss)—a somewhat rare aspect for its umbrella franchise. Gradius-style games are frustratingly punishing if you die during the last couple of stages, with the arcade version of Gradius III being perhaps the worst I've ever experienced, so the tone-down in challenge is a bit surprising. It's still fun to play through because you don't have to attune yourself to the game like you do with 95% of other shmups, the 1cc victory feeling like a bite-sized reward for your efforts.

The game also has a maddening amount of customizability. There's a host of weapon types that I continuously unlocked for my chic pink-haired doll, and though I stick to most of the shot-types introduced in the first few Gradius games (Spread Bomb-4-life) being able to mess around with the goofier shot types is somewhat fun (I couldn't figure out whether I liked the Dagger laser-type or not). The stages are alright and the bosses aren't anything to write home about—the only thing that surprised me was the lack of the penultimate walker boss. Most of the achievements don't seem too hard to get either, but my cheevo-grinding days are well beyond me now.

On one hand, Otomedius Excellent is the best way to jump into the world of Gradius without having to endure its harsh arcade roots. On the other hand... just look at it. Perhaps I tend to wax too nostalgic on a series I always felt was "cool" growing up, but this rendition was really trying its best to humiliate me for playing through it. I became numb to most of it on my third go-around, but it doesn't detract from the fact that Otomedius Excellent as the newest Gradius game is unfortunate... or, as one could say, far from Excellent.

Images obtained from:,,,,

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