A series that is very near and dear to my nostalgia is the Gradius series; the last canon release being Gradius V on the PlayStation 2, which was a joint project involving Konami and the team behind Ikaruga, Treasure. It was also the beginning of a period when Konami realized they had to remix some things to keep the franchise fresh and fans interested. When you look at thematic trends lately in side scrolling shooters, there are less sci-fi elements; everything is moving towards an overtone of cute and fantasy, as seen with Cave’s shooters and games from the Touhou Project. The Otomedius series, a spin-off of Gradius, follows this trend.
When Otomedius (arcade) and Otomedius Gorgeous (Xbox 360) arrived on the Japanese market, I was left wondering if we would see it as an American release. Around E3 of 2010, Konami announced that the sequel to Otomedius Gorgeous, titled Otomedius Excellent (Otomedius X in Japan), would be coming to home consoles in September of the same year. After a one year delay from its proposed release date, Otomedius Excellent has finally arrived. It begs the question: “Was it worth the wait?”
Otomedius Excellent starts off with a wonderful anime intro, complete with Romanized Japanese and English subtitles for the lyrics of the song. After that, the player is dropped into the main menu to select game modes or options. The game modes available are Story Mode, Multiplayer, and Score Attack. Story Mode is as its name denotes, Multiplayer allows a player and two more friends to take on the game cooperatively, and Score Attack is for someone looking to break onto the leaderboards with a killer play-through.
The story is touched on minimally at best in the game, mainly boiling down to Bacterian forces trying to conquer the universe and the cast of Otomedius trying to stop that from happening. The dialogue is all in Japanese with English captions to keep things culturally intact. For the Gradius fans out there who have not played the first Otomedius game, the game plays essentially like other Gradius games in the series save for the new Burst and Platonic Burst mechanics, as well as placing weapon cards throughout levels. These cards determine how much a weapon can be improved with power pod pick-ups and can be found from Level 1 – Level 3 forms.
As a quick overview for those who have not played any Gradius series games, Otomedius Excellent is a side scrolling shooter where upgrades are progressively earned. To power-up the ship, power pods are picked up from enemies that are destroyed and these will highlight an upgradeable ship function on the bottom. Should the function highlighted be the one a player wants, they can choose it and use the upgrade. This power up process repeats until the player’s ship is the way they like it. Throughout levels, there are certain enemies that will hold weapon cards that are earned by destroying them in certain places which will allow the player to expand their load outs for future sessions.
At the end of each stage, there is a boss that will have a weak spot (or a multiple ones) that must be broken before they can be downed. These battles are timed in such a way that if the boss is not beaten in time, they run away and the potential bonus points are lost. Upon death, a player loses all of their perks and starts again with a flimsy machine gun. In desperate times, the Burst and Platonic Bursts may be used to clear bullets and destroy weak enemies. This sums up the main essentials of gameplay.
Konami has done some nice things with Otomedius Excellent. The Practice difficulty is wonderful, as it teaches those wanting to maximize their scores with a visual indicator of where the character’s hit-box is, so they can practice evasion for a few stages. The multiplayer mode is a nice bonus, as it allows up to 3 players total on either a single console or via Xbox Live. Fair warning on multiplayer: things can get terribly chaotic. The online scoreboards have have various ways to filter scores and see replays of top players. As far as bonus content, there are gallery images to be unlocked for all of the cast, but they can only be unlocked by beating the game at Expert difficulty.
While these are all great things to have for a side-scrolling shooter game, one problem plagues Otomedius Excellent to the point that it ruins my enjoyment of the game: During intense bullet fire and enemy coverage, the game experiences severe and precision-breaking slowdowns. Slowdown in a bullet hell shooter can be tolerated if it is intentional; for example, certain levels in Deathsmiles. But when combining the level of intense bullet fire from enemy ships and bosses with one of the Otomedius girls fully loaded out in options and fast weapons (twin lasers for example) the game becomes unbearably slow.
This can be almost game-breaking in sequences that require intense dodging and maneuvering for survival. The flaw has hindered some of my sessions and set me back badly at times. For a 6 month to 1 year delay, one would figure that Konami had time to catch this and resolve it. Slowdowns should have been fixed before release and they are absolutely aggravating to encounter. I hope that these can be patched in the future, because at the moment they ruin my enjoyment of Otomedius Excellent.
There used to be an embeded media player here, but it doesn't work anymore. We blame the Tumbeasts.
All in all, when things are running fine, Otomedius Excellent is a treat to play and a challenge. The mechanics are very solid and the game does require practice to get good. Multiplayer is a nice bonus, but it can get a little too chaotic for a side scrolling shooter. Konami really put some thought into the presentation of the game, but the slowdown just makes a game that is centered on precision a chore to play.
I really want to love the game, but something that breaks the precise nature of a side scrolling shooter is just unbearable. It pains me even more to know that even after a long delay the game still came out sloppy. If Konami can fix the slowdown, I won’t mind giving the game a bit more love. Otomedius Excellent is available now as a Standard Edition for $29.99 and a Special Edition for $49.99. The Special Edition comes with a soundtrack CD, paperback art book, and a character pillow case.
[Trailer from Classic Game Room’s Youtube Channel]