Review: Otomedius Excellent (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Otomedius Excellent
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 11/1/2011

For reasons that elude me at this point, the Xbox 360 has become a significant haven for old-school “shooters”. It’s not that I’m not happy about this fact, as, really, I’m old and the genre is one I grew up with and thus still appreciate, but the 360 has been surprisingly competitive on the shooter front with the PS3, and the console features some of the best modern releases and re-releases in the genre. We’re talking about a console that features great modern releases like Deathsmiles and R-Type Dimensions as well as classics like Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun on one console and it’s absolutely glorious. My personal policy is “buy every shooter that comes out on the 360″ because I want there to be more shooters, and while that often means I end up with less interesting games like Omega Five, I also have a console with Triggerheart Exelica, KOF Sky Stage, DeathSmiles 2X and the above mentioned games on the hard drive, so it’s a worthwhile trade off. The trade-off is that, with so many quality shooters available to the player on one console, new shooters have to, in turn, step up their collective game to be anything better than “okay”. Some games do this with weird mechanics, or excellent presentation, or lots of stages and content, or extremely weird presentation elements. Otomedius Excellent, the subject of today’s review, has chosen to attempt to step up its game with a combination of three things: Gradius mechanics, Konami cameos, and half-naked teenage girls.

There’s no joke there; those are really the defining characteristics of the game.

So there’s some kind of plot to Otomedius Excellent that seems to be based around the idea that your characters attend some kind of high school where they also learn how to shoot down Bacterians, the enemy forces responsible for the invasions you have to repel in the Gradius series. The game isn’t especially good about explaining the plot, and the manual is even less so, but internet research indicates the characters are apparently students/employees at the St. Gradius HQ and are attempting to keep the universe safe from the Bacterian forces, but really, it barely matters. What little dialogue is in the game that attempts to explain the plot is mostly just character banter with the occasionally badly translated bit here and there (seriously, watch Dark Force give a thirty second speech that amounts to about ten words translated), but the plot isn’t going to be a motivator anyway usually. What matters are the game modes, and Otomedius Excellent has enough of those to keep things going. You’re offered the Story Mode, where you can play through one round of missions to go through the plot, as it is, and see the ending image for your character. You can also jump into Score Attack mode and attempt to set a high score, going through as many rotations as you can survive with three lives and no continues. You can also play the game in multiplayer, online and off, with up to three players, to see how far you can get on three lives and no continues or to try and collect weapons. You’ve also got access to Leaderboards to track your scores against others across numerous filters and a Gallery that retains character images for you to peruse as you unlock things. As such, while there’s nothing really crazy here, mode-wise, what’s here is fine and keeps things interesting for a while, and as such, it works.

Otomedius Excellent uses a full 3D engine for its shooter mayhem, and while it’s not the most beautiful engine out on the market in terms of texture resolution, what it does do well is make lots of pretty colors and explosions. The game world is often populated with enemies and bullets that are all very colorful and easy on the eyes, and the ship and enemy designs are interesting enough, more so when facing boss ships, as they’re often patterned after boss ships from earlier Gradius titles. Your characters also pilot ships that are patterned after games from the Gradius, Axelay, Salamander/Life Force, Twinbee, and more, and while they’re not super-accurate on account of having to accommodate a teenage girl riding them, they’re accurate enough to be recognizable to fans. On the other hand, the game does feature some noticeable slowdown in busier areas, which is common for shooters and ultimately not detrimental in the long run, but it’s there all the same. The in-game music is generally fitting to the product, featuring plenty of peppy, upbeat tracks and tense, pounding tracks depending on the situation, with the former often gracing stages and the latter often gracing bosses. The voice acting is all in Japanese and, for the most part, is perfectly fine at conveying what it’s supposed to convey, and is certainly a better choice than a possibly terrible overdub at least. The sound effects are appropriately futuristic and comprised almost entirely of shooting noises and exploding noises, and as such, fit the game perfectly fine.

Otomedius Excellent plays about how one would expect of a Gradius styled shooter, which means that some of the mechanics will be incredibly obvious, while others will take a little adjusting to. By default, the left stick and pad move your ship around, the A button fires normally, the B button uses “auto-fire” which more rapidly fires shots and can change some shot sizes and abilities, and the Y button uses your screen clearing special attack, AKA smart bomb. The X button allows you to select power-ups as you wish from the power up list your character has; basically, each time you collect a power-up in the game world the list advances one space, and when you’ve collected enough power-ups to turn on the weapon you want, you press X to turn it on. You can also turn on “semi-auto” mode, where the game will automatically buy the power-up it thinks is best when it comes up in the list, which is good for new players but experienced players will find it annoying after a while and avoid it. You can also use emotes with the triggers when you want to express yourself to others during online play, though this is basically an aesthetic thing and doesn’t affect the game itself. The right stick isn’t employed in the game proper, but it finds use in the character selection and loading screens, as you can use it to move the cursor around to different things if you want to make selections that way. You’ll mostly use it to point at the girls in the selection and loading screens, the latter because pressing A while the cursor is on them makes them spout lines, the former because you can poke them on the head to generate pleased reactions and anywhere else to be a pervert, complete with mostly embarrassed reactions.

The big addition to Otomedius Excellent when compared to other franchise games is that most of the slots in each character’s arsenal are interchangeable with other weapons from the same category. Each character generally has unique items slotted into their Option and Shield categories, but allows for customization of their Double, Missile, Laser, and Speed categories from most weapons in your arsenal (some are character/type specific, however). You’ll start out with a few options already available, but as you play you’ll unlock new weapon types and upgraded versions of existing weapons as you kill enemies, which will be added to the options available (though upgrades won’t show if you don’t already have the lower-level weapon available). You can then place these into the power-up map and activate them as needed, though for upgraded weapons you’ll have to active them multiple times to get the higher level version active, and the upgrades only last for a brief window, making it important to use them at the best possible time. There are ten total characters to play as in the game, with seven being immediately available and three others available once you’ve unlocked them, and each has a different power-up map to work with that determines when power-ups are available. Finding the character that’s right for you often comes down to what order power-ups are available in their map relative to when you want them and how their options behave, as each character’s options move and react in different ways, so you’ll want to test the characters out a few times to figure out who’s best for you. Some characters also don’t completely obey the rules completely; Hyper Aoba Anoa has nine slots with different weapons plugged into each instead of the normal six, for instance, and Gesshi Hanafuuma has a large-area spread-fire attack instead of options, so, again, there’s more to each character than one might think, and experimentation is helpful in the beginning of the game.

A session of the game will take you around thirty minutes to an hour to go through, depending on which of the four difficulties you play on: Practice allows you to see the first four stages, Easy and Normal offer seven, and Expert offers the full eight stages to play through. You’re offered infinite continues for each, though each offers a larger bullet count from enemies to dodge, and Practice and Easy start you off with your shields already on, though only Normal and Expert unlock anything aside from weapon pickups. You can also play the game with up to three players, online or off, with no continues, though you can in turn go through multiple sequences of the game, where beating it will dump you back to the first stage to play through again with slightly harder enemies to face. Score Attack is also available, with the same restrictions (though only one player can play at a time), if you want to see how far you can get into the game and upload a score to the leaderboard for others to beat. The game also offers unlockable characters and artwork of all sorts to collect, levels to upgrade each character that unlock new speed levels (though you only need to max out one character to give everyone the speed options), replays to download so you can see how the best players get the high scores, and Achievements to unlock. For shooter fans, there’s plenty of content to play around with in Otomedius Excellent, and even the more casual fans out there can make plenty of progress thanks to the infinite continues offered, and anyone who wants to see everything the game has to offer will be at it for a good, long while.

The collector’s edition also offers some interesting content:

In addition to the game itself, you’re also given an artbook, a CD featuring the music from the game and a pillowcase featuring artwork of the characters on both sides. While the pillowcase is a decidedly more… otaku sort of freebie that is a little odd to see as a collectible in a US release (Catherine notwithstanding), the art book and soundtrack CD are both pretty cool. The soundtrack for the game is a pretty fun mix of tracks that’s fun to listen to, and while none of the tracks are likely to be on anyone’s “best” list, they’re enjoyable all in all. The art book, on the other hand, features plenty of artwork for all of the main characters, including the artwork from previous releases in the series that never made it to the US, and as such, it’s a nice little collectible for those who like the character art, as there’s a good bit more of it here than there is in the game proper.

Otomedius Excellent has a few issues that make it a little harder than it should be to recommend, however. For one thing, it’s really a Konami homage piece more than anything else, and while it’s a fine shooter all in all, unless you recognize all of the ship designs that pop up from other Konami shooters, or the cameos of characters from Parodius, Tokemeki Memorial, and Getsu Fuuma Den, you’re not going to get or care about a good portion of what the game wants you to be interested in. For another, the game is, well, often excessively sexualized, between the half-dressed teenage girls, the often half-naked ending pictures you earn for completing the game, and the fact that you can grope them on the character select screen, so to be honest, the game is just the tiniest bit sexist. Assuming you can get past this, however, it’s harder to ignore some of the more annoying mechanical elements of the game. The multiplayer in particular is frustrating, as it basically puts you in the position where if the second or third players die, they can come back (eventually) but if the first player dies three times it’s game over, the end. It’s understandable in the “making new weapons harder to acquire” sense that this is so; you can choose a stage and sequence in multiplayer, so if you want a weapon you can just jump into the stage and section it spawns in and collect it, assuming you survive, which would be rendered pointless with infinite continues. It’s not, however, understandable in a game where the story mode gives the player infinite continues and can literally be beaten by doing nothing but pressing start every so often, which I can state as a fact can be done here because I did it to test if the continues were indeed infinite. It’s hardly difficult to, say, make the Story Mode multiplayer as well so that players could goof around in groups instead of having to try and work with the nonsense presented as a multiplayer mode here, and anyone who likes shooters but is bad at shooters is going to reject this outright. The upgraded weapons also seem kind of pointless because they burn out in something like thirty seconds, leaving you with the regular weapon you started with, and your power-ups are better spent on shields given the choice, frankly. If the game had let you keep the improved level weapon that would be novel, but as it is now, they’re basically not even worth the effort to use, as more than a few of the best score attack replays clearly show off on XBLA.

Otomedius Excellent is a fine shooter if you can overlook its faults, and there’s a good amount of depth to the game given the genre, but it’s one step forward and two steps back, as it’s also a game that limits its appeal in other ways. The story is inoffensive and fine for the subject matter, there are a solid amount of play modes and options, the game looks and sounds good, and the gameplay controls are simple enough to learn and offer options for new players to learn the ropes. There’s a surprising amount of depth to the game, between the different characters that are actually noticeably different mechanically, the weapons you can collect, and the variety of play modes, and between those elements and the unlockables you can find and Achievements you can earn, this is a game with a deceptive amount of content given the genre it occupies. That said, it’s also a game with a less than ideal translation, the odd bit of slowdown and a somewhat… sexist presentation and design, to be blunt about it. Beyond that, the game also presents a very confused balance, offering the player a single player campaign that’s impossible to fail and a score attack that’s positively challenging, but a multiplayer that’s annoying in its design and basically shuts casual fans out, as well as some other minor annoyances or missed opportunities on top of that. Otomedius Excellent is really the sort of shooter that’s only for a small subset of genre fans, as despite some really excellent ideas, it’s artistically and mechanically grating on several levels, leaving a game that should be an easy game to recommend in a position where, unfortunately, the exact opposite is the case.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: POOR

Short Attention Span Summary:
Otomedius Excellent is a game full of big ideas and noticeable flaws, and while the big ideas will be enough to sell the experience for genre enthusiasts, the flaws will, in turn, turn away more than a few of them, leaving this a game for only the most enthusiastic of enthusiasts. There’s a story to the game that’s serviceable enough and enough modes to be interesting, the game offers some solid visuals and audio to work with, and the gameplay is easily picked up and offers options to allow inexperienced players to learn the ropes. The game also offers a surprising amount of depth for a game in the genre, featuring some interesting weapon collection and character variation elements that make for some surprising variety, as well as plenty of modes, unlockables and Achievements to keep fans busy for a while. However, for all of its content and variety, the game is also hampered by an occasionally awkward translation, noticeable slowdown, and a presentation that is decidedly male-centric, to be polite. Further, the balance is awkward across the game modes, leaving the story mode easy, the score attack challenging and the multiplayer annoying, and there are other minor frustrations and hiccups that also hurt the experience in the long run. Otomedius Excellent isn’t bad so much as it is weird, as it’s a shooter that possesses enough innovation to appeal to a broader than normal audience, but limits itself in so many other ways that it ends up being a narrow appeal game in a narrow appeal genre.



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One response to “Review: Otomedius Excellent (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

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