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Otomedius Excellent (Xbox 360) artwork

Otomedius Excellent (Xbox 360) review


"After 26 years of Gradius games and various spin-offs, this is what the long-running franchise has come to: a new series featuring school girls in revealing outfits, piloting equally skimpy ships as they fight Bacterians invading Earth, who, by the way, consist mainly of women in interesting outfits. Also of interest is the ability to move a little cursor on the character select screen; touch their heads and get a cute response... touch their chest and watch them jiggle."



After 26 years of Gradius games and various spin-offs, this is what the long-running franchise has come to: a new series featuring school girls in revealing outfits, piloting equally skimpy ships as they fight Bacterians invading Earth, who, by the way, consist mainly of women in interesting outfits. Also of interest is the ability to move a little cursor on the character select screen; touch their heads and get a cute response... touch their chest and watch them jiggle. Assisting in this supposed awkwardness, too, is the availability of a special edition, which includes a music CD, an art "book" (pamphlet) of battle postures and swimsuit poses, and, of course, a pillow cover with the girls splattered all over. Thanks, Konami.

But hey, in this day and age, we take what we can get outside Japan, especially since the latest Gradius title is a pachinko machine... And once you get over the initial onslaught of silly fanservice you'd normally see in anime, Otomedius Excellent actually offers a somewhat different approach to the Gradius formula. Borrowing Parodius' practice of giving players distinct crafts inspired by ships from earlier Konami titles, like TwinBee and Xexex, this game attaches a system where you'll unlock additional power-ups as you play. This is done either by defeating bosses, upgrading in rank, and so forth.

This is actually the first time in any type of Gradius title where I felt the power-up edit option was put to legit use, instead of being a cheap gimmick. Part of it has to do with some acquired power-ups being pretty cool, like the dagger shots that pierce through surfaces and cause great damage, or the retractable saws which put on a destructible show when you have multiple helpers backing your fighter. The other half has to do with certain characters' default sets just flat out sucking. Having played a ton of Gradius games, my instinct was to pick the blue-haired Aoba Anoa on my first playthrough, since she's based on the Vic Viper. Seconds into the first stage, however, I ran into a problem... the laser beam was gimped! Instead of those beautiful, long blasts, the thing now fires short bursts. The hell? Thankfully, you can switch it for the ripple shot or its equivalent.

Another aspect that's had some reworking are the boss battles. In prior titles, bosses normally had one, easy-to-hit weak point, meaning you just had to stay a safe distance and avoid attack patterns. Otomedius Excellent makes it a habit of providing bosses that have multiple weak spots with dense shields, most being extravagant variations of the Big Core Mk model, or bosses that have very hard-to-hit areas, either due to erratic movements or tight encasements. You really have to put your fighters to work with these encounters, using your maxed power-ups, special charged abilities, and "bomb" attacks to even make dents. If you attempt a casual assault, then you're doomed to watching bosses walk away, usually with backhanded comments; I actually feel shame whenever this occurs! It's a refreshing change, and has encouraged me to take risks I usually wouldn't bother doing in the past.

I just wish the other segments of the game's stages were as committed as the bosses. A lot of these stages just lack the play design and layout flow of its predecessors, often only tossing enemy formation after enemy formation at your fighters. Hell, the developers spent a chunk of one level making a joke in reference to the previous game, which most people playing Otomedius Excellent won't even get. It's not even a good attempt, since you fight typical formations as it happens. Only two levels felt like they had any structural love: the cave stage with two alternative paths, one leading to those nasty satellite-y groups from Gradius III, and the final fortress level, featuring cramped space, giant bi-pedal robots, moving platforms with turrets, and a high-speed segment. Something's wrong when the two stage designs that's been used a million times in the past are considered this game's strongest moments.

It's strange, because the preceding game, Otomedius Gorgeous, appears to have much better level structure in comparison, even though it remixes elements, as well. It's like the two good levels in Excellent times the whole game. There's, like, penguins galore, a moai stage, a snow cave level, and you have to bust through ice blocks in a maze, not to mention an awesome Egyptian level that shames 95% of Excellent's stages. I just don't understand the drop in quality between releases. This also begs the question: why didn't Konami opt for an Otomedius double pack release? It would've been a more appealing purchase than the silly special edition we were given, especially since Gorgeous never saw light outside its native country, not to mention its Japanese release is region-locked. If Konami ever made an offer to trade in the special edition items for Gorgeous, I'd gladly drive to the post office and pay the shipping and handling. Just saying.

But we're stuck with only Otomedius Excellent, and as it stands, the game is a decent, albeit somewhat unnecessary new spin-off to Gradius. I like that the developers fiddled with the traditional aspects enough to make it different, but they blundered when providing a consistently exciting experience from start to end. The stages lack creativity the Parodius titles pulled off without effort, and doesn't even come close to any of the Gradius games' clever moments. Not even the prospect of three player co-op makes this an instant purchase. If it weren't for those challenging boss fights, I probably would've lost interest real quick. This is, sadly, strictly for huge fans of the Gradius franchise and/or gamers wanting to play titles containing anime girls. Hilariously, there's better choices for the latter group, but with the former... damn it.

If Konami really wants this new series to flourish, they better make sure the next installment has quality instilled in every aspect of the game when or if it's in development. Another sub-par effort like Excellent could potentially kill off the series, forever dooming it in history as "that weird, average Gradius spin-off with boobs and stuff."

Rating: 5/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (November 19, 2011)

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Masters posted November 21, 2011:

Nice review! I did want to see what the fuss was about, and this is the best explanation I've found on the net thus far.
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pickhut posted November 21, 2011:

Appreciate that, Masters, and thanks for reading. Considering it took me a week to write it due to laziness, I'm amazed it turned out coherent in the end. XD

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