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Otomedius Excellent (Xbox 360) artwork

Otomedius Excellent (Xbox 360) review

"Environments include vast and empty space (aside from enemy ships, of course), futuristic and very gray cities built on the side of cliffs overlooking waterfalls, the heart of a volcano and eventually caverns and a fleet of battleships. Settings are rendered competently but only occasionally with any originality. If you were to strip away the scantily-clad girls, Otomedius Excellent would be nearly indistinguishable from almost any generic horizontal shooter you might care to name."

Otomedius Excellent commits the crime of being a decent new shooter in an era where ďdecentĒ is no longer enough. Like Parodius before it, Konamiís ode to a once-thriving genre is inspired by the companyís own series of horizontally-scrolling shooters, Gradius. Unlike the classic titles in that beloved franchise, though, Otomedius Excellent has very little chance of being remembered fondly (or even at all).

Otomedius Excellent asset

The plot in Otomedius Excellent is indecipherable, despite some English subtitles to accompany the Japanese voice work. The main thing you need to know is that some giant girls are flying through space on the backs of regular-sized space ships. The girls, who are wearing only lingerie and bandages and such, must soar through eight stages on their way to defeat a mysterious dark force that can only be eliminated once and for all if the buxom heroines destroy it in a different dimension and a distant past. Thereís a fair bit of dialog throughout the proceedings. Villainous characters pop up on the screen and giggle as giant ships materialize and then try to obliterate you, but thereís not a cohesive story. This is a shooter, not Macbeth, so most folks probably wonít care.

Otomedius Excellent features four difficulty levels. On the easiest setting, Practice, you can only clear the first half of the game and then youíll be taken back to the title menu. Thereís no reason to play on that setting unless you really do want to see only around half the game. On Easy mode and higher, you have access to the full eight stages and unlimited continues. If you play long enough, youíll see the closing credits even if youíre dying every few seconds. Continuing when you fall for a third time provides you with another three lives. Doing so also resets your score, which serves as a helpful reminder that shooters of this sort are all about securing a high score, not merely surviving.

Before you tackle the gameís eight stages, youíll need to settle on two out of several upgrades. Known as options, those upgrades enhance your own weapons and those employed by miniature ships that fly alongside you in battle once you collect the appropriate power-ups. As you may expect if youíre familiar with the classic Gradius games, options are important to your long-term success. Thereís no one combination of options that must be used to clear the game, either, which provides some welcome replay value. You might choose a build that lets you send out walls of lasers, or one that focuses more on homing peripheral shots or anything in between. Either approach has advantages and drawbacks. Then you can specify whether you want the game to intelligently activate options as you progress through stages, or if you want to control things more directly.

Otomedius Excellent asset

When you finally settle on your build and turn your attention to the actual stages, youíll find that the surprises are largely finished. If youíve played enough shooters, you can probably already guess what youíll see throughout the gameís remainder. Environments include vast and empty space (aside from enemy ships, of course), futuristic and very gray cities built on the side of cliffs overlooking waterfalls, the heart of a volcano and eventually caverns and a fleet of battleships. Settings are rendered competently but only occasionally with any originality. If you were to strip away the scantily-clad girls, Otomedius Excellent would be nearly indistinguishable from almost any generic horizontal shooter you might care to name.

A second issue is that the game can be quite frustrating until youíve memorized its unremarkable stages. Unless you quickly power up your options so that your ship is able to deal severe damage across a wide space, youíll soon find yourself navigating areas where it seems like thereís no safe point on the screen. Itís important to neutralize every threat as quickly as possible so that you donít become overwhelmed, but thatís a tall order if youíve not yet memorized at least the general flow of the stages.

Perhaps the difficulty there comes from the fact that your options are removed each time you take a fatal hit. At first itís difficult to get a feel for which shots might hurt you and which ones will pass right through your bulky ship. That uncertainty may tempt you to play timidly, which only increases the odds that you wonít clear hazards from the screen in time. Then youíll return to the action with an underpowered vessel that no longer presents a threat to the enemy ships. You can quickly collect lost options again when you appear back on-screen and you never have to worry about being returned to the start of the stage or even being sent back to a checkpoint, but one encounter with a stray bullet that you might not have been able to see shifts the balance much too quickly.

Otomedius Excellent asset

Even an easy portion of a familiar stage can be taxing once you find yourself weakened, and sometimes itís possible to lose two or three lives almost before you know whatís happening. Until your third or fourth trip through the game, boss battles can also catch you off-guard with a move you didnít have any way to know was coming. Then the rest of the fight is exasperating because itís difficult to do any real damage. If you take too long to destroy your foe, the enemy ship will eventually fly away and then you will advance automatically to the next stage. That potential outcome feels cheap when you consider how difficult it is to inflict damage to shielded weak points on a boss once you lose your options. Frequent deaths donít make a game more interesting when youíre also given a limitless supply of ships, and bosses that flee just before you can finally destroy them strip away some of the satisfaction you deserve.

Fortunately, your experience with Otomedius Excellent will improve as you spend more time playing it. The first few runs through the campaign may be a disaster, but youíll be able to forget those unpleasant early moments once you stop worrying about whether or not you can survive and start enjoying the option customization and get caught up in the race for a better performance and a higher score. Itís a shame that reaching that comfort level takes as long as it does, though, especially when you remember that immediately enjoyable shooters have been available on consoles for more than two decades now. Konami should be commended for producing an all-new title in a genre that is on the brink of being forgotten, but the word ďexcellentĒ in the title represents wishful thinking and not reality.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 26, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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dementedhut posted November 27, 2011:

I like that this is an accessible review for those that haven't played any shoot-em-ups lately, or a Gradius-style one at that.

As someone who wrote 8 Gradius/Parodius reviews in a two month span prior to writing my OE review, I will say that it would've been impossible for me to write the type of review you did XD. It's a nice counter to my review, which approaches the game from a perspective of a "well, so-and-so elements have been featured in numerous Gradius-style games in the past, so omit or mention in passing" mindset. Like how you mentioned the difficulty of losing options and the awkward first playthrough.

Good review, Venter.
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honestgamer posted November 27, 2011:

Thanks, pickhut! I obviously haven't played as many shooters as Masters or Overdrive, but over the years I've probably played more than some of the younger gamers who might pick up something like Otomedius Excellent. I decided to write for them instead of shooter veterans, while also trying my best to explain things in a way that would answer any questions that the veterans might have. It's a difficult line to walk, so I'm glad to hear that it worked for you!
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Masters posted November 27, 2011:

Nice job, Jason. I liked yours and pickhut's review for their different approaches. You had a spacing issue that I corrected in the first sentence, if you're wondering why it says I've edited the review.

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