Otomedius Excellent Review
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On 12/03/2011 at 03:15 PM by Jason Ross
No lions, tigers, or bears here, but we're definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Those who enjoy Gradius-style shooters will like Otomedius Extreme. Those looking to try a Gradius-style shooter for the first time would do well to start with this one. Everyone else interested in shoot-em-ups on the 360 should probably look for something else.
Imagine a world where schools are secretly facilities to train kids to become fighter pilots. There is an underground spy at the school masquerading as a science professor. The fate of the world is at hand! Does any of this matter? Oh no it doesn't. Skimpy clothes on teenage anime girls, bullets, bullets, and more bullets, along with several boss fights define Otomedius Excellent.
Otome, which means “Maiden” in Japanese, and Gradius mashed into one forms the portmanteau of “Otomedius,” a game which promises Gradius-style shoot-'em-up gaming with lots of scantily clad anime girls. It's a simple concept, and the game is relatively simple in its execution as well. Each playable character in the game pilots a different ship, with a twist: there isn't really a cockpit; in most cases the girl kind of rests in-between the wings of each ship. Regardless, the ship and the girl act as one, with a circular hitbox that encompasses the point where the girl and the ship intersect. Since this point isn't really the center of the ship, it can make determining the hitbox in real-time a little more difficult than normal.
My favorite idea represented in Otomedius Excellent has little to do with graphics or aesthetics. Each character in the game represents a game or franchise in Konami's shoot-'em-up past. Some elements of a character's weapons or appearance can signify this, but this is ultimately displayed within the gameplay. The main character represents the Vic Viper from Gradius, another is based on TwinBee, a third on Salamander. All together, there are eight unique characters who play the same at a glance, but most offer a fairly decent amount of substance on their own. Players familiar with Gradius will likely recall “Options,” which are essentially familiars that fly around each ship, imitating the flight pattern of the ship to help out. Most ships have their own type of options, and each type can radically alter how one must approach success (read: Not dying while killing the bigger, badder boss ships) throughout Otomedius Excellent.
In the end though, success against a boss typically comes down to shooting down the boss's core. While cores generally look like large orbs, they're often deep within a boss, and successful shots can only be fired once several barriers have been shot down that guard a narrow opening to each core. While Otomedius Excellent has dozens of weapons, some are great at shooting down the dozen or so enemy ships that can appear on screen during a stage, while others are more effective at shooting down cores. At the beginning of the game when choosing a character, players are asked to assign a few weapons to their ships, and this choice is of vast importance to player success throughout the game. Pick the wrong weapon, and it could be practically impossible to destroy a boss before the boss literally gets bored and leaves. The right one, on the other hand, can allow skilled players a chance to escalate higher and higher on online leaderboards.
Still, this type of versatility represents an issue with the game, one that Gradius games tend to share: a steep learning curve. In order to determine the effectiveness of a weapon against a boss, players will have to be able to reach the boss with either enough power-ups to purchase the weapon for use on the boss, or reach the boss with the weapon. For someone skilled at shoot-'em-ups, this isn't a huge problem, but considering how many bosses there are and the number of vastly different weapons, finding the one that fits a playstyle just right can become a chore. Without a trial type of option for quick experimentation, Otomedius Excellent's diverse weapon options can become a little bit overbearing. In this way, the game does little to invite new players to experience what it has to offer.
Likewise, Otomedius Excellent could be marred by its risque theme. Aside from a little bit of random dialogue and some bosses that are represented by their own typically equally unclothed girls that appear on screen with their names, the characters and plot of Otomedius Excellent really have little impact on the core of the game. The wacky plot involving “Bacterians,” a “Dark Force,” and time travel has little bearing on the gameplay. I have to admit that if I didn't receive Otomedius Excellent as a review title, I would be embarrassed to admit I had played it. For me, this seems like a problem. For younger gamers, it absolutely is. For older ones, it might not be an issue at all. Regardless, I have to say the theme, while fun at times, is another definite barrier to entry for Otomedius Excellent.
Simultaneous multiplayer helps to break down a few of those barriers. Available both online and offline, Otomedius experts can take friends flying as wingmates. Interestingly enough, in multiplayer, only the first player has lives. Up to three total people can play, and player two and three can die as many times as they can until player one loses all of his stock and sees a game over. Playing the game with Chris actually worked out well: I would generally stay in the back, dodging bullets and killing things, and he'd die endlessly. Slowly, he grew a little bit better at the game. This mode isn't a bad way to introduce a friend to the genre, but because of the cumulative power-up system of Gradius titles, even with infinite lives, dying repeatedly can be absolutely frustrating at times.
I mentioned the leaderboards a little bit above, but it's important to note that players can also include a replay when they make a high score. The best players can actually be watched, and it's possible to pick up on new strategies and weapon combinations from observing the top replays. Unfortunately, considering how long a high-scoring replay can be, inevitably these replays are subject to corruption of some sort, and sooner or later, a few stages, if not all of them, will wind up desynced, rendering their entertainment value and usefulness moot. Fortunately, each stage seems to be saved separately, so if a video desyncs, most of it can still be salvaged by just skipping to the replay of the next level. Those wishing to challenge the leaderboards will likely want to skip most replays of the early stages as well: The score attack mode loops after the seventh level, and each round from 1-99 grows progressively more difficult!
I have a hard time recommending a Gradius title. I've never been fond of the series, and I don't particularly enjoy the element of resource management required to power up that is characteristic to the franchise. The ecchi anime theme doesn't necessarily help this game out, either. Still, it's hard not to find the variety within the game exceptional, and the potential behind 99 different loops is a little mind-boggling. With the multiplayer aspects, as well as the ease of access to replays, I have to admit this particular Gradius-styled title seems a lot more approachable than similar games I've played in the past. Despite this, I definitely feel like other games in the shoot-'em-up genre are more polished and more enjoyable on the whole. To that extent, I have to recommend this game only to those who are fans of Gradius, Otomedius G, Parodius, and Konami's shooters in general. I think there are too many better options out there, particularly on the 360, to settle for Otomedius Excellent.