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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Otomedius Excellent screen-shotOtomedius Excellent (Xbox 360)

Despite a few problems with its depth and some distracting choices in its presentation, fans of classic horizontal shooters will find much to enjoy in Komaniís Otomedius Excellent for Xbox 360. It features a cast from the popular Japanese anime series in a classic shooter thatís inspired by the classic Gradius series. It would be easy to dismiss the game as a cheesy exercise in anime excess, the gameplay offers a fairly solid and challenging series of battles with the traditional option system enhanced with burst attacks and massive boss battles. The game also allows three players to shoot simultaneously for added fun. Unfortunately, Itís fairly short consisting of only 8 levels, but Otomedius Excellent is a fairly fun game while it lasts

Players who havenít experienced the barrage of classic Japanese shooters like Dondonpachi or Parodius will probably wonder what the fuss is all about with this release. Otomedius has proven popular and durable in Japan over the years, with its missile riding characters and humorous approach giving it a distinct anime flavor to the traditional shooter genre. While it might seem like an odd choice, Konami has decided to release one of these games for Western players, so that they might get a chance to play one of these titles without the hoops and high price usually required. You canít really fault Konami for releasing a title like this stateside, and its appeal will probably come largely to those devoted players who really enjoy these kinds of titles. Thereís even a special edition that comes complete with a soundtrack, art book and a pillow case, fun extras that should appeal to those who like otaku culture. Credit is due to the appropriately excellent presentation and visuals. The gameís storyline and characters seem to have made the transition intact. Otomedius Excellent is the rare release that hasnít been watered down to appeal to western tastes.

One key thing to know is that this has come out without much fanfare, but is definitely worth it if you wanít an authentic experience. Youíll immediately notice that all the voice-overs, and even the songs appear in Japanese with English subtitles underneath. This is a cool idea that gives you the full experience. Some players will probably find the use of young, scantily clad girls as the main characters a bit distracting Ė there are some sections of brief nudity for the main characters. This might be offensive to some, but itís a part of the culture. That being said, this is definitely a title for the adult audience, but thanks to Konami for letting it stand on its own merits. The ability to play it without the censorís touch is definitely one reason to pick this title up. Its unrestrained anime-infused storyline can be a little distracting initially, but once you get used to its quirks and focus on the action, youíll find that Otomedius offers some fairly interesting and challenging gameplay, and thatís what matters most. 

Once you penetrate through the layers of its surreal anime trapping, Otomedius Excellent is a fairly traditional 2D shooting game. It owes an obvious debt to the Gradius series in a number of aspects. The majority of its power-up system is similar to that seen in the Gradius games. You have a series of power-ups at the bottom of the screen and collect pods during the game that select which power-up youíll use. Knowing when to use them is key Ė and some of them can be counter-productive, such as the speed-up option, which can make the main character difficult to control. You can gain access to these by shooting down various enemies and collecting the pods they release. Some pods work instantly to clear the screen or increase your energy, so you need to know which type you want to use. One slightly different element in Otomedius are the burst shots, which allow you to perform a special one-time attack that can produce a massive show of force that instantly creates havoc for your opponents. These attacks can be quite effective against bosses, so you should save them for that point in the game. Other items you collect can bring different effects, so you have to be careful.

Despite its weird approach, its structure and mechanics are fairly traditional. The stages in Otomedius unfold in a traditional fashion, with a standard run through some fairly surreal environments ending with a boss battle. There are several fun moments in the game that should bring back memories of classic Gradius games, though we wonít ruin them. Itís fun to see the new twists on these classic moments and it makes the game cool for veterans of the seriesí earlier titles. Most enemies can be shot down with a single shot, and their AI makes them somewhat predictable. As usual, memorizing patterns early on helps but you also need to have some skill to evade attacks, usually occurring in waves against the player. At certain points, youíll also face off against some difficult sub-bosses who can be relentless. While its not quite as intense as some of the more recent Ďbullet hellí shooters, it still delivers quite a challenge at points. This is especially true during the later stages, where the game unleashes its most potent opponents. Some of these boss battles can rage on through several enemies, and Otomediusí later stages pick up the pacing for some fairly intense action that should challenge shmup veterans.

The solo game is challenging and entertaining, but Otomedius Excellent also lets you play along with two others for a three-player assault which should enhance its frenetic shooting action. Unfortunately, there are only eight stages in the game, which means itís a little bit too short, and not as deep as one would expect. In order to add some replay value, the developers let you play as multiple characters, each of which brings a slightly different set of weapons to the fight. There are also unlockable items such as a gallery mode and other extras that you can win by playing through the game. As you might expect, the visuals are a bit on the surreal side, and the large character models look fairly decent, though they suffer a little from that HD blandness, where things look a little bit too smooth in parts. There are some repetitive animations between stages as well, which can be annoying. Itís not a bad looking title overall, and its clean look makes it very easy to play. Otomediusí Japanese voice-overs and J-pop soundtrack add to its authenticity and make it fun to play. Its not the deepest or most challenging shmup weíve ever played, but it is enjoyable for what it is. Konami deserves credit for releasing it in its pure form, so you can play through it in the way it was intended. Otomedius Excellentís 2D approach and quirky Japanese style probably wonít appeal to everyone, but its definitely worth picking up and playing if youíre into anime and classic shooter titles.

Ė Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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