There once was a simpler time when Konami was known for more than "Metal Gear" and "Silent Hill." The long-established Japanese company was pushing games like "Contra" and "Castlevania" on the newly released Nintendo Entertainment System, making a name for themselves as one of the top developers for the system. Outside of the company's stellar action game line up, there were two games that Konami ported over from their arcade business early on in the NES' lifecycle to help bring the side-scrolling shooter genre home to a whole new audience. "Gradius" and "Salamander" ("Life Force" here in the U.S.) were unlike most games on the market, and their influence was so pervasive, that it can still be felt today, particularly in Konami's latest release "Otomedius Excellent."
Taking place a few months after its predecessor, "Otomedius Gorgeous," "Excellent" picks up in a world of peace and tranquility. Since the Gofa Sisters' invasion several new members have joined the secret interdimensional anti-Bacterian organization "G." Peace was not long for this world, since a dark force has been amassing, and preparing to attack Earth. In order to rise up and stop it, the Angels need to call upon their combat aircraft, and put an end to this new war.
Shmups have never really been known for their stellar stories.
The gameplay unfolds as a very traditional side-scrolling shooter, where you have a choice of nine Angels, with customizable loadouts, flying ships based on classic Konami games like "Gradius," "Salamander" and "TwinBee." Take on the war alone through the story, or with two other friends in co-op mode.
Closest You're Going To Get To "Gradius" For A While
With little to no word from the Konami camp about the next entry in the "Gradius" series, it looks like "Otomedius Excelent" is the closest that you're going to get to reviving the classic series any time soon. Brandishing a large logo on the cover of the game, which reads "Inspired by the Legendary Gradius Series" "Excellent" is a solid example of the classic gameplay that helped Konami kick off the genre. While it isn't a perfect replacement, it certainly is better than nothing.
Like so many shooters that have come before it, "Excellent" isn’t short on challenging levels, but, fear not, you don't have to go at it alone. The game's co-op allows you to tackle all of the high-flying foes with two of your friends, either locally or online. While it might not seem like a huge addition to the package, the co-op actually adds another level of strategy to the game, since you need to provide support to your wing-women, as opposed to just keeping an eye out for yourself. It's a welcome addition, and I'm sure it's fun online, if you can manage to find a match.
Lack of Translations
"Otomedius Excellent" is a very Japanese game. One might go so far as to say that it's so Japanese that it's surprising that it got released in the U.S. ("Otomedius G" didn't). While that's not a bad thing, the game was obviously developed with its core fanbase in mind, and localization was an afterthought. Because of this, there's a very good chance that Western gamers are not going to have a clue about what's going on. There are subtitles for any in-game dialog, but they're relegated to the lower left-hand side of the screen, and glancing over at them generally leads to an instant death. The amazing opening cinematic is also subtitled, and is well worth watching if you want some insight into just how crazy the game is. Also none of the dialog in the game has been redone, so it's your best guess what the Angels are saying while you're inappropriately poking them in the menu screens.
Whereas "PixelJunk Sidescroller" was a great introductory game for the shoot-em-up genre, "Otomedius Excellent" is a solid intermediate level game. It's not quite on par with some of the bullet-hell games on the market (mostly in Japan), but its' classic gameplay is going to offer some degree of challenge. Needless to the say, this game isn't for everyone. While the anime Angels, and their "big guns," may turn off some of the more feminist leaning gamers, others may find them a welcome break from the Marcus Phoenixs of the gaming world. Shmup fans rejoice, "Excellent" is one less game that you need to import (and it's a steal at only $29.99). But, for the more mainstream gamer, that was too busy picking up "Modern Warfare 3" to notice this game on the shelf next to it last week, you might want to stick to the other kind of shooters.