Remember back when shoot-em-ups weren’t all impossibly hard bullet hell shooters? Konami’s Gradius series got its start back then, first as an arcade game and then a multitude of console ports (including the fine NES version). Gradius was so successful, it spawned numerous sequels (Gradius V on Playstation 2) and a spin-off series: Parodius. That brings us to Otomedius, the successor to the Parodius series.
Otomedius Excellent is the sequel to Otomedius Gorgeous, a game that sadly never saw release outside of Japan. The story unfolds through a beautiful fully-animated introduction as well as bits of dialogue during levels. With the prominent anime-esque character designs from Mine Yoshizaki, creator of the Sgt. Frog manga, Otomedius Excellent clearly appeals to Japanophiles. As such, Konami elected to subtitle the game’s dialogue rather than dub it. Subtitles and twitch-based shooting go together like ketchup and rice, but you can always ignore them when things get hectic. Oddly, a lengthy mid-game speech from the final boss goes mostly unsubtitled.
The Otomedius series’ claim to fame is the wide variety of playable female characters, all of whom reference other Konami games. We’ve already covered their provocative designs and referential origins, so let’s talk about how they affect the gameplay. Each girl has her own default weapon loadout. Most weapons can be swapped out with others from the same category, allowing any character to be customized to your own play style.
Besides their appearances and voices, the main differentiating factors between characters are their Burst Attacks. Quick Bursts work like bombs, filling the screen and briefly protecting the player from attacks. But you only get a few per continue, so save them for tense situations. Holding the burst button until the meter fills up releases a Charge Burst. These special attacks tend to do severe damage to bosses. Even better, they aren’t limited use, so you can charge one up whenever the action lulls.
Just like Gradius, certain enemies drop powerups when defeated. These fill the power bar at the bottom of the screen by one increment. Every position on the bar activates a different powerup – speed ups, missiles, lasers, options (floating orbs/etc. that fire alongside the player), and more. Without a force field, you’ll die with one hit and lose all of your powerups – except for the options, which can be grabbed before they scroll off the screen. As a result, keeping a force field active at all times is an important strategy.
Excellent consists of 8 side-scrolling stages, the last one only appearing on the Expert difficulty level. Each stage ends with a boss fight, many with multiple minibosses too. The gigantic boss ships resemble typical Gradius bosses, but they’re piloted by ladies from other Konami games (Parodius, Tokimeki Memorial, and more). Bosses always have at least one core that you have to knock out in order to beat them. Take too long and they’ll fly off, robbing you off the points a win would have bestowed. That’s annoying at first, but play the game enough and you’ll discover how to properly beat them (usually by combining a good weapon loadout and Charge Bursts).