Review: Otomedius Excellent

OtomediusExcellent

In the side-scrolling shooter Otomedius Excellent, “B” stands for bullet hell.

It also stands for something else–but not what you’re thinking. No, really. Dude, why are you sniggering? The word I had in mind is “boring.”

And that’s not a word one typically associates with shmups, where the frantic shoot-and-dodge action, the screens filled with more projectiles than a Republican presidential debate, rarely if ever feels monotonous and soporific.

But it does here, if only because Otomedius Excellent, cloned from the same shmup DNA that gave us the legendary Gradius games, advances the genre about as much as “2 Broke Girls” advances modern racial relations. The lone, um, curveball here is that instead of selecting which style of Vic Viper you’d like to rock, you’re asked to choose between a collection of chesty anime female pilots clad in various skimpy costumes. Let’s hear it for immature chic, everyone.

That’s fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but it presents a practical issue—and no, I’m not talking about navel-gazing existential discussions about how the girls’ macramé-inspired outfits could possibly stay on in the heat of a firefight. Fact is that it’s nigh-impossible to consistently dodge enemy fire when you’re controlling a costumed woman perched astride an air scooter. The Gradius ships tended to be sleek and slender affairs, but you’re a fairly big target here, both horizontally and vertically. Even seasoned shmup players are going to be hard-pressed to get through the game’s eight levels without a massive amount of “continue” presses.

The good news is that you’re rewarded for doing just that. The game’s best feature is its upgrade system, which awards you points every time you play—even if you flame out under the first waves of enemy fire. Eventually, you’ll be able to add more formidable firepower to your arsenal, evening the odds a little against the skimpily clad enemies and tentacled/robotic bosses. That’s a good and needed thing, because the girls’ basic attacks fall somewhere between anemic and peashooter.

There’s a story in here somewhere, but it’s not worth deciphering it. The game’s bosses are surprisingly pedestrian—outside of a robotic snake that leaps out of a gigantic pool of lava, there’s little to drop your jaw. There is, however, a lot of exclaiming in Japanese, both when your pilots are on the attack and when they’ve just taken a laser sandwich upside the head.

Those who live for DLC have struck gold with these girls. There are currently 30 different types available, ranging from new stages and characters from other Konami classics to more revealing costumes and gamer pics. Prices run the gamut from free all the way up to about 7 bucks per, so choose sensibly.

Given the raging renaissance of shmup and bullet-hell offerings currently hitting on other platforms–specifically iOS devices, where classics like Rayforce and Espgaluda are reminding us of the beautiful heights of the genre—it’s impossible to escape the fact that there are plenty of better games like this out there right now, most of which cost a helluva lot less than this one. At its core, Otomedius Excellent is a misnomer; ‘Otomedius Meh’ wouldn’t have made for much of a marketing concept, but at least it would have been more honest.

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Pros:
+ Experience-based upgrade system rewards you for playing often
+ A metric ton of DLC available

Cons:
– Dire lack of innovation is deadlier than enemy fire
– Big, um, footprint makes your pilots an easy target
– Anime jiggle’s not much of a sell

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: 11/8/2011
Genre: Side-scrolling shooter
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-3 (local and online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.