For decades, gamers have done their best to get high placing scores on their favourite games’ leaderboards. Score tracking has been an addictive asset of the interactive experience since the debut of arcade cabinets decades ago. Having evolved with the times, we now have online stats trackers which add extra incentive to the fire. Instead of trying to become the best gamer on the block, we’re given the opportunity to become the best in the world. Of course, being the best at a specific title is an incredibly tough plateau to reach, taking hours upon hours of devoted time.
One of the most leaderboard friendly genre of games is the side-scrolling, ‘bullet-hell’ shooter. Given that name for its penchant for throwing everything it can at players, in the form of colourful projectiles, the genre usually employs a horizontal or vertical play-field. Gamers control a ship of some sort, dodging and waving their way out of oncoming fire in the name of good. If you’ve ever given one of these games a shot, then you’ll certainly know that it’s much more difficult to do this than it sounds.
Recently localized for the North American market, Otomedius Excellent certainly fits into this category. It marries projectile dodging with colourful visuals and exaggerated young women, creating one of the more interesting titles this genre has ever seen. Key emphasis needs to be placed on two terms: exaggerated and women. Developed within a culture that is in love with schoolgirls, you can just imagine what the young playable ladies are like. Let’s just say that it’s a game which would make feminist groups cringe.
At its menu-based onset, gamers will be offered the opportunity to choose from one of several different girls – all of whom seem far too happy considering the fictional circumstance that they’ve found themselves in. For some reason, these schoolgirls and their open cockpit flying contraptions, happen to be the last line of defense against an onslaught of mechanical baddies. From what I was able to gauge from its scarcely-developed storyline, the heinous onslaught was created by a fellow young lady who embodies a dark essence. Without much added explanation, the story pits our questioned heroes into a battle which stretches across earth and into the above wonder known as space. This attempt to put an end to the Dark Source once and for all, also features an unpredicted venture into time travel.
Proudly displayed on the front of the game’s box art is an easy to notice homage to the Gradius series. Paying tribute to their heroes, Otomedius‘ development team did its best to create a similar-style game with its own unique qualities. It’s easy to notice the titles’ very basic similarities, considering that both happen to be side-scrolling bullet-hell shooters which venture into space. Digging deeper, players will notice that some of the weapon mechanics are also alike, as Otomedius Excellent employs an orb system that is eerily reminiscent to its inspiration. If a player picks up enough golden orbs, he or she will be given assistance from up to two of them. They’ll float above and below the player’s chosen avatar, firing at enemies alongside their boss.
Playable cooperatively with support for up to three players, this bullet-filled experience features a great amount of enemies to kill throughout its eight campaign stages. They come in various shapes and forms, though most happen to embody robotic steel, with the requisite amount of turrets attached. Each will come flying out of the right-hand side of the screen, with the idea that the player’s jubilant school girl must be taken down along with her ship. It’s standard genre form presented without much of a change from decades ago.
Given that this is an arcade experience, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Otomedius Excellent is short. Lasting only an hour or so, it does contain non-stop action and lots of bosses to battle. The problem is that the core gameplay is very basic and uninspired, lacking any sort of exceptional selling point. Shooting things can be pretty entertaining, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. However, the lack of speed that is presented here doesn’t benefit the game at all, acting as an inhibitor instead. When it comes to a bullet-hell shooter, insane speed and methodical evasion are the two best elements to look forward to. The action here is somewhat intense on tougher difficulties, though it’s noticeably slower than most genre releases.
Each stage presents at least one boss to fight, with later events arranging several of the large beasts in succession. Considering how much of a role final encounters play in this type of experience, it was a given that there would be a ton of them. Despite providing some relatively interesting new character designs to look at, the bosses found in this game were underwhelming. Their problem isn’t a lack of devious patterns or powerfully emitted projectile weaponry, however. The main issue with almost every single one of the end of stage encounters is their evident lack of variety and its created repetition. You see; the same targets are repeated throughout, forcing players to shoot at small yellow shields which eventually give way to blue life orbs. There’s nothing overly exciting about those defeat mechanics, intensifying a feeling of repetition due to how prevalent the employed design structure is.
Where the development team did excel was in its decided use of creative backdrops, the likes of which we don’t normally see in these types of experiences. Instead of focusing its action on a black interpretation of deep space, players are treated to colourful and diverse environments which have been inspired by our home planet. Examples include a fly through a downtown street (complete with a Contra Burger restaurant), as well as a trip through a dangerous forest. Some well-done transitions accompany changes from one section of some stages to another, showing that the team thought outside of the box when it came to how to make their stages pop. Sometimes that creativity doesn’t work as well as it could, as glitches can make the chosen on-screen avatar spawn in dangerous areas, like half-way through a vertical blockade. Two unnecessary deaths occurred as a result of this admittedly rare problem. Luckily, continues aren’t at all.
From a visual standpoint, the colourful action does look pretty good. While it won’t win any awards, the art team’s penchant for using vivid colours is certainly an asset. It helps make some of the more uninspired and repetitive enemy designs easier to overlook. Using an art style that is reminiscent of a mixture of a traditional cartoon and Japanese anime, it’s safe to say that this is unlike every genre release in the past. Of course, this is especially true given the title’s great amount of colourful special attacks, schoolgirl cries and up-tempo techno.
Bringing things down to brass tax, Otomedius Excellent is a game that is only for a niche audience. Its exaggerated leads are the first indicator of this, but the genre itself is one that happens to be set away from the mainstream. If you’re a fan of this type of experience, then it may be worth checking out this game, but be warned that it won’t win any awards. The content which is included on its DVD disc is mediocre at best, providing short burst content for a rather expensive forty dollar price tag. Though, given that this is an infinitely replayable type of game that some gamers dream about, it’s sure to impress some. With all of that taken into account, it’s an average game at best, providing mediocre gameplay mechanics amidst colourful girls with large assets.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.