I don't mean that in a racist, judgemental way, but Otomedius Excellent further proves that the tastes of Western and Eastern gamers are very, very different. Otomedius Excellent is a sequel to the Japanese arcade game Otomedius, which was in turn a side-scrolling shoot 'em up inspired by the Gradius series, but it's clear that just because a game is inspired by greatness, that doesn't mean it's guaranteed to be great as well. I'm glad I took the time to read up on this game beforehand, because almost nothing is explained in-game; I didn't understand the story, the gameplay was trial and error, and I could have easily mistaken this for softcore pornography. All that said, it was still surprisingly fun!
The first thing that jumped out at me was how indecipherable the plot was. While playing through the campaign (which is a disappointingly short 45 minutes), I managed to catch random snippets of dialogue from the protagonists and antagonists quarrelling, but it was impossible to understand because the voice-overs were in Japanese and the subtitles scrolled along the bottom left of the screen during the most intense moments. If you were to actually take the time to read them, you'd be overwhelmed by the swarms of enemies and plasma shots. I'm not sure how this was supposed to work, since the only real way to catch any of the plot is to learn Japanese or read about it online; I chose the latter and yet I still have almost no idea what was going on.
But none of that really matters because the plot has absolutely no impact on the gameplay. There's a hefty roster of scantily clad girls to play as, yet the game is no different from one girl to another; the dialogue remains the same, the enemies maintain identical patterns, and the power-ups are, as best I could tell, identical. I'm not sure why they even added a story mode if it wasn't going to amount to anything; the least they could have done is taken the time to translate the rest of the game properly, because it's slightly awkward at first to pause the game and be given an option to 'return game', as opposed to 'return to game', for example.
In line with the rest of the presentation, the graphics and sound are decidedly anime-inspired. The cut-scenes (if you can call the occasional appearances by bosses cut-scenes) look like cells right out of an anime, and even the in-game graphics are what you'd expect an anime to look like if it was rendered in 3D, rather than traditional cell-shading. They're not bad, but the graphics wouldn't be amiss in a downloadable title. What bothers me most about this is that, in spite of its graphical simplicity, the game still suffers from persistent framerate issues in later levels when the screen is filled with moving enemies and shots being fired. On the flip-side, the audio (sans the lack of translation) is actually pretty good. The J-pop inspired orchestral arrangements fit well into the bubblegum happy aesthetics and, honestly, they'd be rather nice to listen to even on their own.
Otomedius Excellent is surprisingly fun once you understand it better. As mentioned above, you get to choose from one of about a dozen different girls (all scantily clad, with breasts about to pop out of their clothes), and their ship that they will ride on (not in) to take down waves of enemies. They never explain why you can survive in space while riding a ship like a motorcycle, but at this point it's clear that logic can be thrown out the window; this is a videogame, no need to be too serious. Once you pick your girl, you then get to select from a list of power-up cards that will give you special bonuses during the course of the game - some of which require special inputs to aim properly – as well as a choice between auto or manual power-up activation (I felt that auto-mode was generally better). From there on, it's basically what you'd expect from a side-scrolling shoot 'em up: frenetic action, enemies all over the place shooting at you, and an intense difficulty curve.
In what is probably the best addition to Otomedius Excellent, there's multiplayer co-op, which can be played locally with up to three players or online up to five players. The mayhem that ensues is delightfully hectic, if not confusing as hell. There's also a score-attack mode, which as best as I can tell is the same as the story mode with a few tweaks.
That said, there are a few things that I think could use some tweaking. The first being that movement is slow and sluggish; this would be okay if the enemies were slow and sluggish as well, but most of them move pretty fast or burst out from the walls, so unless you know precisely where they are, where they're going, and how they're getting there, you're not going to be able to avoid getting hit. This is fatal on the higher difficulties, where a single hit will kill you and lives are limited. My other gripe is the fact that you can only have two bullets on screen at a time, so when you're far away from enemies you will shoot twice, wait for them to hit, then shoot again. This is remedied when you get your faster or more powerful shots, but it's still a chore to deal with right after you respawn. It's clear that Otomedius Excellent is not meant to be played by casual gamers, because the more I played, the more obvious it was that the only way to play was to memorize entire levels. If it wasn't for the fact that I had to quit and go down to easy (where you have basically unlimited lives), I never would have had the patience to beat it.
But don't let that ruin it for you, it's actually pretty fun. Sure, it's remarkably hard and it required a certain gameplay style to complete, but once you're in the groove it's really rewarding to beat a whole level without being hit, or getting the best upgrades and turning the screen into an explosion of pink plasma blasts. It's not that it's bad, really, it's just very different, and the story is practically non-existent. Luckily, Otomedius Excellent is only $30, but I'm still convinced it'd be better as a download for $10-15 (800 or 1200 MSP, respectively); the amount of replay value it has would make it worth that much, but I wouldn't recommend getting it as it is unless you're really into shoot 'em ups, or have an obsession with scantily clad anime girls. It has its niche in the gaming world, but I don't think many will be visiting.