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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Retro Review Tuesday: Parodius Da!

We have yet to do a retro review of an import game so I thought it was time we remedied that. So given that two of my most favorite things in the world have been combined into a single video game, Octopi and Side Scrolling shooters. I thought it was an absolute necessity that we discussed a game in the Parodius series. I decided on Parodius Da! on the SNES/ Super Famicom. Which is often wrongly referred to as the first in the series, though it's actually the second. It's worth noting that  I played the translated PAL version aptly titled Parodius: Nonsense fantasy.

 I don't know the real story of how Parodius cam to be. But I have a little theory, somewhere in Japan the developers at Konami were out celebrating the run away success of Gradius 1 and 2. Having created one of the best side scrolling shooting games of all time and what became the model for basically every subsequent space shooter into the 21st century, they had a lot to be happy about. They went to bar after bar on an all night bender, hitting up clubs with names like The Penguin, The Sumo, The Showgirl and Super American Fun Town. Eventually they found themselves back at the Konami offices still full of Saki, Asahi Super Dry, and takoyaki thus the Parodius series was born!


Parodius is basically simply Gradius on mind altering drugs. There's no plot line, no complicated cast of characters, just side scrolling space shooting with a whole load of ridiculousness.

Controls are quite responsive and very simple, a necessity for any title of this type. I didn't notice any lag or clunkiness, other than the classic Gradius: I haven't gotten a "speed up" power-up lag which we've all come to fear and respect. I won't bother with button assignments because you can change them to anything you want in the options menu.

Showgirl vs Octopus only Parodius is willing to take on this age old rivalry.

Graphically this is one of the truest arcade to console ports I've ever seen. The sprites are big bright beautiful and completely absurd. They range from the tiny eggplants that spew from the volcanoes to a Killer Vegas show girl that takes up almost the entire screen. The graphics make this game, but as a result you'll often lose focus. It's quite common to find yourself in a dire and often fatal situation by wondering what the hell just ran by on the bottom of the screen. It also wins my award for best depiction of the Moai/Easter island statues in any video game ever.

Musically, it's not one of the best in the Gradius series (that title goes to Life force/Salamander easily). However it's use of well known classical pieces in glorious 16 bit sound is absolutely perfect.  It's the perfect mix of memorable, fun, and absurd. You'll get the unique joy of being blown apart by cute yellow chickies while listening to classics such as Dance of the Sugar Plum fairy and In the Hall of the Mountain King.


So normally I just get right into a game I'm reviewing, paying little attention to silly things like intros and title screens. With this game though it's worth it to sit on your hands for a few seconds and watch the intro and title animations. If you're familiar with the first couple Gradius games you'll find it much more amusing. If you're not familiar with at least one them,FOR SHAME! Leave this review right now go play one. I suggest Life force/Salamander (which you'll be hearing a lot about in this review because it's my favorite and I'm biased). For the rest of you, have a good giggle and then take look at your menu.

I didn't know penguins were big into Gradius but we've all learned something here today

The Menu screen is mostly straightforward 1 player, 2 player, Option (which is a legitimate options menus and has nothing to do with the power up), and Lollipop. If you're anything like me you're going to ignore everything else and just hit lollipop. Because, c'mon now, Lollipop, how could you avoid it? Sadly hitting lollipop does not cause your cartridge to spew forth a delicious confectionery treat for you. Instead it takes you to a special time attack mode, which I highly suggest waiting to play until after you've beat the game normally first.

So back on the menu screen you can either start off with the defaults or head into the option screen and tailor fit things to your liking. Including setting the number of lives you start with, the difficulty level and the button assignments. On your first time I recommend knocking the difficulty down to 3 and adding a few extra lives. Gradius is a series that punishes you for not knowing what's coming. So even if you've beat Ikauga on hard you're going to die in this game simply because you had no idea what was coming up. Nothing is more frustrating than having to go back to the beginning of a level with no power-ups because you picked the left path when you should have picked the right. Once you've tweaked your options to your liking head back out to the main menu and get ready to play. Also, you can turn "blizzard" on or off here. Blizzard, is caused by special power-ups and gives you a roulette spin  on your power up bar, with good timing you'll end up with something nice. However, I always sucked and got nothing, so I just turned it off for my game.

Once you choose either 1 or 2 player  you'll get to choose your ship. You've got 4 glorious options:

The Vic Viper:  Which has the original Gradius gun configuration and who's power-ups look like the ones in the original series. Other than looking a little more cartoonish, it's essentially the same ship we all know and love.

If you can choose Octopus why wouldn't you?

Octopus (Takosuke): Who has the gun configuration from Life Force and who's power-ups are supposed to look like Octopi, but really look more like Jellyfish. Octopus also shoots fish for missiles, and gets smaller pink Octopi as his options.

Twin Bee: Which has the twin bee configuration and Twin bee power-ups. Biggest change of note is that the missiles become rocket punch which doesn't really act like missiles at all but is very useful. Options look like ghost version of the ship and are only visible while moving.

Penguin(Pentarou): He has the gun configuration from Gradius III and Power-ups that look like candy. His missile is a fish, though a different one than the octopus', and his options are small pink penguins.

I choose the octopus because he's an adorable octopus AND he has the Life Force/Salamander power-up set. I did test the other characters, but it was pretty much all octopus all the way for me. Though it's worth noting that there are slightly different endings based on which ship you choose.

Anyway after choosing your ship and whether or not you want to manually or automatically get your power up, it's play the game!*

So you start off like you do in any side scrolling space shooter, flying through space looking for power-ups to blow away some nasty alien scum. Though in this one instead of some ambiguous alien blob or space ship, you're first assaulted with the Konami classic Moai heads, only this time they're rainbow colored and dressed up in silly hats wigs and other stuff. After you've killed a few lines of them, a fleet of squirting syringes comes at you followed by chickies then penguins and crabs and treasure chests with bees in them. Blast you're way through that stuff and you'll make it to the mid boss, a giant half-boat, half-cat hybrid. Making your way past the exploded cat and his penguin henchmen you'll get to the boss, a giant pirate penguin with a glowing belly button. Shoot the core belly button to move on. At this point after a unique experience like that, you're probably going to need to take a break and check your soda to see if someone has been lacing it with drugs. But your soda is safe,  that's just the magic of Parodius, and it just gets more and more ridiculous from here.

Pirate cat boat crewed by penguins? Everything seems in order here.

Now I'm not going to go into to all the levels because there's no point. All of them have little things I absolutely love about them, but I think it's best if you find them for yourself. Besides most of the game is quite simply described as: Shoot stuff. Get power-ups. Try not to get shot. Try not to smash into walls. Pause while laughing at some ridiculous looking thing that's trying to kill you.  Kill Mid-boss(if applicable). Kill Boss. Move On. Which honestly, is as it should be for a game of this type.

On the subject of bosses, Parodious Da! Has some of the most memorable ones gaming has to offer. They're not quite as ridiculous as some of the offerings in Monster Party, but they're definitely...something to see. The range from the glowing navel peguin, to an exploding puffer fish, to a woman wearing a sheet, to a Moai statute in make-up that spits out other Moai statues. If you can keep from getting distracted by their silliness they're all actually pretty tame as video game bosses go. It's getting to them that causes the real issues. Just because it looks silly doesn't mean this Parodius is all fun and games, Well OK, so it still is, but it gets some serious difficulty starting around level 3.

This ends the mystery of how the Moai were created and placed on the Rapa Nui island

So how's a tiny ship/sea creature to stay alive in a cold and indifferent world?  Power-ups of course.

Power-ups in this game work pretty much the same as they do in other Gradius games If you kill a line of enemies or kill a red/orange variant of something that's normally a different color, you'll get a power-up. However,  a big difference with power-ups this time is that there are three type instead of two and they appear to be completely random. In every instance of an available power-up you can either get:

A normal orange power up which is the one that adds to your weaponry. If you chose manual power-ups, as you collect them your cursor moves along the power up bar at the bottom of the screen and when it's where you'd like it to be, you select that corresponding weapon. Automatic, chooses power-ups for you.

A blue power up which clear the screen of all small enemies. But most shots and larger multiple hit enemies will not die from this. So it's very easy to cockily pick up a blue power-up clearing the screen and then run into a stray bullet killing yourself.

There's is literally nothing I can say about this screenshot it can't tell you itself

Finally bells. Bells were in twinbee but are new to Gradius players. You can either collect the bell as is for points or shoot it to change it's color which will result in more points if you turn it red or green or a special attack if you turn it grey. The special attack when activated consists of a megaphone in front of your ship which will then spit out some ridiculous phrase in huge letters which you hold out in front of you and hit the enemy with. It quite absurd and also quite effective. One thing of note with the bells is that if you shoot them too much they'll simply disappear and you won't get the attack or points.

There's a joke about  bubbly women in here but the pig is kind of messing it up.

Once you've mastered Power-ups you've still got to contend with the unforgivable nature of Gradius. Meaning if you're not psychic enough to realize the first time through a maze portion of a level that you  should have zigged instead of zagging, you're going to find yourself smashed into a wall. Not to mention that very specific and distinct pain of going from having a full arsenal at your disposal to having one stray unseen shot reduce you to a sluggish standard gun ship.  If that's not bad enough your severely crippled ship/animal body is tossed back to the beginning of either the section you died in or the entire level depending on difficulty level. Additionally as I said earlier, not only are the enemies trying to kill you, they're hilariously distracting about it. It's kind hard not to get confused by bare bottomed sumo wrestlers, walking trees and girls in bubbles when you first see them.

If you can work through the pain and adversity you're rewarded with an ending animation. It seems weird to have an ending sequence to game with no discernible storyline, but hey the ending I got had no discernible plot either. However, it was filled with ridiculous octopus based goodness so I'll go ahead and rank it among the top video game endings of all time.

For the youngsters, this the crack is supposed to mimic a glass CRT TV screen in the dark ages before LCDs


I'm going to be honest,  this is probably the most  biased review I've ever written. This game has all my favorite things in it, Octopi, Easter Island Heads, awesome 16 bit classical music, laugh out loud absurdity and it's a Gradius.  So I knew going in that I was going to find it absolutely fantastic. For me personally this game is just under perfection, I mean there are octopi EVERYWHERE and they're adorable! But even if I weren't so biased this is a great game. I'm not sure how Konami ended up with such an absurd concept, but it doesn't matter,  at it's core this is just another great Gradius game. It's the sort of quality you'd expect from 90s Konami and the Gradius brand. Easy to pick up,  difficult to master and strangely addictive. It doesn't have the same sort of "epicness" of the earlier serious titles, but in terms of pure gameplay  this one will not disappoint even the most serious hardcore gaming fans.

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