Tuesday 7 December 2010

Gokujō Parodius (Fantastic Journey)

Sounds fantastic

Say, what's better than Parodius Da!? The sequel, Gokujō Parodius of course. Those in the know know that its English title is "Fantastic Journey", but I'm not one for breaking naming conventions for the sake of one game.

Gokujō Parodius comes from a time where new entries in the Gradius series were nonexistent, and so on a technical level, it stands out as being a hundred times better than the game it set out to parody. Basically that means in 1994, the best Gradius game wasn't even a Gradius game at all.

As far as sequels go, Gokujō Parodius is a fantastic example of how to improve a game, and this is despite the fact that Parodius Da! wasn't all that bad. There's not much that Gokujō Parodius does worse than Parodius Da! except... it barely got any recognition in the western world. It appeared in that Saturn compilation I mentioned last time as well as the arcades, but the other releases (SNES and PSP) were exclusive to Japan, and since your average joe won't be able to pronounce its name, this shoot-'em-up was doomed from the get go.

And this is terrible news. Even if you were lucky enough to be treated to Parodius Da!, there's a very high chance that Gokujō Parodius would be dismissed as the "Japanese version" or "a hack" of the first arcade game. Westerners can't cope with its name and the localised title is extremely generic. Perhaps it would have had more luck under the title of "Parodius 2" (or Parodius 3).

Gokujō Parodius wipes the floor with the entire Gradius franchise (or any Konami shooter for that matter) pre-1997-ish. To deny yourself from playing this game because it's "too Japanesey" or "too obscure" is a crime against the genre, and maybe the entire video game industry. Of course technically it's also a crime to download the ROM and boot it in MAME, but that's a matter for the courts to decide. If you want me to buy it (though I already have bought it), you should have sold it in greater numbers.

As you might have gathered, I think Gokujō Parodius is a game worth playing. It's sequels Jikkyō Oshaberi Parodius and Sexy Parodius, whose reviews will come later... aren't all that necessary and it's understandable if you're put off by the concepts they thrive on.

Thankfully Gokujō Parodius doesn't fill itself up with Japanese culture to the point where it's unlikable or controversial - it's a game had the potential to be just as successful in the west had it been given the chance. I mean this isn't the sort of tune that comes into your head when you think "Japan".

Gokujō Parodius drops a lot of the features that made Parodius Da! suck. The characters for example - though all of them exist in Gokujō Parodius, they're not as annoying (and Twinbee has the correct colours!). We also now have quality characters including flying pigs, stick figures in paper aeroplanes and effing flying fish. Oh and women riding rockets... because that'll appeal to someone I'm sure.

But it doesn't stop there - the actual amount of playable characters has been doubled, as the second player gets eight different characters to choose from (such as Lord British and Winbee). Sadly there's no difference in gameplay between the first and second player versions of the character - that would be left for its sequels, and likewise player one can't play as player two's characters without swapping controls, but there's obviously been some effort here and that can't be anything but good.

Gokujō Parodius starts dipping into more obscure territory. For example, the mambo fish I just mentioned is a parody the MSX shoot-'em-up "Space Manbow". The Super Famicom version of the game dips into the realms of Kid Dracula, Mystical Ninja and Biomiracle Boku tte Upa too. But these characters and stages were thrown in mostly to help balance out the more frequent lag problems and the slightly smaller screen resolution that plague ye olde Super Famicom. It's the Saturn/PlayStation ports with their CD audio that deserve the attention.

It's fair to say that do start getting a bit iffy in Gokujō Parodius though. For example, the stick figures riding planes have a sheild shaped like a condom. Try explaining that to American soccer moms. Apparently there was a slight bit of controversy with Parodius Da!, who in an attempt to parody Gradius II, has the player shoot at an Eagle dressed like Uncle Sam at the end of the second level.

If you thought that was a stab against America and FREEEDOMMM, you'll be pleased to know there's a more American birds to blast, and several more women to shoot in the face. Neutered flying angel pigs could raise difficult questions for parents and you'll probably have to look up the concept of rabbits on the moon, but if you put on a smart head you'll look past all of this and enjoy a great shoot-'em-up.

Other extremely important upgrades to the formula include two-player simultaneous play. This means a system is introduced where if players die, they respawn from the left, rather than forcing the game to start again from a fixed position on the map. This feature, despite sounding trivial, is the key reason why this game excels over Parodius Da! (and Gradius 1 through 3). You don't even notice that the game is three levels shorter because it's such a relief to know you won't be caught out by the same enemies over and over again.

Though do note that the Super Famicom version can't cope with simultaneous play so the advantages aren't as obvious.

Overall if you could only play one Parodius game in your lifetime, it should be Gokujō Parodius. Sure its sequels are technically better, but they lack the ideas and charm.

1 comment:

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