Thursday 2 December 2010

Parodius Da!

Konami are an interesting group of developers. They make an extremely popular horizontal shoot-'em-up (Gradius) and then seek to parody it with Parodius. Parodius Da! is the second in the series, following an MSX game that nobody has played and hasn't stood the test of time. It's brilliant, and you should play it.

The only problem with the Parodius series is it's underlying Japanese references and tones. As the series progresses it gets more and more "Japanese", alienating itself from the rest of the world to appeal to Konami's home market. The fourth game, Jikkyō Oshaberi Parodius has a Japanese running commentary... for everything. The fifth comes dangerously close to playing with sexual themes. They all have you shoot women in the face.

This sort of thing guarantees the games won't sell in the west, regardless of the fact that the series' heights lie on the later titles. This is sad, because in my mind, the Parodius series is one of the few competent and fun shoot-'em-ups out there. It's not an insane bullet hell shooter, but it's not as bland or as frustrating as most shooters of the 1980s (and 90s). I haven't seen any other shooters that get this balance, though I suspect the Star Soldier parody "Star Parodier" for the TurboGrafx-CD (and Wii) comes close.

Parodius Da! is the most known of the Parodius series, being released not only in arcades, but on the Game Boy, NES, SNES and TurboGrafx-16. I personally first played this game via the compilation on the Sega Saturn (which also exists on the PlayStation, and includes the even better Gokujō Parodius). You can also get the game in the PSP compilation "Parodius Portable", along with all the other Parodius games that matter. Chances are you'll need to import the game though, because although it was sold in the west, it didn't ship in large volumes.

Parodius Da! is literally non-sense fantasy. It gives you a choice of four Konami characters - Vic Viper of Gradius fame, Pentarou of Antarctic Adventures fame, Twinbee of... well Twinbee fame and an Octopus, which is a staple of the Parodius series. They all have different powerups and the game plays mostly like Gradius (though the bells from Twinbee make an appearance).

Rather than shooting at generic space ships or aliens, Parodius puts you against penguins and women. Lots of stuff is inspired by the likes of Gradius (and its spin-off, Salamander), but there are also nods to other Konami games, and tons of remixed classical music. There's probably pop culture references in there too, but as I'm not Japanese this stuff doesn't spring out at me.

Parodius Da! (which by the way is often just called "Parodius", even though it's the second game) has you fly through several levels for little or no reason. Some of the console ports have extra levels (at the expense of worse graphics), but the arcade version still remains on top.

Also one of the useful features of Parodius Da! is the automatic weapon upgrade. Now, purists might bash it for only allowing powerups for being collected in a certain order (it likes to go after Options before Lasers), but not only does it guarantee you'll eventually get the powerups you want, it stops you "forgetting" you have upgrades. I can't remember exactly which Gradius game introduced this system, but I know that it's a really useful feature, especially if you honestly don't know which characters have which powerups. Oh and it doesn't keep speeding you up to the point where your character is uncontrolable.

As mentioned, Parodius also brings in Twinbee's "coloured bell" system, which can lead to a variety of extra powerups including bombs, the resize-invincibility mode and the bizarre megaphone powerup that has your enemies defeated with Engrish.

One slight issue with this game is the difficulty, much like the early Gradius games. Get killed and you lose all your powerups, and regaining said powerups can be tricky if you die mid-level where there's enemies-a-plenty. Later games allow you to benefit from powerups left behind after death, but that's not the case here. Parodius Da! is probably the hardest game in the series as a result, and the characters aren't as nicely balanced as in future titles.

Beginners are best off with Twinbee. My dear old Dad used to use Octopus for the ripple laser but it's clear that only insane people would use the likes of Vic Viper or Pentarou. There is much reliance on the missile powerup because it's one of the first upgrades you can get, and having one that only fires in one direction puts you at an extreme disadvantage. Or so I find. But I'm not lord of the shoot-'em-up genre.

But even though Parodius Da! is a flawed product, it's still bloody good. Far more interesting and entertaining than Gradius and it manages to appeal to both clueless kids and hardcore Konami fans. Seriously people, this is one worth playing... though it sequels are undoubtedly a lot better.

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