Do you have a grudge against penguins? Have you ever suspected them of evil but not had any proof? Well, then, Sexy Parodius is the game for you: finally documented evidence of penguins engaging in all manner of filth and perversion. Human trafficking, wealthy decadence, wielding a tommy gun, illegal mining operations, plus assorted general evil toilet-wearing mastermind antics. As well as nefarious penguins, you can also play pest control to a cute mice infestation in a haunted castle, fight raccoons with oversized testicles, crush ears of baby sweetcorn and corn-on-the-cobs that fire popcorn, and destroy deviant Dreamcast logos. And that’s just for starters.
It was several moons ago in one of my first posts on this here blog thingamajig when I last wrote about Sexy Parodius, the side scrolling shooter from Konami. This is a Japan-only arcade conversion for Saturn. There is also a Playstation 1 port too which I’ve not played, but the consensus online seems to be that the Saturn version is superior, although I don’t know precisely how the two versions compare/differ.
Here are my short impressions that I wrote the very fateful day Sexy Parodius came in the post:
Bizarre bizarre bizarre. And then some. This is a cosmetically very strange and funny game, but the gameplay doesn’t strike me as odd the way the original Cho Aniki does. There is something a touch clunky and repetitive in the TurboGraphx-16 Cho Aniki levels, where it feels like you repeat the same level several times over before you abruptly hit a mini-boss or boss, which are of course always the best and most disturbing elements of the game. Sexy Parodius is very well-crafted and executed by comparison.
The game has a clever method of increasing replayability too, by giving you an objective in each level (these objectives are always the same unfortunately), which, depending on whether you succeed or fail, may result in you taking a different branch through the game. The branches are not as in-depth say as Lylat Wars/Star Fox 64, but they do offer some variety to playthroughs. Plus they help to keep the total length of the game short without making the player feel short-changed on content. As a result a single playthrough isn’t likely to last more than 30 minutes, if you allow yourself the maximum 9 lives. I should add too that the objectives are much tougher to complete if you’re playing singleplayer. They pose a good challenge even on the easiest difficulty level. Two-player mode is very fun and makes the objectives easier, with plenty of scope for failure though.
Since that time, long long ago (I recall rumours concerning global warming were circulating in the news, but thankfully that whole phenomenon has completely passed now) Sexy Parodius has consistently remained in my on-the-go pile of games. In this regard it has surpassed G-Darius, another excellent shmup on PS1, which on the face of things has better longevity since it has a total of around 15 stages with branching paths often within those stages. Sexy Parodius lacks a branching structure to that extent and contains a paltry 9 stages by comparison, but it is a marginally better shooter in my opinion. What I love about it most – besides the sheer invention of the level design, the cute graphics, the attention to detail, catchy music and silly sense of humour – is how customisable the difficulty is, and the number of different play styles the game accommodates. It’s a highly accessible game, but repeated plays reveal an enormous amount of depth of strategy and some serious challenge, if you want it.
First though let’s talk about the humour in this game. The themes are highly immature, and therefore great (if you’re immature like me). To shoot the raccoon’s balls or not to shoot the raccoon’s balls? That is the question. Is that a nipple?! Oh no, it’s a seashell. The “sexy” theme here amounts to a Carry On-esque interest in girls engaging in semi-nude pillow-fighting. There’s nothing especially racy, and it’s exclusively used for humour. The storyline, as far as I can make out, concerns a penguin-run detective agency hired for various odd jobs while their unexplained main opponent is a money-grubbing evil octopus. Not strange at all then. Each level is introduced with a brief image of a client explaining to the detective penguin what has happened. My favourites are the old man openly weeping as he begs you to rescue geishas, and a young lady whose cleavage causes our penguin’s eyes to bulge out. Similarly, the end of each level shows a different image depending on whether you completed the objective or not. The bath-tub stage, whose final boss is an evil penguin with a toilet on his head (this game really has it in for penguins), ends with the image of the detective team being flushed down the toilet if you fail the objective.
The game features your standard difficulty setting in the form of a scale of 1-8 from easiest to balls-to-the-wall tough. My pick of difficulty will change depending on how I want to play the game (I am not great at shooters though so obviously we’re talking low but I’m too embarrassed to get specific). That brings us to the second difficulty setting, which comes when you pick your character. At this stage, the game asks you whether you want to play in “Auto”, “Semi-Auto” or “Manual” mode. At first glance these options simply seem to affect how your ships handles firing, but in fact there are a number of minor differences besides these which affect the difficulty. Check out this professional spreadsheet I made earlier. I take my blog seriously. No, really.
|– Instant respawn, with free bells||
– Checkpoints, no bells
– Checkpoints, no bells
|– Weapons automatically upgrade, ship speed fixed||– Weapons automatically upgrade, can manually increase ship speed and customise weapons||– Weapons and speed don’t upgrade automatically, “roulette” system means you can lose all your upgrades|
|– Bells automatically used||– Bells automatically used||– Can store bells for use at your leisure|
A few quick points on these: whichever mode you choose, you have unlimited continues. Checkpoints are numerous so you’ll never go back too far, but your ship/animal character can take one-hit only, so boss fights are challenging (though never impossible) to beat without getting hit, particularly if you’ve died already and so are inevitably underpowered. The game gives you the option of swapping your character and Auto-Semi-Manual setting at any stage if you lose all of your lives, which is great if you’re stuck. The 2-player cooperative mode automatically uses the Auto instant respawn rule, even if both players opt for Semi- or Manual. This is a really cool touch which keeps the game moving quickly and prevents you getting bogged down. The minor variations between Auto, Semi- and Manual are interesting and worth exploring to find what suits your taste. For me, Semi-Auto is best because of the ability to customise weapons without the downsides of micromanagement. Some characters have complex possibilities, which allow customisation of two or more weapons at the same time.
Here are images of a few choice bosses:
Let’s talk levels. Every level has an objective which requires a unique style of play. The bath-tub speed running level which forces you to grab coins feels almost like a Micro Machines racer at times, while a later coin collecting level runs at a far slower pace as you traverse maze-like structures inspired by Pac-Man, picking up coins and shooting spawning ghosts… and kidney beans, too, of all things?? Why? Each of these levels scroll both up and down as well as left to right, whereas other levels constrain you to tight corridors peppered with bullets. The level design (and the weapon system, obviously) regularly parodies and references the Gradius series, so if you’re a fan of Gradius you’ll recognise many of the setpieces and likely enjoy the game all the more for it.
One final thing I have to mention is the Pac-Man lookalike Alex, who you can get by picking up the correct colour bell power-up. Alex attacks enemies and absorbs bullets. He even has a health bar which be refilled with additional bells, plus he can be leveled up, which increases his stats RPG-style. He can be invaluable during storms of bullets, so you have to be careful about giving him the correct bells to make him power-up. Finally then you have the level objective to worry about too. What’s genius is that these elements are entirely optional, and you don’t feel penalised for not taking advantage of them, however if you want to stand a chance of survival on higher difficulty levels and settings then a level of mastery over each element is essential, and in this way Sexy Parodius encourages strategic thinking.
And that about wraps it up. This is a damn fine-looking, -sounding and -playing game, and one of the best shmups I’ve played. It’s also highly addictive, extremely well-balanced, and challenging (if you want it to be). The game is fun just to blast through if you want to experience the crazy on offer, but it’s fun too if you’re a masochist like myself after a hardcore shoot-’em-and-dodge-’em challenge, as well as many other positions that fall somewhere between these two extremes. Plus the sheer weirdness will demand you play through ad infinatum. Check out more pics in the gallery below, if you dare.
[Post-script: There were two other Parodius games released on the Saturn. One is a compilation called Parodius Da! Deluxe Pack, containing ports of the first two Parodius games, which surprisingly was released in the US and Europe too, under the moniker Parodius. The second Saturn Parodius game, and the more interesting one in my opinion, is called Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius. This one is unique among Parodius games on the 32-bit consoles since it is a console game from the ground up as opposed to an arcade port.]