For the past several weeks I’ve been in thrall to the Gradius series. The strategic power-up selection, the challenging levels, and the reward of downing a powerful boss – it’s a joy to play these games. Alongside Gradius there are also spin-offs that share the same DNA, most notably Salamander/Life Force and Parodius.
This post is dedicated to these games’ amazing tunes, all courtesy of Konami’s esteemed composers. Konami are perhaps best known music-wise for the Castlevania series. but Gradius is a neglected well of wonderful melodies and beautiful tunes. It’s unfortunate that Konami neglected the series after the mid-2000s, and that Gradius never had a talent like Michiru Yamane attached to the series to expand and extend its unique musical identity into the present era.
What makes the music of Konami’s shooters so special? TV Tropes has a great phrase that explains:
The bulk of Gradius’s most crowning songs accurately convey some sort of cosmic wonder.
This is a great way to kick us off, so I suggest we see how this bears out in practice! Continue? Continue reading
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.
My first importing experience for my first region-free console. Puyo Puyo Sun and Sexy Parodius for the Saturn. And I have learned to never underestimate the politeness of the Japanese.
As well as being meticulously packaged, the parcel arrived in five days. How is it that a parcel from Japan can arrive faster than the bank statement I recently requested from my local bank branch less than a mile from my home?
Yes, that’s a handwritten note promising the recipient green tea. And, true to word, taped behind the receipt was…
Tea. Now that’s how you please an Englishman.
Anyway, more importantly than the truly fascinating arena of packaging – the games! First impressions of both games are really positive.
Puyo Puyo Sun
This game surprised me. I wasn’t expecting too much going into it as I’m not a big puzzle game fan. Turns out this is actually my second encounter with the Puyo Puyo series, to my surprise. Similarly, I imagine, to many Westerners, I played Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine on the Megadrive/Genesis without realising it was part of an established franchise in Japan. Mean Bean Machine had a dull and overly difficult singleplayer mode but it was compelling in multiplayer. So far Puyo Puyo Sun seems to be superior, due to the inclusion of the titular Sun blocks, better music and a much more gradual and accessible difficulty curve.
The aim of the game is to line up your coloured blocks, to make chains of 4 of the same colour, which then vanish from the field. When you create a chain, and preferably combos of chains which collapse into each other, you cause your opponent to suffer under colourless blocks which rain on their portion of the screen. But whereas Mean Bean Machine has a relatively sedate pace, making multiplayer games drawn out at times, the newly added sun blocks give even the simplest chains lots of firepower, drowning your opponent’s screen in stones. It really ratchets up the intensity and makes the game much more party-friendly for it. It reminds me of Panzer Dragoon 1 and 2, and how the inclusion of a small wrinkle in the sequel – the berzerker special attack – adds greatly to the experience, making it hard to go back to the original. I can’t see myself going back to Mean Bean Machine any time soon. Even though the sun blocks are not an essential part of the Puyo Puyo experience, they seem like a great addition so far.
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.
I expect I will have more to say on one or both of these at a later stage, perhaps a full review. For now let me just say that both of these games are very good and definitely worthwhile purchases at a reasonable price – I paid under £20 in total for the pair, incl. delivery costs, and they are easily recommendable for something similar. Methinks it would be worth a look into the other Parodius game on Saturn…