Our culture has a problem with death. Obviously, it is a fundamental aspect of being alive to fear death. You may even say it is something of an evolutionary imperative, as every single one of your ancestors lived at least long enough to survive some aspect of puberty, which, if my experience is correct, can last as long as thirty years. Nothing would get done if everyone was dying all the time, which is also why no one ever visits the Fire Planes of Kratok, or the Dread Island of Dr. Lasereverything.
But beyond a personal fear of death, we, as a society, seem to fear the death of others equally. It’s only natural to mourn the passing of a beloved grandparent, or even weep at the thought of losing someone close, no matter what the circumstances. There’s a kind of hope in living, some irrationality that makes us believe that even though Missy the Cat is missing three limbs, 1.5 eyes, her tail, and is starting to smell a bit unusual, maybe she’s going to pull through, and we’ll have our adorable little fluff ball back. It’s absurd from a rational perspective, but dealing with death can almost never be coherent, and witness any “death with dignity” debate to see just how heated convictions can become on this topic. We see death as a threat, and rarely as a mercy.
So it’s only natural that we apply this same brand of thinking to imaginary entities. Done right, death in media can be poignant and lasting, even in a medium like movies where, technically, every single character is effectively erased from existence within an hour and a half, but who can forget the death of REDACTED in REDACTED? On the other side of the coin, there’s “comic book death”, wherein a character that has lasted for six decades is dead now, totally completely dead (otherwise the issue wouldn’t have an entirely black cover with just the logo [and price tag]), and, make no mistake, this character is gone forever, please care, and we totally swear he’s not going to be back in eight months in a thrilling, six part trade. It’s, again, irrational, but it seems to work, as comic book companies report major sales every time they kill Spider-Man or Batman or whoever is hopping into the threshing machine this week. It’s death, so it matters.
And then there’s the most slippery of all deaths: the death of an idea. It has been said time and time again, by revolutionaries and rulers, that you cannot kill an idea. No matter what, as long as someone thinks it, as long as some ancient grimoire survives, an idea will live on. But ideas in the modern era have become IPs, and people, particularly gamers, are attached to these “ideas”. Ask any Mega Man fan, and you will likely hear a lament regarding the death of the Blue Bomber. If this happens to you, literally slap them in the face, and remind them that in approximately a year’s time, we’ve seen Mega Man the character join one of the most popular franchises of all time, the game series itself wrapped into a brand new, affordable six game set for the newest generation of consoles, and games like Shovel Knight and Mighty No. 9 carrying on the spirit of the little metal boy’s gameplay. But, boo hoo, we haven’t seen Mega Man 11 or Mega Man X9 or Mega Man ZYX Battle Force 4: Purple Flaming Skull of Wily. Ideas, and even IPs, are undead, like Castlevania’s own Dracula, all just biding their time until it’s decided they’ll turn a profit again. Mark my words, if Little Mac can reenter the ring, then we’ll see Master Higgins waddling across the islands again.
But “death” is still scary for us, and if “the public” doesn’t deal well with death, then what of our corporate overlords? Surely they can’t just sit idly by and watch the likes of Gradius or Castlevania fade into memory, supporting only pachinko machines and waiting for some VP twenty years down the line asking “Oh, whatever happened to…” Even if franchises like Parodius don’t sell, there must be a way to transform those precious ideas into earnings, right?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Otomedius Excelllent, the greatest evidence for the concept of IP death with dignity I can find.
Right off the bat, the gameplay here is Gradius. Straight-up Gradius: collect powerups, grab your speed-up, missles, laser (screw you, double), options, and force field, battle in space against weird lines of balls and then on a “planet” of some kind, reach the boss, destroy the core, live, die, repeat. There is practically nothing, from a level to level perspective, that differentiates this game from Gradius. And, to be absolutely clear, this is not a franchise published by some newcomer lawyer dodger that is just aping the original: this is Konami, the originators of Gradius. Konami made a Gradius game, and didn’t call it Gradius. Why?
Because Vic Vipers don’t go to Heaven.
It’s a known fact that there’s a lucrative “pervert” market in Japan. I mean, let’s not mince words here, there’s a place for porn in every society, it’s not like there isn’t a dildo factory or two hanging around the USA, we just have different kinks. The Land of the Free will keep pumping out games with Greek Murder Gods going for hot coffee with random wenches, and Japan is going to keep producing games for the otaku that eat up underdressed school girls having whacky adventures and often finding themselves comparing bust sizes in hot springs. … Man, come to think of it, I thought my own kinks were oddly specific, but what got an entire subculture hung up on the same stupid beach episodes over and over again?
However it happened, it happened, and it doesn’t seem to be going away, as indicated by that copy of Omega Quintet I purchased last month while I was drunk, I swear, you can’t prove anything. Er-hem. So Konami had the bright idea to solder the teen girl squad dynamic onto Gradius, and, poof, here’s Otomedius Excelllent, it’s like that game you used to play, but bubblegum colored and every time you beat the game, you unlock more and more embarrassing photos of the pilots in various states of undress. It’s the best of no worlds!
Konami couldn’t stop at Gradius, though, the rest of the cast and some locations feature significant references to Parodius, Castlevania, and even Ganbare Goemon (Mystical Ninja, for those of you… no, never mind, if you remember Mystical Ninja at all, you know its Japanese name. Why did I think otherwise?). That’s right, folks, the last anyone saw of a 2-D Belmont was in a magical girl Gradius game. Got your Battle of 1999 right here, guys!
It’s a strange thing, too, as one of my most cherished franchises is Super Smash Bros., which takes a similar “kitchen sink” approach to disparate franchises and characters, but creates an air of reverence and admiration for its cast, as opposed to what we see here, where the order of the day seems to be to transform icons into teenage girls and stick ‘em in bloomers. Make no mistake, no one is reviving Goemon here because there’s a genuine love for the parent franchise, it’s because, hey, you know what IP we have laying around? Goemon! Let’s design some DLC based on that! And Ebisumaru dies a little more inside. Or farts. He probably farts.
So why do I even own this game that clearly sickens me? Because it is Gradius. As I’ve mentioned, it plays like Gradius, I enjoy Gradius, so I’m going to keep playing it. Sad confession? This is probably one of my most played Xbox 360 games, and exclusively because (we’ve covered this) I like Gradius. It’s fun, it’s “pick up and play”, and I can complete an entire game session inside of an hour or so. When I just want to “play a video game” but still want to avoid getting involved in some forty hour plot or going online and getting my ass whopped by some frame-memorizing savant, I just fire up Gradius… I mean… Otomedius Excelllent, and bust up a few big cores.
According the Wikipedia, the most recent Gradius game released is a 2011 slot machine. Predominantly, the world of shooters now is the likes of Geometry Wars and twin stick shooters, which, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy, but they’re not Gradius. I could just go back to Gradius V, but Otomedius Excelllent does PLAY well, the only issue is it just embarrasses every fiber of my being. I don’t believe Gradius is dead, it’s just enjoying a respite beneath a hill in Avalon, waiting to awaken one day when we are most in need. But in the meanwhile, perhaps we can just let the king rest, build a few more empires in his absence, and let Vic Viper’s return be a celebrated event.
But can we avoid digging up a corpse and sticking a skirt on it. Please?
FGC #12 Otomedius Excelllent
- System: Xbox 360, which seems wrong, but there it is.
- Number of Players: 3, though I’ve never been able to admit to another living soul that I own this game. Incidentally, this blog will self destruct in three minutes.
- Best Pilot: Erul Tron, pilot of Lord British. Everytime I remind myself that I can recall this information at will, it feels like there are spiders crawling all over me.
- But Tell Us How You Really Feel: Honestly, the idea of a “little” Gradius craft is kind of a fun concept. There’s a level that involves racing along a highway, and you’re no bigger than cars; later, there’s a boss that is an “original” Big Core Gradius boss that now completely dwarfs your avatar. It’s really clever for a game that couldn’t be more otaku bait if it included a Vocaloid.
- Don’t You Own All the US released Vocaloid Games? I like rhythm games. Shut-up.
- Did You Know? The “Special Edition” is, as of this writing, still available for less than a Jackson on Amazon.com. The Special Edition includes the game, a soundtrack, an art book, a two sided pillow case, and, for absolutely no additional charge, the sound of me silently judging you from afar. It resonates with disappointment.
- Would I play again? Yeah… (Goggle Bob looks at the floor, forlorn) Yeah…
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the original, Genesis version, for the record. I don’t understand, though, why isn’t Big the Cat in this game? Oh well. Please look forward to it!