Saturday, January 24, 2015

Parodius Da! -Shinwa kara Owarai e- (GB) Review

Received: March 9th, 2012 / Written: January 21st-24th, 2015
(As played on Game Boy Player)
Alternate Name: Parodius [|O|]
Year: 1990, 1991 | Developed and Published by: Konami | [|O|]
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  =)  Konami's done a lot of series throughout their video game career, from Gradius to Ganbare Goemon to Castlevania to even Contra among many others.  And while those may be well-revered, there are two series which I feel deserve more credit and spotlight: TwinBee and Parodius.
Image from Wikipedia
But of the two you might be more familiar with the latter than the former.  Three years after Konami started the Gradius franchise in 1985, they created a cute'em up game for the MSX computer which was fully lathered in Japanese folklore and culture that poked fun of their own serious shoot'em up.  Essentially a parody of Gradius, the game notably referred to as Parodius (full title translated as Parodius: The Octopus Saves the Earth) was something that was rarely seen before in video games; with characters from some of Konami's franchises teaming up to defeat the bad guy while contending with weirdness galore.  That's it!  I never played the 1988 MSX hit, and chances are you probably haven't either, but I hope to experience it one day after I import Parodius Portable for the PlayStation Portable.
 
What you more likely have played and what was likely your foray into this crazy series (as was mine), is (one version or another of) the widely known 1990 arcade sequel Parodius Da! -Shinwa kara Owarai e-, which received numerous ports and rereleases in both Japan and Europe.  But because Europe got the game as just Parodius, it's more often than not confused as being the same game as the MSX title, which is not.  Even still it was a hit which America missed out on for reasons I'll explain later, and gamers just couldn't get enough of it.  Luckily it got ported to the Famicom/NES, the NEC PC-Engine, the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo, the SharpX68000, the PlayStation One and Sega Saturn (paired with its 1994 arcade sequel Gokujō Parodius! ~Kako no Eikō o Motomete~), and finally the Game Boy in 1991--making this the only standout game of the series to be given a handheld treatment.  =)  So, how crazy is this series?  Well, let's take a look.  =)  But first, let's meet our characters.
We've got veteran starship Vic Viper from the Gradius series, the Octopus who headlines the Parodius games, the pre-Shuzilow HA version of TwinBee (the arcade game was made in 1990, a year before Detana!! TwinBee had the TwinBee jets redesigned, so regardless of when this Parodius was ported TwinBee would look as he did in the arcade original), and finally we've got the token penguin and best character of them all in my opinion Pentarou, son of Antarctic Adventure's and Penguin Adventure's Penta.
 
What I find curious is that their ages are displayed, and I feel mixed about this: so, according to Parodius Da! Vic Viper (or the pilot) is middle aged, TwinBee is slated as being seventeen (when Konami clearly established in 1994's TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure that the pilot Light is thirteen), and Pentarou is nine.  Because the game stars the Octopus as the main headliner, I guess it's fitting we don't know how old he is.  This doesn't affect the game as a whole, mind you, but I looked up that the ages were brought up in the Game Boy version only; and while it is a bit interesting, it could also be contradictory of other games at the same time.

It just wouldn't be a Konami
game if Moai statues hadn't
appeared at some point  ;-)
Like the Gradius series that preceded it, the Parodius games are horizontal-scrolling shoot'em ups; or in this case cute'em ups because they're lighthearted and do not take themselves so seriously.  Like the majority of games in the genre you can move in any segment of the screen that you wish, unfortunately you only face one direction; which means that if there are enemies behind or around you then you must maneuver yourself and find a safe spot to make your move.  Along the way you'll be contending with a variety of enemies, and should you defeat a group of them (or blast open chests) they may leave a power-up or wipeout item behind; and also like the Gradius series there is a series of squares at the end.  Getting one will advance the bottom bar by one, and if you press the button on a shaded box then you may get a powerful move.  Some of these range from speed, to option (up to two), homing missiles, lasers, and even shields.  But be careful because if you press the button while you land on the "?!" box then all the power-ups you earned will be gone and you'll be going slow once more.  =(

Shoot your way out of
this pastry room
But if certain enemies (or chests) don't leave a power-up behind then the other thing you'll get from them is a TwinBee bell which must be shot until they are a certain color; that way something temporary may aid you.  Because the original Game Boy was a monochromatic system, however, it left Konami little option but to give subtle clues if they're at the right point or not: whether they be completely white, be dark, be gray, or have stripes.  Attaining these bells will either wipe out every enemy onscreen thanks to a giant blast, render your character huge for several seconds thereby making them invulnerable, give you a blowhorn that emits kanji, or sending up to three barriers which will annihilate all enemies that approach it.  You can shoot the bells as much as you want without penalty, and even if you don't land on a color then you'll get lots of points if you get it otherwise.  Takes a bit of practice to accustom to all these different power-ups, and if you make yourself go faster then you'd better maneuver yourself carefully.  Also be careful not touch the ceiling or the floor otherwise you must start over from the last checkpoint.

It's a good start  =)
The gameplay is very good and each character's moveset is fairly responsive.  In the options screen you have the option to change controls, start the game between the first or seventh stages (why is this option necessary, you don't see the best ending that way), set the game difficulty (Easy, Normal, Hard), or even alter trigger speed to your heart's desire.  =)  Each character has actually configurations lifted from or inspired by different shoot'em ups: Vic Viper and TwinBee (straying from his usual vertical cute'em up nature) obviously use their movesets from their respective games (Gradius and TwinBee), but the Octopus uses the config from Salamander while Pentarou uses one from Gradius III: From Legend to Myth... which is actually the title this Parodius' translated title pokes fun of (From Myth to Laughter).  I like the fact that the four characters have diverse sets of skills, for it gives the game sense of variety and adds replay value (if not for the other aspects too).  =)

Lasers, activate!
I've only played the Game Boy version of Parodius Da!, and usually when games that were originally full of color were transitioned here they had to make it monochromatic at the expense of vibrant colors and lots of detail (due the handheld's technical limitations), and this game is no exception.  But, all things considered: for a game that was visually and structurally downsized it doesn't look bad.  Each character  Okay, so there are a couple instances where there's a blank background, but for the most Konami makes up for that by adding some little details; such stars, clouds, and tubes among others.  But for what's there in the foreground it makes up for the rest.  The choices in settings are well-drawn and designed; like the island, the pastry-laden area, the pinball-like environment, an icy-cold setting, and even an area sentient volcanoes and moving trees, among others.
 
Shoot the core!
The animations for the characters and enemies are very decent, especially when the former flies upward or downward or when they lose a life.  There's some bit of charm seeing Pentarou flap his legs as he's flying while sweating, or for when Octopus looks like he's walking in the air (albeit fast).  =)  Some of the enemies you combat are Moai statues (Konami regulars), wasps with oversized eyes, large flying pigs, giggling fish, syringe needles, and legions of pengui--waaait, Pentarou's a penguin, why's he fighting his own kind?  O-0  But the real show-stealers are the (mid)bosses, who are huge and full of detail; and while sometimes they tend to flicker or not appear seamless in certain details (though it may be because of all the bullet-fire) they look pretty cool.  Want to shoot at a pirate ship that's got the head of a cat on it?  Want to fight against a giant fat sumo wrestler?  How about contending with a bug boss with the combination of Life Force's brain boss' arms and the core of a Gradius boss?  Some of the others in the roster are a series of mouths, a giant Moai mistress statue, or even a boss with a frozen shield surrounding him with clawed arms.  The bosses are very absurd and outrageous, but that's the beauty of it.  XD  Even more so are when they get blasted or after they've been defeated.
 
And now, ladies and gentlemen: the main purported reason that none of the Parodius games have ever seen release in America:
The main boss at the end of the second stage is an American eagle.  It's not because the North American continent doesn't have a sense of humor or could not handle satire.  O.O  Oh... =<  too soon...  <=(
 
Rather, it's because each country has got different cultural norms that they follow; what may be normal for one country might be unusual or weird for another.  Everyone has experienced culture shock whenever they entered or experienced anything from a country different from their own, and I can only imagine that had any Parodius games been released in America it would've served as one giant cultural shock due to the games' insanity-filled world.  As for why Europe got two of these titles and not America; well, let's be honest, they have a higher tolerance level for these lighthearted, cute, and/or quirky games than America(n video game officials) ever does.  =(
Images from both Wikipedia and MobyGames; click for full size
Which would probably explain why these games never saw American soil, even when we're currently in the age where some of these games actually get re-released for current-gen gamers.  It's times like these when I'm grateful that the option to import (physical cartridge) games is available for those who have the resources to do so.
...... Oh, and there's this scantily dressed saloon dancer too that occasionally winks any time she reaches the end of either side of the screen; but I don't think this would've affected the cause for a non-American release.  Even if it had, Konami would've probably covered up some of her skin otherwise.  I did say this game's (mid)bosses were absurd before, but I'm not offended.  =}  I can understand how some might feel that way, though.
 
Ice, ice, baby!
Another thing that's very memorable about the Parodius series is the music; or rather, the absurd and hysterical takes on previous Konami tunes and classical music (which practically comprises every segment--so much so, that there is even a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to it).  XD  Each character has got their own brief prelude during space before the stage begins; like Pentarou's theme from Antarctic Adventure and TwinBee's from his original game.  Some of Parodius Da!'s standouts as far as wacky remixes are concerned are Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Thunder and Lightning Polka" during the first stage, Edvard Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King" from his "Peer Gynt Suite No. 1" in the Game Boy-exclusive ice stage combined with Frédéric Chopin's "Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66", and the "Flight of the Bumblebee" by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, to simply name a few.  There are just so many famous tunes to name; they are good songs and funnily remixed.  XD  And some remixes from previous Konami games aren't bad either, like Gradius II's "The Final Enemy" for the dancer midboss, and the final boss theme for this game "Aircraft Carrier" from Gradius.  The sound samples are decent considering the original Game Boy, and the soundtrack is really good and fun to boot.
 
Oooh, right in the outie!  X{
Depending on the difficulty setting you choose Parodius Da! will either be easy or hard, which is true in the latter because there's more firepower and enemies during that mode than in the easier modes.  Part of what affects the difficulty is the trigger speed in the options screen: 1 being the slowest and 7 being the swiftest.  You have to be very careful when confronting enemies, because no matter how many there are onscreen or how much firepower is occurring onscreen there is no graphic slowdown whatsoever (there's flicker, but no slowdown).  This is also one of those one-hit games (unless your shield is strong), making your character very vulnerable; 'cause if you lose a life then you will be sent back to the nearest checkpoint at the expense of all the power-ups you had gotten bringing you back to square one.  If you lose all your lives you have the option to continue or not (unlimited tries), and whether you want to continue on with the same character or not.
 

Oh, Konami... XD
You may have noticed in that screen that there is an option between "Auto" and "Manual"; what that means is that if Auto is chosen than the power-up you get will automatically be selected for you, while Manual gives you the opportunity to get one now or later (which is especially true for "roulette" moments)--personally I always choose Manual, since I don't want to risk getting a power-up I don't want had I chosen Auto instead.  All things considered, there is plenty of challenge to be found here, but it is manageable in the long run.  Some enemy groups will come out from gaps, some might appear out of nowhere, and one thing to beware of is the fact that sometimes they will appear from right behind you, no matter what side of the screen.  Some (mid)bosses require that you follow certain patterns, like flying underneath the dancer's legs without getting stepped on and trying to shoot at the core boss without getting touched by his extending arms.  And while the pattern might be easy to memorize and simple sometimes, bear in mind that they will occasionally fire back at you.
 
Flying in space
Parodius Da! -Shinwa kara Owarai e- is a wildly enjoyable and over the top cute'em up with quirkiness galore, displaying some of the best action you'll find on the Game Boy handheld, but like the rest of the series it's not for everyone.  Not because of its difficulty (or lack thereof), but because of the obscene amounts of weirdness itself.  But like the shiritori puzzles in Namco's Wagyan series, take away the absurdity in Konami's series and it just wouldn't be Parodius without it.  The only way any of these Parodius games will appeal to you is if you've got an acquired taste and do not mind that the games do not make any damn sense.  If you fall in this category I think you might enjoy this game, for it gives you the opportunity to see Konami at their riskiest and at their strangest.  Lord only knows how stoned they must've been to have thought up all this.  XD
 
As much as I like Parodius Da! however, I actually prefer the sequel Gokujō Parodius! ~Kako no Eikō o Motomete~, which I got to play as the 1994 Super Famicom port (oddly enough, the only version of Fantastic Journey - Pursue the Glory of the Past--as it's known in Europe--to not see European shelves) slightly more.  It's got more characters, the gameplay feels more polished, and there is an extra stage which you can access after sitting through (or skipping) the credits sequence.  Throw in seven difficulty settings and there's tons of replay value.  =D  And in case anyone is wondering: no, I still haven't played the 1995 Super Famicom sequel Jikkyō Oshaberi Parodius, since I'm not 100% on board with a cute'em up that's got a neverending chit-chat commentary on your progress (maybe it's just me, but it seems like it could be distracting).
 
Sumo cat!
Parodius Da! is a fun game to play once in awhile (the second Game Boy game I imported from Japan), and I can understand how one might feel put off by its insanity incarnate status.  It's outrageously absurd and is completely unapologetic about it.  It looks, sounds, and plays good on the Game Boy, and there's plenty of challenge, a regular and bonus stage exclusively available here, and replay value that will make anyone come back for more.  But, as I said before, whether or not you end up liking this game depends on how accepting you are of the weirdness that surrounds it all or not.  If you're not, then this game may you rub you the wrong way; but if you are, what you've got is one of the best cute'em ups in the genre, and one of the best Game Boy games of its generation.  =)  Check it out if you can; you never know how you may react to it all.
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
My Personal Score: 9.0/10
What's this?  A ribbon?
Since it's 2015 now, I thought it would be a great idea to award games that I review which were made in the year that ends in the digit "0" or "5" to celebrate their anniversaries.  =)  While the Game Boy version of Parodius Da! -Shinwa kara Owarai e- was made in 1991, the arcade original version came out in 1990; thus this game has the distinct honor to have my first of my series of anniversary ribbons.  *kisses ribbon*  =)  Wish I had thought of it sooner.
Happy 25th Anniversary,
Parodius Da!
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P.S. As was the case with Super Mario Land, Parodius Da! -Shinwa kara Owarai e- would not work on my Super Game Boy; so I had to instead load it to my Nintendo GameCube's Game Boy Player.
 
P.S. 2 If you're thinking of the collage I made displaying the games released in Europe and Japan and not America, you're probably pondering why titles like Terranigma, Devil World, Mario's Super Picross, and Mega Man Battle & Chase aren't included?  That's because, as unfair as it is, they had non-cultural reasons that prevented them from seeing initial American release.  For Terranigma, it's because Enix of America closed down thereby causing its NTSC cancellation, for Devil World it's Nintendo of America's old no religion code (even though there's no reason it should hold them back now), for Mario's Super Picross it's the fact that Nintendo didn't want it to be a failure like its predecessor Mario's Picross was, and for Mega Man Battle & Chase Sony of America just did not want to put up with yet another mascot-themed kart racer.  =|  I didn't say it was a good thing.
 
P.S. 3 I still like the Parodius games more than the Gradius series.  =)
 
I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
Thank you for reading my review, my readers, please leave a comment whether pertaining to the subject or the specifics of the blog post itself and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great day, and take care!  =D
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Personally I find Gradius decent at best, but different strokes for different folks, I suppose.  Besides, I think its sequels are superior anyway.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

StarBoy's Media Review: Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work

Written: January 20th-21st, 2015
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  Christmas may have come and gone, but it doesn't mean I won't talk about some of its specials.  Case in point, this.  =)
Rated: G | Running Time: 23 Minutes | Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 | Directed by: Skip Jones
A lot of people may know about A Charlie Brown Christmas, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or even Frosty the Snowman (and, to a lesser extent, its sequels), but chances are you probably haven't heard of Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work.
And... I didn't either until I stumbled upon it when it was in the DVD bin in 2013.  This 1991 made-for-TV Christmas special by Universal Cartoon Studios (with a little help by Amblin Television) is based on an '80s comic strip series by Berkeley Breathed; from Bloom County, to Outland, and finally to Opus up until his permanent retirement in 2008.  What makes this special interesting is it's not only based on the characters of the strip but also the children's book Breathed made in the same year, which is crazy.  Breathed wrote and executive produced the special, and I think it shows if you're familiar with the strip or story.  Now before I get to the rest of the review I'll say this right away: I freakin' love this special!  =D  It honestly impressed me when I first saw it and it totally exceeded my expectations in many categories.
The story centers around an earthbound penguin named Opus, voiced by Michael Bell, who desires to have wings and fly in the sky during the snow season.  But, being a penguin, his dreamful ambition gets him ridiculed by the ducks in his neighborhood; and, because he's a penguin, naturally it's not possible for him to do so, which makes him sad.
So he decides to join a bird-themed support group expressing his problems, but things don't go so well.  So ultimately he decides to become an "aeronautic espionage" and try going in the air anyway.  But after Bill the Cat inadvertently botches his take-off Opus gets upset; but as Bill walks away feeling guilty over what he's done, upon seeing the Santa bell on his head Opus decides to write to "Father Christmas" telling him he would like wings for Christmas, which is one more day for him.
So after faxing the letter--really?  Faxing's a thing?--Opus happily cannot wait for tomorrow.  And while he's sleeping Santa Claus and his reindeer are delivering presents around the world, until suddenly the turbulence causes the sleigh to detach from the reindeer thereby making him plummet down to the earth.  Oh no!  Will Christmas be saved in time and will Opus be able to reach the sky?
When I stumbled upon the DVD for A Wish for Wings That Work I wasn't certain what I was walking into until I saw it that October (of '13).  I thought it was going to be at least a decent or serviceable special (nothing great), but I was floored when I found that it gave me more than I imagined.  I mean, color me surprised, there is a lot to like about this special!  =D  The story is really well-written, and despite being only twenty-three minutes long it doesn't feel like any moments are rushed.  I'm surprised a story this good could be told in such a short amount of time.
It's also genuinely funny; at least, I thought it was.  Some of the humor comes from the dialogue that Opus spews out sometimes, and other times it's due to Bill the Cat's crazy antics.  The guy is hysterical and unpredictable; and some of  the side characters aren't so bad either, given their limited screen presence.  The special actually starts out with Opus writing the letter to Santa, and a good chunk of it takes place in flashback, until it comes in full circle, which I liked.  =)  Makes you understand why the earthbound penguin feels the way he does this day.
The art direction is absolutely spectacular; while the characters are designed in a rather simple way, they've still got a charm and likeness all the way.  And some of the angles are neatly chosen, with the camera's point of view shifting to different perspectives sometimes--ranging from personal, to over the shoulder, to side perspectives, to distanced shots, to close-range shots, to even Dutch angle at one point (even though there's no reason to feel intimidated by it).  The backgrounds are lighted and shaded in a way that it lends them depth, not to mention add a tad amount of surrealism to the proceedings.  =)  Just look at those clouds at night before Santa makes his appearance, it almost looks like a recognizable shape.  And the colors for both night and day are succinctly selected.
Oh, but the animation!  The oh-so gloriously well-drawn and fluid is animation, that was one of the things that surprised me the most.  Whether it be Opus trying to flap his wings, the interactions with other characters, the lighting and shading with the fireplace, or even the final scenes, it is mindblowing considering the small budget.  This is the kind of animation that The Christmas Tree (which came out the same year) wishes it had.  =)  Even during the littler moments the animation is smooth, I could just watch it all day.
If there's a problem I have with the special it is rather minor, but here it is anyway: the major close-up on Santa's eye during the sleigh sequence is way too detailed.  So much so that I actually find it pretty scary!  Yet even it manages to exhibit fluidity in terms of animation.
Not to give anything away, but there is a small humorous moment that is so ingenious that the first time I saw it I was like, "Wait, is this the same special?"  What's funny is that despite being a lighthearted Christmas special it's actually got some emotional undertones going for it, particularly during the climax and final payoff; though, that might attribute to the haunting music.  I don't know, maybe I'm overanalyzing it all, but that's how I personally felt when watching this special.  Despite being twenty-three minutes long, A Wish for Wings That Work never felt short for me; and like the flying ducks Opus watches from the ground, it whizzes by fast and you don't even know it.  =O
What can I say about Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work?  I thought it was well-written, genuinely funny, visually remarkable, emotionally investing, and beautifully animated to boot.  I was enthralled the moment it began, and I love it.  =)  So much so that I wish these had another TV special made for them; because this is the only one.  I looked that Breathed the writer and executive producer was dismayed with this special; citing things like "working with a director going way over his head", "lack of writing experience" (I don't get that claim, but whatever), ratings that were unspectacular, or humor which he felt did not feel was fit for TV "even if done right", also feeling that Opus should've been voiced by late Winnie the Pooh voice actor Sterling Holloway.

I don't know.  Maybe it's because I saw it in my twenties (I'm still in my twenties), having never seen it as a child, but I personally liked the special a lot.  I had no problem with Michael Bell voicing Opus the earthbound penguin, but man, I can only picture in my head what he would've sounded like had Holloway taken the role instead.  =)  No disrespect, since I liked that actor's voice work a lot.  Berkeley Breathed might not feel fond for the special, and if he personally does not feel highly for something he contributed in, but I respect that.  To each their own.  As for me, if you happen to find it on DVD I recommend you check it out.  You might be in for a surprise.  I know I was.  =)
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Images screegrabbed from my Region 1 Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work DVD, property of Universal
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Personal Score: 4.5/5
I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
Thank you for reading my review, my readers, please leave me a comment whether pertaining to the subject or the specifics of the blog itself and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great day, take care!  =D