Parodius – Non Sense Fantasy

I will forever remain jealous of European gamers for receiving the majority of the Parodius series.  As a parody of the otherwise serious Gradius games Parodius could have been nothing more than silly joke.  But in reality it is a truly phenomenal game, one that takes the best elements from its source material and builds something new around it.  Just the simple fact that Konami were poking fun of themselves is notable.  Usually a parody is done by a third party and isn’t very good.  Yet Parodius is better than the vast majority of shooters out there.  Go figure.

It isn’t a mystery as to why Konami avoided bringing the series to the US.  In between the silliness lies some very risqué content.  While most of it harmless some of it definitely pushes boundaries.  Considering how squeaky clean Nintendo of America was in the early 90s this would not have come over unscathed.  It’s our loss as we missed out on a truly great game, one that is nearly arcade perfect.

The free weapon selection of Gradius III is gone and replaced by predefined weapon sets.  These sets more or less correspond to certain series with their own pilots.  The Vic Viper represents Gradius with the standard weapon set.  Octopus has the Salamander weapon set including my favorite the Ripple.  Twinbee is from , uh, Twinbee.  Pentarou brings a little flavor from Gradius III if the Vic Viper is too simple for your tastes.  The standard Gradius system of collecting weapon pods applies here but is taken a step further in a few ways.

The item blizzard is a love or hate it feature which is why it can be turned off.  A random item pod will trigger the roulette.  If it lands on a weapon you haven’t acquired you get it for free.  Unfortunately if it lands on an empty square all of your power-ups are gone.  That is disastrous when it occurs and made me hate it even more.  It makes flying around with a fully powered ship that much more dangerous.  I suppose it adds an element of excitement but personally I didn’t like it.

Parodius isn’t content to simply ape Gradius.  The bell power-ups from Twinbee return in hilarious fashion.  These power-ups are completely broken and make “juggling” the bells worth it.  The green bell triples your size and grants invulnerability for a few seconds.  The White bell is my favorite.  It grants a megaphone with which you shout nonsensical Engrish phrases.  “Lock me Baby”, “Got a Stinkfoot”, and “Toaster Overheated” are just some of the stupid comments it spews.  The red bell enables the Kiku Beam, a long vertical blast that destroys everything in its path.  The Blue bell sacrifices your shield for a screen clearing smart bomb. 

Parodius is both a celebration and inversion of the series’ that it mocks.  There are many familiar elements except they have been turned on their ear.  The typical Moai head level present in every Gradius is here with the Easter Island statues replaced with clowns.   The upside down volcanoes sport happy faces which quickly turn angry and spew eggplants instead of lava.  Even the big core makes an appearance.  Some of the bosses are just…yeah.  There’s an Eagle decked out in an American flag and a 100-foot tall woman wearing nothing but a robe.  The Super Famicom port sports an exclusive level set in a bath house.  It says a lot when even that doesn’t seem out of place.  The deeper you progress the weirder the game gets, right up until its conclusion. 

Beneath all of the debauchery is a game that isn’t afraid to get a little dirty.  It’s easy to get lost in the madness and catch a stray bullet.  Parodius is no less deliberate with its enemy placement as there are plenty of tight situations to go around.  Passages lead to dead ends, bosses threaten to crush you in the very edges of the screen, and that damn item blizzard hurts more than it helps.  Speaking of bosses they are actually the easiest element of the game.  Despite their…….weirdness they are absolute pushovers outside of two or three.  As disappointing as that may seem at ten levels there is plenty to challenge gamers of all skill levels.

    

The SNES version of Parodius is one of the best, only surpassed by the later Saturn and PlayStation ports.  Very few details are missing and at a glance it could pass as arcade perfect.  The game’s overall color palette and art direction favors large sprites and an excess of color.  As silly as it may seem at times there is some real technical work going on in the background.  It could be owed to the game’s slow pace but there is very little slowdown going on no matter how crowded the screen.  There is a bubble level reminiscent of Gradius III except unlike that game it doesn’t slow to a crawl. 

The soundtrack is fantastic and with good reason: most of the music comes from the public domain.  The exact reason why is pretty hilarious; the composer had little time to complete an original score.  So he took some popular classical music tracks and sampled them for the SNES.  As weird as that may seem it actually fits the game’s goofy tone pretty well.

Parodius is an excellent game and one of the better shooters for the SNES.  Great graphics and a perfect blending of Gradius and Twinbee’s mechanics create a uniquely original title.  While it is a bit strange that the series has never been given a shot in the US the numerous European releases make this a moot point.  Fire up an import and greatness awaits.

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