Saturday, March 27, 2021

Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius - Forever with Me (Saturn)

Checkpoints ON
8 Difficulty levels
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Konami
Published by Konami in 1996

For those people who wondered what Konami was thinking when developing and releasing the fourth chapter of the Parodius series for the Super Famicom in 1995, the answer actually came quite quickly. As usual, the game was just too good to be restricted to a single console platform, so the company soon ported it to the 32-bit generation with the added subtitle of Forever with Me, whatever that's supposed to mean. On the outside it looks and plays just like the 16-bit original, albeit with a few standout changes in the core game that are obviously aimed at turning it into a better experience overall.

The aspect that gives Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius - Forever with Me its name is a comical announcer who’s always babbling random stuff (in Japanese) as the game unfolds. An extra female announcer is also present in the cooperative 2-player mode, which is one of the most prominent novelties of both 32-bit ports since there is no co-op in the Super Famicom version. Being able to tag along with a partner probably makes this particular chapter the best one for sheer co-op fun because of three things: a character roster that allows for great combinations of powers and abilities, the complete absence of slowdown and the difficulty level being the same as in the 16-bit original.

Doitsu on manual power-up mode
(courtesy of YouTube user The VideoGames Museum)

On top of the nonsensical and colorful design that had its details touched up a little bit, the Saturn version also comes with a few other changes (keep reading). The core gameplay remains intact of course, as defined by the classic mold first introduced in the Gradius series. If you decide for manual power-up mode after selecting the character (the lower option), you'll have to press a dedicated button in order to activate the upgrade that's highlighted in the weapon array, which gets shifted to the right as you collect power-up capsules. By choosing auto power-up mode the game does the upgrading automatically for the player, but it's still possible to activate the upgrade yourself if desired, such as when you want to have more speed. The other inputs are shot, missile (which can be combined in the same button, of course) and bell power.

As all Parodius fans know, rules on the use of bell powers are inherited from the TwinBee franchise. They are either generated periodically in between capsules or released in batches by mid-sized enemies, and come in the following colors: yellow (score), blue (bomb), green (instantaneous inflation + invincibility), white (bullet-cancelling kanji shot), red (three energy barriers) and purple (turns all weak enemies into power-ups and/or bells). Shoot the bells to juggle them and switch their colors, just note that it takes four shots to change from yellow to the other colors in sequence. As one of the main sources of scoring, yellow bells collected in sequence soon max out at 10.000 points each, provided you don't let any bell get past you.
In between regular power-up capsules and bells you also get gray capsules that work as smart bombs. Don't use them if you want to get the scores from the kills though, because all enemies wiped out with the gray capsule yield no points at all. That said, the other main source of points besides bells are the secret fairies that must be uncovered by shooting at their locations. Each one is worth 10.000 points, and if you're the type of player who cares about completing extravagant achievements you can strive to collect all 70 fairies to unlock secret character Dracula-kun, and then a whole new set of 70 faiires to unlock its sibling Kid Dracula. Fortunately it's possible to take a shortcut by means of a secret code if you want to add these extra characters to the default 16.

Relatively easygoing when compared with the arcade games in the series, Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius does not deny its console sensibilities and is probably the perfect chapter for immediate "pick up and play". Inspirations from several Konami titles abound, and not only related to the shoot'em up realm. Tokimeki Memorial, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Lethal Enforcers and Taisen Puzzle-Dama are used as themes for complete stages, with the later two being reworkings or completely new ventures on the Saturn and Playstation versions. New details on enemies and bosses, minor graphical enhancements and a few shifts in the CD-quality music are also in place.

Pentaro to the rescue

Going beyond the basics, high level play also involves the convenient use of the purple bell, which was introduced in Gokujyou Parodius but is absent from Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius on the Super Famicom. Another important alteration in this regard is that the extend routine is not interrupted when you score more than one million points. The first extend comes with 20.000 points, with new ones awarded for each 100.000 points afterwards. It's not uncommon to amass a huge amount of extra lives if you play well enough, which obviously helps in reaching higher loops more easily. Since the difficulty increase after you beat the game is also a tad tamer than what you'd get in any of the arcade titles of the franchise, chances are you'll be facing a dedicated Parodius marathon type of challenge on the first two rounds/loops at least.

As expected, this port also preserves the checkpoint-based save function. When you pause and press L, the middle option contains three save slots while the upper option is used to load them at any time. Pausing and pressing R, on the other hand, allows you to return to the title screen on the lower option. A tiny in-game improvement appears in a new display just below the indication for the hi-score, which shows the current difficulty level and loop. In the title screen you also have the choice of two new special game modes: Omake 1 is a completely new single stage where you're supposed to get high scores, whereas Omake 2 works as a racing mini-game where the objective is to get to the end of the area as fast as possible. 

Click for the main menu translation for the Normal game in Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius - Forever with Me on the Sega Saturn

Even though on a first glance both 32-bit ports are very similar, there is a specific switch in the options screen that alters the gameplay significantly. In the case of the Saturn version, this tweak is called "Extra". Its function is to change enemy formations completely, an alteration that makes the game a tad harder than usual. On the Playstation port this is replaced by "Accident", which adds polygonal-based bonus areas to the end of each level. Besides these interesting tweaks to the base game, both ports allow the OH! bogus power-up to be replaced by a slot machine for bells if you turn "Slot!" on. As for "Duet", "Ikari" and "Nage", they are specific tweaks for co-op play.

Once I got re-acquainted with the game I decided to play with Upa (the baby boy) and got the result below in one of my first serious credits. I played with auto power-up on full defaults (difficulty 4, Roulette ON, Slot!/Extra/Revival OFF, Oshaberi ON) and reached stage 3-6. I had great fun and felt so comfortable with the automatic handling of my upgrade capsules that I didn't even try to play the game with manual power-ups. I did activate a second speed-up right after the first one though.

Now I guess I'm ready to move on to one of the ports for Sexy Parodius!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Eden's Aegis (PC)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
5 Stages
Ship speed fixed
- - - - - - -
Developed by X.X Game Room
Published by X.X Game Room in 2010

Eden's Aegis is the last PC free shooter released by the enigmatic one-man development institution known as X.X Game Room. It's easy to mistake it for Eden's Edge, which is actually one of his first attempts at creating a challenge for those who enjoy the thrill of dodging bullet curtains. For the record, 1.11 is the definitive iteration of Eden's Aegis, so that's what everybody's been playing for years now.

It seems the original page from the developer is offline at the moment, so just head to the download page and extract the downloaded file, plug in your favorite controller, run the executable, hit OK on all pop-up boxes and there you go, bullet hell action instantly available. With obvious influences from the works by Cave, Eden's Aegis can be defined simply as a shooter where your main objective is to destroy larger enemies in order to cancel bullets, thus turning them into precious gold and surviving the odds in the process.

Graphically the game is very similar to the other main work by X.X Game Room, Blue Wish Resurrection and its Plus variation. And that’s probably my main gripe with it, since apart from the choice of the avatar being a flying girl instead of a spaceship both games bear a strikingly undistinguishable appearance, which is very much defined by open space punctuated by raw textures for ground surfaces and a fireworks display of medals and bullet patterns. Of course this is alleviated by the fact that we’ve been given the chance to play these very fine shooters for free, so no big qualms about that.

One could say these games are all about gameplay, meaning 100% substance over style.

Beautiful purple bullet curtains!

Inputs work with shot, full auto, special attack and bomb. By holding shot you get a focused firing stream with reduced movement speed. The special attack adds a concentrated burst of power to your shot pattern that lasts a few seconds, which then recharges automatically for the next use as seen in the meter on the bottom left of the screen. The bomb is self-explanatory, granting instant invincibility to the character during its animation. Autoguard is a feature that’s turned on by default and sacrifices one bomb for every hit you take. “Wait” is initially also set to ON and means that you’ll always have slowdown whenever bullet count reaches a certain threshold (set it to OFF if you’d like to experience a much harder game overall).

In all game modes there are originally only two characters available. You can either beat the game with them to unlock the other two or just create an empty .txt file on the game’s directory named “yutori”. All four exhibit different traits for firing patterns, bombs and recovery times for the special attack. In general the further down they are in the selection screen the harder it is to control them, which means Nanathy is the character to go for beginners while Ridmie requires a deeper knowledge both for survival and for scoring.

The rules of gameplay are the same for all modes (Heaven, Original and Hell). Enemies release golden gems for taking, and if you kill them with special attacks all medals are automatically sucked into the avatar. Death explosions of larger enemies turn every nearby bullet into gems, in what’s the most obvious device in the risk/reward scoring technique: kill them right away to survive or let them live long enough in order to reap more points from on-screen bullets? The good news in that regard is that you'll see health bars for all enemies that are at least mid-sized. Gem counter increases during the level and decreases during mid-boss fights (faster) and stage boss confrontations (slower), getting cut in 1/3 for every hit you take. 

Hidden ground items, such as extra bombs and a solitary extend in stage 4, will only be uncovered by hitting them with the special attack. Bombs are also very important for scoring since they turn all on-screen bullets into gems. Score-based extends are granted with 7 and 30 million points.

Hell mode's first stage with Nanathy
(courtesy of YouTube user Vysethedetermined2)

Like all previous titles from the same developer, Eden's Aegis is a great pick-up-and-play shmup that provides instant fun from the get go, at least in Heaven and Original modes. Enemy projectiles aren't overly fast, the constant slowdown can be considered a nice exercise in tight bullet hell practice and you can even hold the special attack button so that it's repeatedly deployed after each recharge cycle. For a regular bystander the difference from relaxed survival play and high level scoring attempts seems to be trivial, but it actually requires thorough route/positioning choices and tight usage of the special attack. Never mind switching wait or autoguard to OFF, since they do not affect any aspect of the game with regards to scoring.

During the very short time I played the game I cleared it a few times in Original mode, improving my score a little without training any particular section. Eden's Aegis does include practice options though, as well as stage select and the ability to change the color of bullets and save replays – you just can't pause, for pausing denies replay saves and goes as far as not allowing you to write your initials in the high score board. The game does warrant a lot more dedication than the short spell I was able to devote to it, but at least I had good unrestricted fun. My character of choice was Nanathy.

Note: I didn't try Hell mode at all, which is the only one that has a TLB (True Last Boss) in the end, accessible by 1CCing and having at least one bomb in stock when the fifth boss is defeated.