Sunday, August 20, 2023

Sexy Parodius (Saturn)

Checkpoints ON or OFF
8 Difficulty levels
7 Stages (+1)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Konami
Published by Konami in 1996

After the console venture of Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius, originally released for the Super Famicom, Konami turned back to the arcades for the 5th chapter of the series in Sexy Parodius. While no big aesthetic changes are to be seen here, the company did tinker with the gameplay a little in order to bring new elements to the well-known style established since Parodius Da!. As a consequence, even though it looks like more of the same from the outside, Sexy Parodius comes packed with deeper mechanics aimed at pleasing players of all skill levels.

Does it succeed? I believe it does, but it took me quite a while to figure out why.

The game's also supposed to feature a sexy or risqué design but I didn't notice much of that at all. To be honest, the only real moment I thought could get some attention from a bystander, for example, is the final lady boss, which indeed appears in a very sexy manner and probably acts in the most comical way out of the whole series. That's quite fitting actually, seeing that Sexy Parodius is the final title in the franchise and it fades out, as expected, with a wacky bang. This Saturn port is pretty much arcade-perfect, down to the absolute lack of slowdown, and as far as I know there's no reason why the Playstation version shouldn't be of the same caliber.

Koitsu and his new sexy adventure
(courtesy of YouTube user The VideoGames Museum)

The main idea behind the story of  Sexy Parodius is a rather funny one, which players will eventually get to know due to the panels that appear in between levels. They show regular characters Takosuke (the octopus) and Pentaro (the penguin) running an enterprise that hires agents (the playable characters) in order to fulfill missions for special clients. There is a preamble to this in the attract mode animation, which also shows Takosuke dreaming about scantly clad girls everywhere (tentacles!). Anyway, that's the reason why you can't play with them this time around. The character roster includes eight pilots and their 2P counterparts with the possibility of co-op fun. Familiar faces such as Vic Viper, Michael, Koitsu, Mambo and Hikaru are back, with a couple of newcomers in the form of Option/Multiple (self-explanatory for Gradius fans) and Shooting Star/Black Viper.

Classic characters like Vic Viper still adhere to the weapon rules originally defined by the Gradius franchise, but newer additions to the roster are so unique that only the speed-up and the shield seem to be relatable to the old upgrade styles. Everything in between might be the most diverse combination of missiles and shots/lasers, which are still upgraded by taking orange capsules and activating the desired slot in the weapon array. This can be completely manual, but you can also select semi-auto and auto modes after the character is chosen. In semi-auto the game does the upgrading for you but allows players to do it as well. In auto mode the game completely dictates how the character should evolve, and you can't even trigger a new speed-up. On the other hand, auto mode eliminates checkpoints, gives you a bell shower upon death and does away with roulette capsules. These are special capsules that make the weapon array go crazy, cycling very fast until you press the upgrade button just like you would in a slot machine.

Speaking of input buttons, they work with (rapid) shot, (rapid) missiles and power-up. Shot also activates bell powers across all game modes (manual, semi-auto and auto) whenever applicable. At every four shots fired on regular yellow bells they change their color so that you can use special powers: brown (3 vertical barriers), purple (turns all minor enemies into capsules), blue (super bomb),  green (inflate + invincibility) and white (Alex, a special option/minion that helps you out in several ways). Yellow bells are only useful for scoring: if you don't let any of them go by they increase in value from 500 to 1.000, 2.500, 5.000 and finally 10.000 points.

Alex is one of the new features of Sexy Parodius, as is the mission gimmick applied to all stages. In each level you're given a task (collect a certain number of coins, kill a certain number of enemies, destroy bosses within a certain time limit). For stages 2 and 3, failing to accomplish the missions will send you to alternate levels with completely different layouts and bosses. A successful mission in alternate stage 3 sends you back to the main stage 4, but regardless of your results in any variation of stage 4 (main or alternate) you'll continue playing in a single route through stages 5 and 6. Additionally, a random level with bosses from previous games can appear anywhere between stages 2 and 6. Finally, if you complete all missions succesfully you'll also play a special stage after the end credits, which just like in Gokujyou Parodius ramps up the difficulty to ridiculous heights.

You will only see this lovely boss if you fail the mission in stage 2

An interesting note about the missions is that they add to the feeling that the game is longer than it actually is. With only six main levels (not counting the special stage), Sexy Parodius is actually the shortest game in the series since the very first Parodius. Another noteworthy aspect of the mission mechanic is that the biggest contributor to rank is the act of completing all of them. Maxing out your power, surviving longer and abusing bells for scoring certainly make the game harder, but there's a clear difference in enemy aggression if you continue to succeed in the missions proposed by Takosuke. I was brutally decimated with little to no fanfarre when I got to the last stage a couple of times after being 100% successful in my missions, and once I tested the game in Mame I knew it was too high a price to pay just to access the special stage.
Then I got back to the Saturn game and cleared in on the very first time I completely ignored some missions. By failing to destroy the required number of geisha in stage 3 and failing to collect the minimum number of coins in stage 5 (don't get Alex, he'll definitely try to help you achieve that), the final level became much more approachable. This also leads to the conclusion that for players with normal skill levels such as myself it's perfectly possible (and maybe even easier) to get decent scores by not pursuing the special stage at all. Bells don't appear as frequently as in previous games, but still represent the primary means of scoring and are certainly easier to deal with when you're not focused in completing missions.

In a nutshell, Sexy Parodius is a shmup that can be made as hard as you want. Fun is likewise relative, and it might take some while to figure out the right amount of dynamic difficulty you're able to cope with, but the game's charm is undeniable. For my taste it goes a little too far with aggression just for fulfilling the proposed missions though, with the added albeit debatable drawback of the most pleasing versions of stages 3 and 4 being relegated to the failure route (I always died by mistake due to the exaggerated colors of the main 4th level, the girl factory). Minor details such as health gauges for bosses and colored bells showing descriptions when appearing are very welcome, but I missed not having a dedicated button to activate bell powers.

Once I saw how Mambo's awesome piercing laser behaved I had to have him as my character of choice, so most of my attempts at beating the game were with him. As I mentioned above, the highest score below (difficulty 4, auto mode) was achieved in my very first run after deciding to not fulfill all missions, thus refusing the see that ridiculous special stage.

Even though the Parodius series ends with Sexy Parodius, some of its traits lived on in Otomedius, which got an improved home version in Otomedius Gorgeous for the Xbox 360.

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