The gaming room at Otakon rarely disappoints, and is usually a good way to spend a few hours of downtime. This year, they were sorely missing King of Fighters XI (and yet they bothered with the Sunsoft Fighters collection? Why?) but they did have a few Japanese Xbox 360s playing some shooters, including Death Smiles, Mamoru-kun Has Been Cursed! (I forget the Japanese title at the moment) and Otomedius G. I want a Japanese 360, but the prices are absurd and all I really want are these small number of shooters, so it was great to try them out.
Death Smiles is a Cave game, which should mostly speak for itself. It is sidescrolling, which I like, mostly just I feel more attuned to hori games than verts. You can fire either left or right, and there's cool lock-on shot, although I never quite figured out how the scoring system was supposed to work. It features redrawn sprites, which frankly look quite ugly, because they clash with the still-low-res backgrounds. I know some people balk at the whole goth-loli things, but it's handled in a far classier manner than Muchi Muchi "Do You Like Fat Chicks" Pork, where generously proportioned women pedal on a bicycle to fly through the sky.
I wish I could say more about Mamoru-kun, but I only got to play it during the customary Saturday night drunkenness, so I only have vague memories at what it was about. It's made by G.REV. and while it looks like Shikigami no Shiro (ie. quite ugly) it actually plays more akin to Pocky and Rocky, in that there's no forced scrolling, and the whole setting is very Japanese. I did put the soundtrack on my Zune later on, and it's quite peppy and enjoyable.
But this post is mostly about Otomedius, which is the one I was most excited about, especially with all of the Konami shooters I'd been playing lately for the article. I'd heard some negative reports about the game, and after spending some time with it, I'd kinda have to agree. The graphics clearly weren't designed for HD, making it look instead like a very crisp Dreamcast game. It's colorful, but compared to all of the details that went into the 2D Parodius games, it still can't help but feel a little bland. Compared to Sexy Parodius, it's not nearly sexy nor funny enough either. The character designs appear to exist just to draw people to it, but once you're out of the select screens, none of that actually applies ingame. I also found myself constantly underarmed, because upgrade orbs were sparse. Furthermore, unlike classic Gradius, it respawns your character automatically, and there's seemingly no way to disable it. Because of this, I spent most of the time with the standard pea shooters and a handful of options which, like Salamander and Gradius V, can be picked up after you die.
What I didn't realize is that I was playing on Gorgeous Mode. I was under the impression that this console-exclusive mode was the same as the Arcade Mode, just with a widescreen view (compared to the Arcade's 4:3) and some extra levels, but no - it actually REMOVES several elements from the Arcade Mode, including the D-Burst functionality, which is a method to obtain more power orbs. I guess Gorgeous Mode was an attempt to bring it back to classic Gradius, but with the instant respawn and badly balanced power-ups, I can't say thet did a good job.
Honestly, I can't condemn completely without having played the Arcade mode. Still, I'm not so sure the Gorgeous Mode is the only thing wrong with it. Mostly, the whole game just feels kinda dull, and the pacing seems sluggish. The levels just appear big and empty, even when I was playing on hard mode. It's sort of like R-Type Final compared to all of the other R-Types - with the claustrophobic elements removed, it doesn't feel like Gradius, and without the proper revamp of, say, Gradius V, it just doesn't work. Apparently it gets tougher at even higher difficulty levels or loops, which I guess could help.
There are other problems, too, apparently, like the repeated plays necessary to unlock some of the bonuses. There are plenty of extra weapons to purchase, although I don't know precisely how that's done. And they also appear to be gravely overcharging on DLC for extra characters (400 points per, that's a whole game of Geometry Wars!), as well as new levels and music packs. I guess the only reason Konami bothered to port this was to ride the success of Idolm@aster on the 360 and its ability to exploit the otaku chump crowd.
At any rate, Daijoubu is currently working on a fuller article for HG101 on Otomedius. He has a more positive impression than I do, and benefits from actually owning the game and spending more than an hour with it, so perhaps his review will come off less dour than this little write-up.