The Gradius style power-up system is one of the most versatile and creative in the history of the shooter genre, so good in fact that many games have cribbed it. Konami themselves have used a variation of it in a variety of spin offs, most notably Salamander and Twin Bee. 2 obviously wasn’t enough so they created a third that parodies the serious tone of Gradius, Parodius (clever play on words there). Usually parodies are done by a third party but in this case Parodius is both parody and celebration of the success of the series and has enough unique elements to stand on its own.
I think I can see why Konami shied away from bringing Parodius to the US.
It’s a mystery as to why the Parodius series was never given a shot in the US. Well maybe not so much considering some of the, uh, weird shit in the game. Maybe Stinger failed so hard Konami came to the conclusion that Americans like their shooters full of grit? In Europe it was a different story as most of the series has been released there in one form or another. This Super NES installment is a conversion of the second arcade game with the sub title Non Sense Fantasy in Europe which is a pretty apt description. Nothing is too outlandish for this series and in spite of the wacky hijinks the game never forgets that it is supposed to be entertaining above all else.
Like Gradius you can select different weapon combinations but here they’re also tied to different “ships”. The Vic Viper returns with a full complement of weapons from the original Gradius. Now the other ships if you can even call them that are where things get strange. Twinbee from the series of the same name plays identically to those familiar with that series. The Octopus is the equivalent of the Salamander series with its Ripple laser and two way missiles. A pair of penguins named Pentarou play exactly like the VV from Gradius III for those who find the standard Vic Viper’s weaponry too pedantic. I won’t lie, it’s pretty damn weird to pilot a string of octopi or as a penguin but once you get over the absurdity of it all Parodius is just as challenging and entertaining as its more straightforward brethren.
You’re still collecting glowing pods to select which weapons you want to equip however Parodius has even more offer than just that. The random item roulette causes the weapon bar to cycle and can help or hinder you depending on luck. If it lands on a weapon it will give you a fully powered-up version of it such as four options. Hit a blank space and you’re stripped of all power-ups. The more power-ups you’ve collected the worse this actually turns out. In your greed to collect em all like Pokemon more than likely you’ll pick this up at the worst moment; good luck with the results!
For anyone that has imported a Twinbee game or had the misfortune of playing Stinger the bells make an appearance here with hilarious results. The bells only move left to right now making it easier to juggle them and cycle through the colors. You’ll want to do so as the powers they bestow are a bit overpowered. The Green Bell triples your size but makes you invulnerable to everything, so feel free to plow through walls and enemies. Red enables the use of the Kiku Beam, which is a long vertical beam that will destroy anything in its path. My personal favorite is the White Bell which gives you a megaphone which will cause your ship to spout various nonsensical phrases such as “Got a Stinkfoot!” and “Shaving is Boring!” that actually inflict massive damage on impact.
Beyond the campy exterior is a game that isn’t afraid to challenge the conventions of the series it openly mocks. The levels closely resemble Gradius down to the brief space intermissions at the start of every level except with a comical bent. For every familiar element the game brings in from Gradius or Twinbee they’ve applied a Monty Pythonesque slant to it. The ever present volcanoes sport happy faces when dormant but quickly become angry and spout eggplants in a matter of seconds. Most enemies consist of anthropomorphic animals, especially the bosses. The Vegas Go Go dancer moves in the exact same pattern as the from Gradius II but is invincible, meaning you’ll have to……uh “navigate” the safe spots around her body. As if that wasn’t surreal enough it’s quickly followed up by an eagle decked out in an American flag. Draw your own conclusions. It never lets up as it gets even stranger the further you progress with a sumo wrestler, a moai head attached to a ship, and a near nude woman draped in a robe. What does any of this have to do with shooters? Nothing! But it’s pure, unadulterated madness is more fun than ten games put together.
While it makes fun of the serious tone of most shooters from that era Parodius does share one trait with them; the difficulty. It’s very easy to underestimate the stakes involved during each level since the game is trying to kill you in the nicest way possible. There are frequent dead ends and other situations that have little margin for error. The item roulette is the equivalent of a girlfriend slipping a little tongue then kneeing you in the nuts as it pops up at the worst moments. This is a fairly long game at 9 levels plus the SNES exclusive bath house (by this point it doesn’t even sound strange anymore) so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of the game.
The SNES version of Parodius is an excellent port of the arcade game missing very few details. Outside of the resolution you could easily mistake it for the coin op. Parodius goes in the complete opposite direction of Gradius with its explosion of color and vibrant backgrounds. There are some truly large sprites uncharacteristic of your typical SNES game so it’s a bit of a surprise that there is little to no slowdown at all. It helps that this is a slower paced game but coming off the slowdown ridden Gradius III a year prior this is a miracle. There’s even a bubble level like that game except here the game doesn’t slow to a crawl, almost as if Konami were throwing shade on their previous work. Parodius also has a fantastic soundtrack and with good reason, most of it is classical and folk music available in the public domain. The reason being the composer did not have enough time to complete an original score for the whole game so had to make do with what was available. In my eyes it adds to the game’s mystique and fits the tone of the game well.
It seems strange that to this day Konami has never given the series a chance in the US but thanks to its European releases those that want to import can at least enjoy a full localization, not that there’s any text to begin with. Forget about the cartoon exterior and you’re left with a challenging yet fair game that is truly phenomenal.