Parodius Double Pack
When approaching a pair of games as genuinely barmy as the side scrolling shooter (shmup) “Parodius” and its sequel “Fantastic Journey” (both included on the UK Saturn “Parodius” disc) it’s tempting to revert to clichÈs such as “those crazy Japanese” and “what WERE they smoking?”.
And indeed when you find yourself steering a flying octopus betwixt the legs of a 100 foot high semi-naked dancing girl or racing down a fast moving corridor filled with sparrows wearing crash helmets to the strains of the William Tell Overture as mixed for stylophone and electric kazoo it’s hard not to wonder if some narcotic influence had taken place at the planning stages.
But Parodius/Fantastic Journey are meant to be like this. They are in fact a deliberate parody by Konami of there own long running side scrolling shooter franchise “Gradius” (Gradius + Parody = Parodius? See what they did there?). Gradius stalwart Vic Viper is there for the choosing, but so are Pentaro the Penguin, Berial the Octopus and Twinbee the er.. thingy. Fantastic Journey adds more to this roster with Lord British, Flowerette, Takosuke and Winbee joining their Parodius cousins as two-player options and adding bunny girls Hikaru and Akane, Mambo and Samba the fish, Michael and Gabriel the angel pigs and Koitsu and Aitsu the stick men riding paper aeroplanes.
Some informed choice can be exercised when choosing which character to use, although they are all fairly similar, they have special attacks that activate in different ways. For example Pentaro shoots homing penguins that can take out floor based attackers, whereas Takosuke fires out mini octopi both upwards and downwards. Once you have decided on the character that suits you best, you set out to do what all shmups ask of you which is to progress from left to right destroying enemies who attack in waves and collecting powerups which increase your bullet power and add shields, bombs and waves of mini-me’s hanging on your tail.
Levels are set in space like most shmups, but also in a sweet factory, underwater and in a toy making sweatshop. This being Parodius of course enemies take the form of homicidal sweeties, exclamation marks, top hat wearing parrots and giant pirate ships with giant cat heads. At the end of each level is a giant boss to be overcome, and again, this being Parodius these take the form of said giant Hula girl, tutu wearing Panda’s, a Mermaid who attacks you with her laughter and most awesomely of all a giant green blob that fires out thousands of powerups allowing you to attain maximum strength before it deflates away with a kind of parping noise.
Of the two games Parodius is probably the trickier of the two. Losing a life sets you back to a checkpoint, unlike Fantastic Journey which throws you straight back in with a few seconds of invincibility to boot. Powerup’s come in two forms, normal ones which increase your abilities shown at the bottom of the screen adding more baby ships or increased fire power as you level them up, there are also Bells. These give you a one shot power-up in the form of invulnerability, a shield wall, a bomb that kills everything on screen and best of all a megaphone that creates giant sentences which kill! The fact these sentences usually say things like “TEETH IN ME SOUP!” and “OH S.T.U.D!” only add to the merriment. If you are chasing high scores Yellow Bells give you more points. Bells change colour when you fire at them so you can be quite tactical in how you use them.
Both games also offer three control systems. Auto means powerups and bells activate the instant you pick them up so you only have to worry about pressing one button, fire. Semi-Auto means you can choose when to activate your powerups and allows some switching between stocked ones. Finally Manual means you choose when to activate powerups and any stocked Bell power. Automatic is very useful for beginners and you can finish the game happily on that, if you want to replay for high scores and on fewer lives and continues then playing more strategically becomes a must. Especially if you want to take on the secret level which will only appear if your score ends with a certain number at the end of a level. Fulfil the criteria and you’ll find yourself taking on a giant hell spawned gurning train as it races pell-mell through the fiery abyss. Nice.
Both Parodius and Fantastic Journey are great games. Graphically slick and full of dizzyingly bright colours, hundreds of sprites shift about on screen with only one instance of slowdown occurring (the underwater section in Fantastic Journey and it’s very brief). Parodius is the more hardcore game as it almost tries to be sensible in places and of the two, this will probably be more challenging to the seasoned shmupper. Fantastic Journey is extremely easy (indeed it can be set to play on a continuous loop) but its no holds barred lunacy certainly keeps me coming back to it over and over again as it is a sheer joy to play. The brilliant music truly adds that final touch of class as only a misery guts wouldn’t raise a smile at the high pitched versions of “In the Mood”, “Ride of the Valkeries” and various Souza Marches which play as you blast your way past chainsaw wielding teddy bears and malevolent hats.
I was lucky enough to find this game being sold by someone who didn’t appreciate it’s true worth, but it can fetch quite high prices on eBay. It’s rarity all the more enhanced by the fact this was one of the few games to get not to be released in the USA. Yep this is one time PAL gamers got one over on our usually more favoured American cousins. It’s a shame though that its rarity means only dedicated shooter fans will hunt it down as it is a game that truly can be enjoyed by everyone of all abilities. With Konami released Gradius V in 2004 I hold out some hope that Parodius, Fantastic Journey and the infamous “Sexy Parodius” (shoot clothes off giant women!) will see a combined release on the PS2 or Xbox so they can reach a whole new generation of gamers. Until then this copy is all mine, ahahahah!!!