Genre : Action
Release Date: September 14, 2004
Buy 'GRADIUS V': PlayStation 2
Ladies and gentlemen, the king has returned.
His first royal decree? “Y’all still suck.”
He’s right, too.
Welcome to Gradius V, people; also known to people the world over who’ve already sampled this game as Big Core’s Revenge.
This fifth installment in the series (not counting sidestories such as Salamander, aka Life Force), as most people in the know are aware, was actually engineered by Treasure. Treasure are the same programmers behind the cult shooter hit Ikaruga which was released on the Dreamcast and Gamecube. They also created its highly respected spiritual predecessor, Radiant Silvergun, which was released on the Sega Saturn and still goes for ungodly prices on online auctions to this day.
Therefore, when someone who’s played Ikaruga thinks “Gradius Game Made By Treasure”, it’s understandable that they’ll think it’s a melding of the two, and maybe have some doubts, as these are two different shooting games with two different styles. Gradius is slower and more methodical; Ikaruga throws the world at you and expects you to solve puzzles while you dodge said world.
Understandable, yes. Necessary, no.
True, this new Gradius is more hectic, and it’s easy to see Treasure’s flavor injected into the title, but it was done in moderation. Concepts aren’t forced onto one another to the point that they break into disjointed crumbs; instead, they’re pureed, mixed together into a fine concoction, then frozen and made to eat with a spoon.
Overblown three-hour-of-sleep metaphors aside, it means that you’ll be playing a game that takes the best ideas from Gradius, the best of Life Force, and the best of Ikaruga, and puts them all together to create a game that solves damn near every single problem or minor fallacy that the Gradius series has ever had in one fell swoop.
Down the list we go: from Gradius, we have the tried-and-true gameplay engine, we have loads of powerups, some selectable at the game’s start. Relentless bosses, tons of enemies with varied attacks and environments which fight you as much as the enemy ships have also returned. For this update, the bosses are even more inventive, and the stage environments introduce brand new concepts, while making old ones new all over again. Once you beat the game, you also unlock new weapons for the Vic Viper, and the ability to mix and match them to your liking, a la Gradius III.
From Ikaruga’s influence, the Vic Viper’s hitbox has been reduced to just a few pixels on the center of the ship. This means much easier dodging, which one will need because there are many more things—bullets, enemies, ships, minibosses—flying at you than in the previous games. The gameplay has also been speeded up a notch, and some of the enemies (like the first stage boss) pay homage to the title.
Finally, from the Life Force side of things, playing a Gradius game no longer means that if you die, the game may as well be over. Previous installments left you with absolutely nothing once you died, and hurled you back to a former part of the stage. Here, as in Life Force, you respawn directly where you died, and your “options”—miniature orange orbs that act as cloned fighters—stay on the screen for you to recollect and give you fighting chance. Furthermore, two-player simultaneous play has been implemented.
Also worth mentioning would be the new option dynamic that has been introduced. allowing, with a tap of the R1 button, to allow the options take a more active role than just taking a formation around one’s fighter. Based on your choice of ship type, the options themselves can be controlled, or the direction of their shots. This opens up new gameplay strategies that just weren’t feasible before, and makes your ship that much more powerful.
Back when I reviewed R-Type Final, I’d said that the age of the old sprite-based shooter was finally on its way out, and the graphically superior sprite/polygon hybrid shooter was the way to go. Gradius V continues to prove the latter’s viability. The game takes place in a polygonal world, viewable from a two-dimensional perspective. It allows for incredible effects, swirling lines and transparencies, and perspective shifts which change the way you avoid and/or deal with enemies. Things are no longer “there or not there”—they are now ever-present, but with several degrees of alignment on the Z-axis. Safe spots for your ship must be now determined more carefully. In all, the graphics are both a treat for the eyes, and add a strategic element to gameplay.
The sound effects are all ones you could make yourself, honestly. However, the soundtrack itself is killer. It’s more subtle than the older Gradius games, but fits well, and there are even a few remixed treats in there for longitme fans—specifically, the Life Force boss theme and the Big Core fight theme from the original Gradius.
It’s sort of hard to tell which audience this game this game is targeted to, but it doesn’t matter all that much. If you’re a newbie to shooters in general, Gradius V is a darned good one to pick up and cut your teeth on. It has an intuitive system, and is quite forgiving at the start. The fact that you get an additional continue credit for every hour of play (and free play once those credits reach 20) means that you will eventually finish the game. However, the game will force even seasoned shooter maniacs to toughen up pretty quickly, even on the Very Easy setting. Not only that, but significant changes in the enemies and bosses can be seen with each difficulty setting. Gradius V is easy to pick up, and tough to master; which is a hallmark of any good game.
Got 40 bones? There’s no question. Pick this baby up. Unless you’re a shooting god, it’ll be a while before you beat this… and even then, once you do, you’ll unlock lots of new ways to play it all over again.
For the time being, Gradius V wins shooters.
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