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PSP Review - 'Gradius Collection'

by Geson Hatchett on June 28, 2006 @ 2:05 a.m. PDT

The Collection includes ports of the arcade shoot 'em up versions of the original four Gradius titles along with a port of the PlayStation's Gradius Gaiden. The port is enhanced with a new save feature and 16:9 display modes for the original two Gradius titles.

Genre: 2D Shooter
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: June 6, 2006

Collection discs seem to be all the rage these days. What better way to hook nostalgic gamers and casual ones, and save money in the process, than by simply releasing emulated versions of code that was completed a decade or more ago? We’ve seen Capcom get into this business numerous times, and Namco and Midway as well. Tecmo and Taito have recently joined their ranks. Now, finally, Konami’s stepping in.

Their compilation, however, does its best to stomp the others flat.

Gradius Collection is, as the name would suggest, a collection of shooter games (“shmups” to the more devoted fanbase). Simply put, almost every single game to bear the Gradius name can be found on this disc. Please note that I said “Gradius.” If you’re looking for the spinoffs, i.e. Life Force, Salamander or the whacked-out Parodius, you’d do best to look into your traditional retrogaming resources. Also absent are Gradius V, since it is, of course, a PS2 game in its own right; the fairly primitive Game Boy versions of Gradius/Nemesis, Gradius Galaxies, which was horrible anyway, and the absolutely stellar SNES version of Gradius III, because Konami hates you. Well, okay, fine, I’m sure it has something to do with licensing issues, but still.

The Gradius games, if for some reason you are not familiar with them, are a series of rock-hard horizontally-scrolling shooters (not the hardest, by a long shot, but they’re up there) whose claim to fame is a play mechanic that’s been given the name “The Gradius Effect” by both the affectionate and bitter. You fight through hordes of aliens, collecting power-ups that allow you to upgrade your ship in a modular fashion, on-the-fly. However, should you die (which only takes one collision), you lose everything. Suddenly your tricked-out weapon of mass destruction is reduced to a space slug, thrown back at the spot where you died. The enemies, meanwhile, remain just as relentless as when they killed you the first time.

Some call this old-school difficulty, others call it just plain dumb. I’ll leave the categorization up to you, the individual gamer. This aspect of the series has proven to be absent in Salamander, Life Force, and Gradius V, to the elation of most fans. The five games in this collection, however? Get ready to control so many space slugs.

Gradius Collection includes the first four games in the series (note that Gradius II was import-only, so it’s nice to have here), and thus, it allows you to check out just how much the games have evolved, from the power-ups, to the stage motifs, the music, and everything else. Gradius Collection also contains one heck of a bonus—the previously import-only Gradius Gaiden. Gradius fans should take note because Gaiden, originally for the PSX, stands side-by-side along with Gradius V as the magnum opus of the series, and one of its highest points. In Gaiden, you get to fly four ships, two that longtime Gradius fans are already familiar with: Vic Viper, Lord British, and the two newcomers Jade Knight and Falchion Beta.

The Vic Viper has the standard weapons it always has in the Gradius games, and Lord British’s arsenal, such as the Ripple Laser, hails from Life Force. The Jade Knight specializes in laser weapons; including a twin laser and the Round Laser, a circle of solid-light death that emanates from the center of the ship. Finally, Falchion Beta is armed to the teeth with explosive missiles and gravity well lasers which give new meaning to the words “splash damage.” It’s your choice as to which one you want to take into battle. All four have their strengths and weaknesses, and all four are fun to use as well.

Since there are four ships, the weapons customization aspects of the older games is lost, however, Gaiden gives Gradius players the best option ever: the option to choose where your power-ups lie on the upgrade grid. That’s right! Tired of having to collect five power-balls to give yourself an Option ghost ship? Make it so you only have to collect one! The position of the Speed-Up power, however, will have to be exchanged. Without breaking the play system, Gaiden allows the player to customize their own Gradius experience, and make things easier on themselves. For anyone who’s been following Gradius for the two decades that it’s been around, this is priceless.

Every single one of these games can be played in normal and tuned modes with original and slightly remixed versions of their original soundtracks. You can also adjust the aspect ratio of the games to play in their normal arcade screen settings, or in widescreen. Note that I did not say “stretched” to widescreen—these games are re-engineered to get the best out of the PSP’s widescreen experience, such that it will take a little getting used to at first. You’ll actually be able to see further ahead in the game than you normally could when these games were first released. All of these games look wonderful in any aspect; there’s no horrible filtering or clipping to be found anywhere, everything looks natural. The smaller screen modes may prove to be a bit unpleasant after extended play, however.

As the icing on the cake, the game’s Gallery option allows you to sample every piece of music in every single one of these Gradius games, and to sample full-motion video sequences from both these games and every other compilation featuring them as well. If you’re a Gradius nut, this is a dream come true. Feel free to bust out the Sound Test on the train or in the car and jam to the Big Core boss music. It’s okay, nobody will know unless you’re sloppy about it.

If you love shooters, and are wondering just what the heck you got your PSP for, anyway, this is it. The control schemes are perfect, and there’s plenty of meat to this compilation; all that remains now is your gaming dollars put towards a quality product. Go forth, and prepare to destroy the core once again.

Score: 8.6/10

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