Gradius V Review
Gradius V is a loving tribute to a classic series and to a style of gaming that may be old fashioned, but judging by how fun this game is, one that certainly isn't obsolete.
It was just about 20 years ago that the Vic Viper, the world's best-known alien-armada-killing single-pilot spacecraft, flew her maiden voyage in the original Gradius. That game is hardly the first side-scrolling space shoot-'em-up, but it's a genuine arcade classic, since it features genre-defining gameplay, graphics, and sound, as well as a healthy bit of strategy in its power-up system. Over the years, Gradius spawned a bunch of sequels and spin-offs, the latest of which is a PlayStation 2 game that pays homage to the series and its fans. It's true that Gradius V is best suited for nostalgic fans of old-school arcade action games--games whose controls were instantly accessible and whose storylines could be contained in a sentence. However, this is an excellent action game by any standards, and it serves as an important reminder that it's the action that really matters in an action game. To that end, Gradius V's particular brand of hard-boiled shooting mayhem is so intense that it can keep you breathlessly entertained for as long as your extra lives don't run out.
Gradius V was developed by Treasure, a company with a long history of putting together great shoot-'em-ups, and most recently best known for its work on Ikaruga, an innovative vertical-scrolling shooter. Fans of Treasure's past accomplishments or of previous games in the Gradius series certainly won't be disappointed by Gradius V, a game that definitely stays true to the series' roots, and yet wraps up a traditionally frenetic and very tough gameplay experience in modern trappings. That is, Gradius V lives up to the Gradius name, in that it carries the series' signature traits, including two-player simultaneous play, the Vic Viper itself, the unique power-up system that's the hallmark of the series, tough stages filled with environmental hazards as well as numerous enemies, and plenty of tough boss opponents. All that's missing are the Moai, those things that looked like the statues on Easter Island.
At the same time, Gradius features some of Treasure's signature touches. As in Ikaruga, boss opponents erupt into blinding, cataclysmic explosions that dramatically bring the game's frame rate to its knees. The game is also surprisingly suspenseful (the first time you visit its stages, anyway). Just when you think you've seen the worst that a given level has to offer, something even crazier occurs. It's brutal going from start to finish, but you'll constantly run into unusual twists, each one seemingly more nefarious than the last.
There's no way you'll finish Gradius V the first 10 or 20 times you play it, even if you set the difficulty to the "very easy" setting and crank up the maximum number of lives and crank down the point totals required to earn more. Even at the easiest setting, the game is still tough. The key to success in the game is one part reflexes and hand-eye coordination, and one part repetition and memorization--which is true of any self-respecting shoot-'em-up. Fortunately for Gradius V's longevity (and, indeed, for you), you can't just continue indefinitely and reach the final confrontation on your first try. Instead, you're going to run out of continues long before you reach that point--but for each hour's worth of time you spend with the game (progress is automatically saved to your memory card), you earn an extra credit. That means the next time you play, you'll have a few more extra lives and a little more practice under your belt, so maybe you can make it a few minutes deeper into the experience. All told, Gradius V takes less than a couple of hours from start to finish--but it's going to probably take you about eight or 10 hours to reach the ending for the very first time. On top of that, the game's various difficulty settings, unlockable weapon edit mode, and the two-player simultaneous option give the game a respectable amount of lasting appeal.
This is a simple game at heart. Your ship will always face to the right, and just about all you can do is move it in eight directions and fire away. Ironically, while your ship's facing never changes and the screen scrolls automatically, sometimes the stages themselves begin to rotate or move in various directions. So just when you think all Gradius V has to offer is right-to-left-scrolling backgrounds, it'll take you for a spin. Also, despite the seemingly mindless nature of its shoot-anything-that-moves game design, Gradius V actually features a significant strategic element in its weapon configuration and power-up system.
When you first begin play (or when you use a continue after all your lives are spent), you'll get to choose from one of four different weapon configurations by default. The main difference between these is in how you'll be able to control your multiples (also known as "options" in some of the other Gradius games), which are invincible floating drones that follow your ship and multiply your damage-dealing potential by adding to your firepower. In the first weapon configuration, your multiples will normally trail behind you but can be locked into place at any time by pressing and holding R1 (by default). This action proves very useful for when you need to protect a particular quadrant of your ship, and it actually requires a fair bit of finesse to master. Type two is the most impressive configuration, since it lets you adjust the angle of your multiples' fire when you press and hold R1. So while the Vic Viper is forced to shoot straight ahead at all times, the multiples can be firing in any direction you like. Type three spaces your multiples above and below you, and you can spread them out or draw them closer by toggling R1. This lets you either fan out your firepower or concentrate your damage on a single target. Finally, type four lets you make your multiples orbit around your ship like a shield, which certainly looks cool, but unfortunately, this isn't very helpful since your multiples don't actually deflect enemy fire. Nevertheless, it's interesting to experiment with each of the available ship configurations as you're inevitably forced to replay the early stages of the game.
- Player Reviews: 20
- Game Universe:
- Gradius (working title) (PS3),
- Gradius Collection (PSP),
- Gradius V (PS2),
- Gradius Galaxies (GBA),
- Gradius III and IV (PS2),
- Gradius Gaiden (PS),
- Gradius Deluxe Pack (PS, SAT, PC),
- Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou (TCD, X68),
- Gradius: The Interstellar Assault (GB),
- Gradius (ARC, C64, NES, TG16, MOBILE, X68, PC88, X1)
- Offline Modes:
- Number of Players: