Five solid 2D side-scrolling arcade shoot 'em ups in one box for the hardcore gamers.

User Rating: 8 | Gradius Portable PSP
The over two decades long battle against the evil Bacterion continues on seemingly forever, and to relive the past battles we won't need to look any further than Gradius Collection on the PSP.

Gradius Collection is an exclusive release on Sony's hand-held PlayStation Portable. It includes five key Gradius games namely; Gradius, Gradius II, Gradius III, Gradius IV: Fukkatsu and Gradius Gaiden. What's unique about this collection is that it gathers previously arcade, PlayStation and Japan exclusive games together into one single package.
The Gradius games have always been known for their iconic 2D side-scrolling outer space shoot 'em up gameplay and inhumane difficulty level. Vic Viper is the main protagonist fighter ship of the series, but other brave fighter ships have joined in the battle in the later titles.

These five games together they present a formidable challenge to any self-proclaimed hardcore gamer with around 40 stages and breath taking non-stop action. Konami has never tried to play or tone down the fact that these games are aimed at highly skilled and hardcore gamers – and that's all part of the charm. But even if you are a shoot 'em up beginner Gradius is worth playing because it will test your limits very, very thoroughly. And if you can beat these games, you can consider yourself truly skilled, because not even luck will help you here.

A quick look at the story line that is outlined in the games included in this package;

* Gradius – The first game in the series from 1985. Vic Viper's first battle against the Bacterion Empire.
* Gradius II – The sequel dating back to 1988. Vic Viper is sent to fight Gofer, the special force of the Bacterion.
* Gradius III – The third game in the series from 1989. The mysterious Bacterion force called "Dark Force" is manifesting in the galaxy. Vic Viper sent to destroy Bacterion once and for all.
* Gradius IV: Fukkatsu – The fourth game that follows the main story line, released in 1998. The Bacterion is finally defeated. But soon another invasion begins and it totally destroys the Gradius defense forces. Vic Viper is again the only hope to save the planet.
* Gradius Gaiden – The first game in the Gradius series to be exclusively released for home consoles. It is considered to have a stand-alone story and was released in 1997. The mysterious Black Nebula invasion force emerges and becomes a menace, engulfing nearby planets and colonies. Four new hyper fighter ships, Vic Viper among them, are sent to eliminate the threat.

The games in this compilation have many similarities – they can all be played in either full screen or wide screen modes, and they are basically perfect ports of their original versions so all the original content is intact and looking as good as ever. This means that Gradius, Gradius II, Gradius III and Gradius IV: Fukkatsu are perfect arcade ports while Gradius Gaiden is a perfect PlayStation port - save for a two player mode. But other than that you get only the best of the best.
The basic gameplay mechanics are also the same in all the games. You control a space ship fighting all sorts of alien life forms and enemy space ships in various planets and environments in a left-to-right scrolling level. Occasionally the level widens and allows scrolling both up and down, which enables truly epic battles across huge battle fields. The basic goal of the game is to simply beat the bosses at the end of each level. To better your chances you can collect power-up capsules which will enable you to activate new and better weapons on your ship.

For each game you can adjust a few different options. The most important option would be the difficulty level – a higher difficulty level means that there will be more enemies and they will fire more and faster bullets. But let me tell you: even at the "easy" and "normal" settings these games are refreshingly hard.
You can save your game at any time which basically renders high score tables meaningless. It also means that you can keep loading that saved game every time you die, so you could use this to cheat your way through all the games if you would want to.
Some games starts you off with nine credits, which will allow you to continue your game even after you've lost your first few lives. In the other games you are simply given infinite credits. There's an option to adjust how many lives you're granted per each such credit effectively increasing the amounts of tries you are given to beat the game. You can also choose if you want the game to automatically select which power-ups gets activated when you collect capsules, so there is some help there for those that find the games too hard.

On the main menu you can select which of the Gradius games you want to play. In this menu you'll also have the option to load any previously saved game which will upon load automatically start up that game making it fast and easy to get back to into the action. It's also easy to switch between the different games.
The main menu also features the Gallery mode where you can listen to the music from all the five games and see three different animated CGI movies relating to each of the five games with a total run time around eight minutes. While these movies do vaguely portray the story of the games they're more like music videos, but awesome nonetheless.

In Gradius you die from one single hit unless you happen you have collected enough capsules to enable the force field power. When you die, you will lose all the weapons you have collected, which certainly feels daunting every time it happens. Each stage has four (or so) checkpoints that will act as returning points when you die, so you must replay a short segment of the stage every time you die. This is may feel like a severe punishment, but it also allows you to learn from your mistakes and memorize enemy attack patterns – and this is something that is an absolute must sometimes!

The many bosses you'll fight throughout these 40 stage all have their special attack patterns – many of which you must memorize and learn in order to have a fair chance at beating them. Having some extra weapons certainly makes most bosses easier – but to truly master the game, you should be able to defeat bosses without any power-ups. Why? Because there's always a risk that you get into that situation if you happen to die on a boss and fail to collect any new capsules before meeting it again.
The excitement in Gradius lies in dodging heaps of enemy bullets and environmental hazards while blasting anything that moves. You really need practice and sharp reflexes to be able to get anywhere – and that's exactly how arcade shoot 'em ups are supposed to be.

The shortcomings that follows this package are that the D-pad of the PSP console isn't very good for rapid high precision movement. Diagonal movement can be troublesome and you'll probably end up losing many ships because of this. The thumbstick is even worse as the precision needed just isn't there. What's more; because of the hectic nature of Gradius games you'll find yourself rapidly tapping both the buttons and the D-pad which in turn could lead to more deaths - because for every time you aren't holding the PSP perfectly still and you're in a hot spot you're risking your life. That's how tight your performance and focus needs to be.

There is an autofire button that will fire your whole arsenal, but you can choose to fire your main weapon individually and/or manually. This is redundant because in a game like this where you're constantly swarmed with enemies from every angle you'll want to keep that autofire button pressed most of the time.
In the later Gradius games you get to choose what kind of weapons you want to equip your ship with. There are double cannons, tail guns, spread bombs, missiles, vertical cannons, laser beams, control bombs and so on. The different weapons you can have does of course play a big role in how well you'll be able to defeat certain enemies – and the balance always lies between bigger hit areas and more focused power. You'll need to try them out and find what best suits your individual play style.

Taken into respect when each of these Gradius games were originally released, they all look brilliant. They all have aged very well, and most of it doesn't even show signs of their age. The games are all colorful, fast and has very original designs to environments and enemies. There are many wicked, weird, cool and even awesome enemies and bosses that make for a unique experience that is incredibly rich in visual impressions. Many jaw dropping sights await – you'll get to fight insane battles in both snow covered planets, outer space, cave systems, alien scrapyards, mother ships, weird dimensions, ruins and so on.
The frame rate is almost flawless throughout all the games, but it's not solid. Some minor slow downs – almost like a slow motion effect - does occur when the enemies start filling up the screen, but it actually is helpful as it kind of gives you more time to think about your actions. But this is very minor and as far as I know, it's true to the arcade experience.

Gradius games have always had iconic music, so expect nothing less from the Gradius Collection. This is one of the rare occasions where you get to experience the audiotory evolution from cool retro blip-blop-ish sounds to lush arcade quality sound from the late 90's. The later games also has a cool voice that announces what weapons you activate and the weak spots of the bosses you encounter. But the music is what really stands out as a real treat. There are plenty great songs playing in the backgrounds, many of which are insanely catchy and intense – needless to say perfect for games like these!

Gradius Collection is too good to miss. It recaps a legendary part of video gaming history and offers five solid titles collected in one box. If you like hardcore shoot 'em ups, you need this in your collection – no question about it. There are plenty of options to tweak to make the games suit your skill level, so it's not strictly for highly skilled players.
This collection gives you the original games – there are no multiplayer options, no online high score tables – none of that fancy stuff. But does it matter when you have all these great, beautiful and awesome games in the palm of your hand? The replay value is really good – this is one PSP title you'll play now and then for as long as you own the console.
The developers have dedicated the Gradius Collection to all the fans, and let it be known that the fans sends their thanks.