Review by TheSAMMIES
"Myths can be disproven. Legends never die."
Gradius IV's subtitle is Fukkatsu, which roughly translates to resurrection in Japanese. The series had been out of arcades for years, the previous entry, Gradius Gaiden, being exclusive to Playstation owners. Gradius IV never left Japan. Why? Because it was not very successful and did not make enough money. This could be for a number reasons. Maybe it was the gameplay. Scrolling shooters had evolved tremendously since Gradius' heyday. Modern style shmups need complicated scoring to make playing for the high score more engaging. Gradius IV had unimpressive graphics. They were 3D polygons, but they did not look very good. On top of all of that, the number four is bad luck in Japan. You don't want to play at an unlucky arcade machine, do you? It's just going to eat your money!
Gradius IV is a misunderstood game. Beneath all the flack people give it for its shortcomings, it's actually a very fun and challenging game that deserves a little more respect and a little less series bias. As a Gradius game, it fails to stand out, but as a sidescrolling shooter, it's a lot of fun. It's a step backwards for the series in a few ways, but don't let that scare you off.
Story- Vic Viper saved the universe from a giant brain called Gofer in Gradius II. Gofer has regrown, as he can never truly die and is causing havoc in the Gradius system. Those Bacterians are tricky, aren't they? They keep coming back from the dead and using their psychic mind control to take entire space fleets. Gradius was never a game you played for the story. It's a game people play because they want to pilot a space ship and shoot down dragons that can breathe fire in space or because they want to play a really hard game and enjoy a challenge. Story just isn't that important here. If you enjoy it, then cool. If you somehow hate the idea of blowing up space dragons and giant brains, then you don't have to worry too much. The story gets upstaged by the gameplay so much that you won't even notice that there is one.
Presentation- Gradius IV is conflicting. Its graphics look terrible, yet it has some of the best music the series has seen. Polygons are smooth and do a good job at imitating sprites, but it just is not the same. Konami has always had astounding sprite work in their arcade games. A great example is in the very first level. It's a call back to the first level of Gradius II, which had fire dragons flying in and out of suns. Gradius IV has liquid metal dragons flying in and out of huge liquid metal balls. It's kind of cool and will probably remind you of that dude from Terminator 2, but something just isn't right. The graphics don't look beautiful and alien like in Gradius II, like you have to wonder whether this world is sci-fi, fantasy, or some kind of beautiful and dangerous dream. Gradius IV's graphics just aren't the same. The magic is gone. The models look dialed in, like someone was using a guide to tell them the proper way to render polygons to resemble certain shapes and using the shapes to try to make an imitation of the kind of creativity seen in previous Gradius games.
The music, on the other hand, is fantastic. It is seriously some of the best music in the series. Some people might tell you that Gradius Gaiden had better music because it was on a CD and Gradius IV was stuck with arcade synth. That doesn't mean a thing. Gradius IV perfectly captures what the music of a Gradius game is like. Tracks can be happy and upbeat. They can be ominous and dark. They can be frantic and express rising tension or danger. It always suits the situation well and makes up for the graphics by being unforgettable and beautiful. If you are into VGM or Video Game Music, you have to check this out. It's both underrated and astounding.
Gameplay- Okay, let's get the bad news out of the way first. There is no Custom Edit mode like there was in Gradius III. You select your upgrade bar from a menu instead of having the option to build your own. Okay, so the gameplay has actually devolved back to Gradius II. This really isn't such a bad thing. Gradius II was a very good game. Mediocre sidescrolling shooters could only wish they could be as good as Gradius II, and that game is from all the way back in the 80s. The fact that it has aged so well and is still fun even today is a testament to how good a game it really is.
Many of the levels are based on designs from earlier Gradius games. This may seem a bit lazy, but there are a few new spins on these level and they still stand on their own without the nostalgia factor. Bosses are amazing, easily the best part of this game. The bosses are generally well designed and require you to really think about how you attack them. They are intense, engaging, and adrenaline pumping fights, some of the best bosses of the Gradius series.
Gradius IV is also very hard. It is not nearly as bad as Gradius III, but it's still difficult. If you enjoy a good challenge, then this should be a good thing. You won't get bored with trying to figure out how to get your way through levels. They require thought and planning ahead more than raw reflexes and twitch reactions. It's a very rewarding experience and is not the disaster jaded Gradius fans will make it out to be.
Cool Fact- Many of the songs are named after classical period gods and epic heroes. Gradius III's subtitle was From Myth Into Legend. There's something powerful about that, like the Gradius series resurrected because death means nothing to a legend that can live on through the pages of epics and the memories of those who experienced them. Maybe I'm looking too deep into this. I don't know.
Also Try- Salamander 2 from the same series is a lot of fun and is just as underrated as Gradius IV. Also, XEXEX is pretty fun too, as far as Konami sidescrolling shooters go.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/01/13
Game Release: Gradius IV (JP, 12/31/98)
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