Review by midwinter
"She Bangs! She Bangs!"
A single red strawberry... luscious, juicy and sweet. Pop one in your mouth and it literally oozes goodness, the taste lingering on long after the bowl has been left bare. Try dipping it in a soft sweetened cream however and you'll soon find a taste explosion the likes of which simply cannot be beat. As the flavors gently inter-mingle, their tastes begin to compliment each other in a way that only the two can. Konami's Gradius is the strawberry, Treasure is the cream... and as good as these two elements were separately, bring them together and mouths are sure to water. One is a timeless shooter who's name evokes the most vivid of nostalgia induced flashbacks. The other is a Japanese developer responsible for some of the very best shoot'em ups ever released. Gunstar Heroes, Bangai-O, Ikaruga... oh my. If the pedigree on display here is any example, one of the genre's most fondly remembered franchises is about to set new standards in excellence. Yes, this is going to be very sweet indeed...
The simple things in life are often the best
Words to live by, and a phrase that is without a doubt Gradius V's guiding philosophy of choice. For here is a game that has stayed true to its roots, keeping things real by simplicity alone. While others have sought to add to the genre by including such gimmicks as branching paths, bullet time or combo kills, the Gradius series has constantly eschewed such things in favor of providing players with nothing but the very best of old school shoot'em up thrills. That is, 2d side scrolling mayhem where the odds sit at about 1,000,000 to 1 against. And all you've got to rely upon is a limited number of weapons and some finely tuned hand eye co-ordination. It's once more unto the breach then that players will strap themselves into the classic sleek designs of the Vic Viper and set off in search of an encroaching evil. The who's and whys are mostly unimportant, you need only know that there's a bad guy out there and it's up to you to make the galaxy a safer place. Twitch reflexes on stand-by then my friends, we're going in hot...
As Gradius V opens, players are greeted by a slick adrenalized CG style action sequence that depicts the Vic Viper in all its arse kicking glory. Sweeping down from above, it slices through the enemy fleet with ease, eventually coming face to face with one of the many end of stage guardians... *insert obligatory fireworks here*. Coded with love, this 1 minute mood setting extravaganza gives players a glimpse of what is to come and serves to further fuel their already sky rocketing expectations. Sure it may look like my papa's Gradius, but wow... what's with this glossy exterior?! With such modern trappings behind us, players will eventually find themselves back in familiar territory as they are given a choice of 4 different ship configurations. Ground skimming missiles, positionable satellites called "Options", and lasers that would bore a hole straight through even the most durable of titanium plates. So it's familiar stuff, but then again why would you want to toy with such proven perfection? Yeah, I thought not.
With the most difficult of decisions now behind us, it's time to get out there and show those alien nasties who's boss. And having pressed the start button, players will either be incredibly thankful or instantly dismayed to find that Treasure have once more left things the hell alone. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, the path of least resistance has instead been taken as the classic 2d gameplay should be instantly recognisable to series veterans and genre faithful alike. Shoot down a red enemy and it'll leave a glowing power up. Collect enough of these power ups and you'll be able to upgrade your ship. Rinse, wash, and repeat until you've torn the galaxy a new corn hole. As the burning hot plasma flows from your ship's gun ports, death and destruction is rained down upon the enemy until a lucky shot eventually blows you to smithereens. Before you reach for that reset button however know this... death isn't the impediment it once was. That's right, a quick visit to the menu settings is all that stands between players and salvageable satellites. And before you know it we're back in business... perhaps just in time to stick it to the oh so intimidating end of stage guardian. Tactics don't fail me now!
Though the hardcore may frown upon the concept of taking such handouts, everyone else will be looking to protect their collective backsides as Gradius V stands as the franchise's most significant challenge to date. Make no bones about it, this is one tough hombre! And with a mere 3 credits to go around, players will find themselves pushed to the very limits of human endurance as their reflexes are given the most thorough of work outs. Incoming firepower, alien snake things, fighters and capital ships of all shapes and sizes... if it moves then chances are you're going to feature prominently on its "things to kill" list. There's a healthy variety of classic enemy designs on offer, each of which is sure to evoke the strongest of Saturday afternoon memories. So go on, act fast! Cut left, jinx right, then blast your way forward before the swarms of bad guys close ranks behind you. Urgh someone pass me the Gatorade! If all this rampant death and destruction becomes too much for you then fear not, players can always share the good times with a friend. Double your fun, double the carnage. Everybody wins! No fighting over the power ups though, there's plenty to go around!
As fun as the two player option is however, players may want to give up the controller in order to freely take in the all encompassing beauty that is Gradius V. Sure you may be missing out on its sweet controls and heavy action, but pause for a minute and you'll soon see that the excellent retro gameplay has been evenly matched with some of the most impressive visuals the genre has ever seen. Running at a constantly smooth 60 fps, Gradius V looks every part a next gen classic as its glorious eye candy is pumped out at a retina shattering pace. With lasers tearing up the screen, players are bathed in a warm glow that is both incredibly intoxicating yet extremely lethal. And suddenly we all know how the moth must feel! Bright and vivid, these lasers rip into all approaching enemies with gusto, often resulting in the most satisfying of explosions. Ka-boom! Follow this up with an energizing ye-haw and players will find yet another delectable combination to enjoy.
Up until now you could be forgiven for thinking that Treasure may have dropped the ball on this one. After all, there is no innovation, no genre development, nadda. In fact it would be a fair enough statement to say that this is the very same game you've been playing on and off for the past 20-odd years. New attack patterns, flashier graphics, and perhaps a lot more attitude, but where oh where is the all important breath of fresh air? In response to that question I would pose one of my own, do we really need a Gradius that dares to be different? Sometimes the best in life can get no better, and if you decide to play God for a day then bad things have been known to happen. It's as such that Gradius V is best served as being a 12-gun salute to the past rather than the true sequel its name would seem to imply. It mimics its fore-fathers in such a way that it's respectful of their pedigree while pumping up the graphics to a level that would have made them cry tears of jealousy. The best of the old has been fused with the sweetest of the new... strawberries and cream indeed...
* Hey, it's a 21st century Gradius!
* Simple and pure arcade action, just like your father used to enjoy
* The controls are perfectly tuned to make dodging a breeze
* Each of the weapons is a classic in its own right
* The end of level bosses often require great thought and dexterity in order to take down
* With 8 hellish stages Gradius V is a game that won't be completed overnight
* There's enough here to challenge even the most hardcore of players
* Graphically fans of the genre couldn't have asked for more
* The re-imagined enemies of old look great
* More credits can be earned with extended play
* At $29.99 you simply can't go wrong
* There may not be enough of the ''new'' to please all comers
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 08/10/04, Updated 03/02/05
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