Review by BlankMask
"Everything that's right with Gradius! Except not."
I was very excited to hear about the release of Gradius V, and I took the first opportunity I had to pick it up and try it out , having high expectations for a Gradius game released on a system more powerful than any other console that offered a Gradius title in the past.
My anticipation was met with sore disappointment, and fast.
The instant you start the game and select your weapons (As a fan of the gradius series, the disappointing lack of options for the Type select available to you when you first start was my first disappointment.) it becomes painfully obvious that Treasure was more focused on the visual design of the game than playability. I started the game for the first time in Easy mode, because I didn't want to dive into a game with rumors about its difficulty on a hard setting, but I didn't want to feel like a putz messing around on Very Easy.
And literally, within seconds, and using a totally underpowered ship, you are faced with a quickly growing swarm of enemies that blend in fairly well with a rapidly shifting background as they fire bullets at you, a few even spawn a bullet upon death and hurl it at you. On easy mode. And this is a continuing theme throughout the game. Ridiculous amounts of enemies on very distracting backgrounds and in very tight spaces spewing lots of bullets at you.
Now yes, it's a schmup, and you're probably thinking "But, it's supposed to be difficult."
Well, yes. It's also supposed to be playable.
Let me run through all the flaws this game has, point by point.
* 3D perspective on a 2D scrolling playing field. The game scrolls in the classic 2D style that Gradius has always done, but the problem is, it looks more like the screen is scrolling by rotating a globe behind the Vic Viper. this means that at the top or bottom of the screen, as well as the far left and right, obstacles, enemies, and bullets look further away than they really are, appear to be moving on slightly different trajectories than they really are, and, on some occasions, you can even lose sight of your ship as it moves behind an outline of an obstacle. Until you've been playing this game for a long time, it will be commonplace for you to crash into something when you thought you had a little more maneuvering room, or crash trying to move into something you weren't immediately in danger of crashing into. Another thing that's sure to happen to you is the inevitable crash into an enemy that flew in from the background because sometimes you can't quite tell if they're still flying behind you or if they are level with you.
* Flashy graphics. I'll admit, the game is very beautiful. That is something I can not criticize the game for, the visuals look stunning. The problem? They're a little too stunning. In many cases, they're annoying and distracting. Every enemy explodes into a nice large fireball that obscures your view of bullets and your ship if any are in the explosions. This is very problematic when you are faced with huge fleets of enemies coming at you with bullets coming in from every side. The backgrounds can be, at times, especially in the first two levels, very distracting. In the first level, as I've said, the background is a heavily detailed background that scrolls behind you faster than the actual level scrolls, and scrolls in different directions. This can throw you off badly. The beginning of the second level features you flying the the flames caused by entry of a giant ship into your home planet's atmosphere. A blinding yellow, orange, red, and pink background on which dozens and dozens of little ships and the bullets they fire throw themselves at you from every direction.
*R-Type style memorization required. In many levels, there are a few situations where you must fly along a certain path and position yourself correctly to shoot enemies or else you will be overwhelmed and killed. This is particularly true if you die at any point and have to recover. This is a horrible way to make a game difficult, unless it's a design for an arcade game and you're trying to make money, which this game is not. Bad examples include the sixth stage, where never ending streams of green goop constantly threatens to smother your ship unless you can fly just right around the pools and find safespots to avoid spilling waves of slime as the stage tilts and tumbles, which brings me to my next point...
*The game often scrolls in a direction you can not fire in. Well, the not able to fire in bit isn't entirely true. One of your power ups, if you are not familiar to gradius, is a drone called a Multiple, which follows your ship around and can shoot the same weapons that your ship can, at the same rate, with the same amount of power. And in the game, you can set an extra ability of these Options to be able to fire in a direction besides forward. So you can turn your guns in the direction of the scrolling if you have those Options, but the problem is, new players might not take those options, or, perhaps you died and no longer have the Options around you when you go through these parts.
Anyway, this presents an obvious problem. When the screen is scrolling downwards, and enemies are coming from the bottom, or when the screen is scrolling to the left while you are facing toward the right and enemies are pouring in toward you from behind...
* On top of all these flaws, the game is insanely hard. Immensely hard. Hair-pulllingly, teeth-grindingly hard. I already mentioned that even on easy mode, enemies are not shy about firing their guns, and sometimes, when you kill an enemy, the enemy spawns a bullet where it dies and hurls it at you. It's very off-putting to an inexperienced Gradius V player. Some bosses are relentless no matter what difficulty you play on. On boss features a small battleship that extends arms away from its main body on the rightmost side of the screen, covering the whole side, and 14 or so guns lined up on these arms start spewing bullets at you at rapid fire while dozens of asteroids hurl at you from behind. You're supposed to dodge around the asteroids to take cover from the bullets, but there's so much stuff on the screen at one time to dodge, and unlike shmups from a generation long gone, the PlayStation 2 is powerful enough that it can render all this with no slowdown whatsoever.
All in all, unless you are a heavy masochist, I recommend passing this one over. The insane difficulty makes this virtually unplayable, and if you persevere at it, by the time you're good enough to play through this game no sweat, all the fun and novelty of playing it is worn out.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 07/06/09
Game Release: Gradius V (US, 09/14/04)
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