Review by LoneSword11
"A Beautiful Sequel, but Hardly the Best"
Many years ago, I saw this game sitting behind a glass cabinet at the now-obsolete Media Play a couple miles from my house and I just about pissed my 14-year-old pants. A FIFTH Gradius game?! I didn't know there was anything past Gradius III! Of course, in my idiocy I didn't realize that there had been several installments beforehand (i.e.: Gradius III & IV and Gradius Gaiden) and not only that, had never played Gradius or Gradius II. Nevertheless, I begged my mom for the $50 game, to which she obliged (I'll never be able to do that again in my life), and I was practically rabid with excitement on my way home to break open the distant sequel to my beloved Gradius III, powered by far-superior PS2 technology.
I was simply astonished to see Gradius in a completely new, flashy, fully-3D world, filled with all the classic elements I loved, touched up glamorously by new enemies and gameplay. Gradius V keeps the same fun, thrilling Gradius formula and weaponry, but brings to the table a totally revolutionary system, which is new abilities that your multiples can have. Basically, you choose your weapon set, just like in any Gradius game after the first, and depending on which set you choose, your Multiples will have one of the following abilities: Freeze, Direction, Distance, and Rotate. These different abilities affect how you play and what you can do, bringing a totally new style of play to the series. It also had a little snippet of an in-game story which was something totally new to the series.
However, as I progressed through the game, I began to realize that I was dying. A lot. On Easy mode. Even with Revival Start off, where you can now fly back onto the battlefield from where you last kicked the bucket, and can even collect your lost Multiples, the game mercilessly kicks you around. Some of the insanity that the game provides includes, but is not limited to: the ENTIRE screen being filled with meteors, impossible waves of radioactive-acid-gobbledygook being poured on top of you while the level rolls around, and bosses with HOMING LASERS.
The teeth-grinding frustration that ensues is simply immense. I found myself dying more frequently than in R-Type III, and the level design is simply nuts, Bacterion's Fortress being by far the hardest it's ever been in any Gradius game. The game also moves and turns in ways never seen, and you're forced to scroll vertically at points (while still facing right, of course), and even backwards, meaning that if you chose anything other than the Direction Multiple type, you were in serious trouble.
Despite my entertainment turning a bit sour, I found I was still having fun, and the longer I survived at any one point in time, the better I began to feel, until I died and frustration kicked in once more. As a true Gradius fan, I continued to play the game again and again until I finally beat the damn thing. It was far from a relief, however, as I finally remembered that the game had been set to Very Easy, Normal being an unimaginable difficulty at that point. It was a challenge unlike anything I've ever faced.
Graphics/Design: 7/10 - The level's newly fully-rendered engine is truly stunning in comparison to its predecessors. The Vic Viper looks more beautiful than ever, and streaming and gleaming laser effects are something to behold, as well as fiery explosions when the enemies die. Fully-3D backgrounds swirl and spin as the Vic Viper T-301 rolls and twirls its way through the onslaught of enemies. However, such effects cause serious problems in gameplay, as it is easy to get lost in the distracting illusions that the game creates while in the midst of a crush of bullets, usually sending you to your death because you can't see where you're flying. Also, with the smooth models, it's difficult to gauge whether or not you'll be able to make it through that tiny opening in the spray of bullets by a pixel's width if you can't really tell how big a pixel in this game is. And it's beyond the technical aspects, too. The backgrounds are washed-out and colorless, most stages looking like a re-hash of the first level, and enemy and boss design seems very boxy, grey, and unimaginative. Still, all you need to do is spin your lasers around and gawk at the awe-inspiring trail effects to remember that it isn't all THAT bad...
Music/Sound: 5/10 - The game's sound effects certainly beat the hell out of old-school bloops and blorps of previous Gradius games, replacing them with booming explosions, fiery thrusters, HQ zappy laser effects (classic!), and even the inclusion of actual written dialogue that isn't painful to listen to. And your pilot talks! Despite this, Konami may have it made in the sound effects department, the music is totally slacking behind. The background is filled with the droning sound of some kind of inane, generic techno beat or ambiance, a few times with boring pseudo-orchestral tracks. The only time the game picks up any pace is with the Meteor stage, but it's still seems very generic and is not reminiscent at all of the catchy and sometimes majestic tracks from Gradius games of old, songs that would get stuck in your head till you just wanted to dig it out with your hands.
Gameplay/Difficulty: 7/10 - Gradius V follows all of the gameplay standards that makes Gradius games so entertaining, including the power bar, the weapons you know and love, classic enemy formations, and even throws Big Cores at you as heavier battleships rather than bosses. It also brings the Multiple Ability to the mix, and it is awesome. It puts a whole new spin on the game, creating a completely refreshed experience. However, the Direction Mutliple is easily overpowered, allowing you to easily hit anything, anywhere, and overshadows the other Multiple selections. On a different note, the hit box of the Vic Viper has also been reduced to the tiny black cockpit on your ship, which helps counter-act the issues with the bewildering effects. And believe me, you'll need every little pixel you can get. Regardless of these facts, however, know this: Gradius is a hard game series. I just recently found myself screaming at my copy of Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou for the PC Engine because I couldn't get past the damned second level (again). If you think you're going to just walk (or fly! LAWL *kills self*) into a Gradius game and breeze through it, you're sorely mistaken. But this game is hard unlike anything I've ever played. You face cascades upon cascades upon cascades of utter ridiculousness that would turn anyone less than a Gradius ace off from the game entirely. The game, even when on Very Easy (which is the difficulty I play; mind you, I've beaten Gradius III on Arcade mode), pits so much against you, that I didn't even beat the game until I played it so much that I unlocked infinite continues. This game is, by far, the hardest game I have EVER played.
Multiplayer: 7/10 - Some fun challenges await those who wish to take on the Bacterians as a team, and some pretty meaty 2-Player action can ensue. Like Salamander and Gradius Gaiden, you and a buddy can play Gradius V simultaneously, with blue and red color schemes to set your ships apart. The game is played on an endless type of combat, where if you die, you will respawn onto the screen and return to aid your ally. However, when you die, your partner has the option to take the Multiples you dropped when you were destroyed. But that leads to the major flaw with the multiplayer, which is unlike Gradius Gaiden: the number of Multiples. Only four Multiples can be on the screen at any one time, greatly reducing the power and versatility of your individual fighter. Sure, you could exercise strong teamwork, but if you and your friend have strongly varying equipment, the true power of your individual crafts is never fully realized, and you end up being at the mercy of the game's crushing difficulty. Guess you can get a few laughs out of dying in new, exciting ways, though. I know I have.
Replay Value: High - Despite all of its flaws, it has many reasons to come back for more. Alongside 1- and 2-Player modes, Gradius V has Stage Select mode, allowing you to choose any checkpointed area of a level (not just at the beginning!) and play it from there to get some practice in (or perhaps to throw yourself to the wolves on Very Hard...done that a few times). It also has Time Attack mode, as well as a time sensitive feature where if you play the game for enough hours, you will slowly accumulate more continues to use at each new game session, just in case you wanted to actually BEAT the game, which unlocks Gradius III-style Weapon Edit Mode, revealing a new vast array of weapons.
Simply put, this game is a Gradius game, through and through. Vic Viper, Bacterians, Shooting Cores, crazy arrays of bullets and lasers; it's undeniably a Gradius game at heart, and plays like one, even with its wild level design and game-changing new Multiple system. It simply lacks in a few departments that made the previous games so stellar, and its totally insane difficultly makes the previous titles look like a walk in the park. Regardless, perhaps I'm just masochistic, but I still find myself picking up this volume, mercilessly blasting my enemies to bits and feeling like a total pro while I did it. And when I died...so goes the Gradius formula: your vast array of powerups are useless when you're dead. And you just have to suck it up and get them all back. Except this time it's harder. Much, much harder.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/12/10
Game Release: Gradius V (US, 09/14/04)
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