Review by slutboyfame

"Buried Treasure..."

Gradius V - Playstation 2 - review by slutboy fame

Konami seem to believe that covering-up the code shop responsible for the most recent episode of this game is the best way to market Gradius V. This is a mistake, as the work of Treasure seems to be a unique selling point for most people, shoot-'em-up fans especially. For those who haven't heard of the distinguished outfit, their skill with such titles as Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun both complements and compliments this pensionable series. Being able to rejuvenate Gradius - with a graphical overhaul and a refinement of the game mechanics - without losing the essential feel of the game, is a quite laudable achievement.

These are as sublime. The music, especially, provides a rousing counterpoint to the frenetic action, which is adeptly brought to life by the stylish, slick presentation. It's a slight pity that the action is only broken up twice by the cutscenes, since it would make a welcome change of pace to have the action take a back seat for a few seconds, and have the story fleshed out a little. Taking five seconds to introduce a boss character would at least give the designers a chance to show off their graphics from a different perspective - more so than taking half a minute to introduce you to yourself on level two does, anyway. The background effects are fine, and at times this game looks a little like Starfox, with atmospheric space-stations and such giving way to some beautifully rendered bacterial intestines. Most of the refinement (and your concentration) is centred on the special effects that accompany your foes, the excellent boss characters and the screen-filling firepower you can deliver when you are fully powered-up.

The unflinchingly twitchy gaming won't be to everyone's taste, that's a given. But this game isn't solely about the speed of your reactions. The fifth part of the series gradually introduces you to the mechanic of weaving your ship into tight, claustrophobic corridors. This is ratcheted up significantly on level five, where you enter an asteroid field, and have the option of shooting the multitude of rocks, or using them to shield you from an onslaught of enemy fire. This dynamic is continued by having certain enemies (mainly bosses) fire unavoidable streams of energy, rather than the more usual, easy to avoid bullets. It requires you to take shelter behind scenery, and this cat-and-mouse idea is continued with one of the more annoying foes you face, the option stealer. This pest is introduced if you avoid dying for a specific length of time, to dispel any feeling of invulnerability when you have most of the upgrades installed. The 'options' that get stolen are the most useful power-up and give you a clone ship, which trails behind you to multiply your firepower. At the beginning of the game, you select the behaviour of these options - and this function allows you a little strategy. The two most satisfying ones are probably type two (which allows you to direct the fire in any direction) and type four (which allows you to rotate them around your ship, as a protective shield).

The fairness of Gradius V what is so compelling about the game - since every death is avoidable - although you never get good enough to feel entirely safe. Some of the bosses can be incredibly frustrating, the one at the end of level seven requiring pin-point precision in your movement, and firing. This comes at the end of one of the most difficult levels, and is effectively the finale, since the eighth is a brief repetition of level two. The most satisfying encounter is at the end of level six, and using option type two makes the challenge an almost cerebral one, since you'll have honed your reactions in the preceding levels. Of course, much of your time will be spent in practicing, but fortunately there's an opportunity to have a friend tag along, but this usually leads to some heated arguments rather than any kind of safety in numbers.

This is a fantastic, and at times impossibly tricky game. It is more forgiving than Ikaruga, and anyone frustrated by level four and above in this title will find progress is easier in this game, once you are 'in the zone'. At first, though, your progress will be in what seems like almost imperceptible increments, as you struggle against the difficulty level. Your best bet is to set the difficulty to easy, and turn revival mode off - to allow you to retain some of your firepower when you die. This will give you a fighting chance to get used to dodging, shooting and selecting the right upgrades for your ship. Whether you can take the punishingly frustrating level of difficulty depends on how ready you are to accept defeat as being necessary to progress. In this game, the pursuit of this all-conquering perfection is what makes the game so compelling, so rewarding and so satisfying to get right. You can only hope that Konami will feel the same way about continuing to use Treasure to develop this series, even if they seem loath to admit it.


Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/01/04

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