Review: Gradius V (PS2)

Gradius V
Genre: 2D shooter
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 9/15/04

It’s been a good year for 2-D shooters. R-Type Final, Metal Slug 3. And now Gradius V. How sad is that though, that a good year for shooters is when there are 3 of them? Like the 2D side-scrolling beat ’em up genre, the age of Shooters has passed. It’s too bad too, because a good shooter tends to be one of the best games ever made. They’re beautiful to look at, amazingly difficult, and exceptionally fun.

And there’s no better developer for this genre than Treasure, who Konami got to develop this game, even if GameFAQS accidentally has the Producer (KCET) labeled as the Developer.

Look at the games Treasure has done in the past: Ikaruga, Bangai-O, Gunstar Heroes, Gunbeat, Guardian Heroes, Light Crusader, and the list goes on. They have a great reputation for amazing games. But lately, they’ve been pulling some stinkers. Not only was Stretch Panic a terrible game based on a neat concept, but they manage to create two very bad games involving classic franchised characters. First was Wario World which they made for Nintendo. And second, was their destruction of their own Guardian Heroes legacy by creating the worst game I’ve played on the GBA in all of 2004.

So as you can imagine, I was very nervous about what would happen to Gradius, which is probably the best known 2D shooter franchise in the US. But Konami wouldn’t let the series that gave us THE CODE (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start) go down the crapper would they? And Treasure? They’ve screwed up lately yes, but not a shooter. NEVER a shooter. They won last years Shooter of the Year award for Ikaruga from the Kliq but a nearly unanimous vote. There’s no way they could release two horrible games on the same day for two different publishers, right? RIGHT? RIGHT????

Let’s Review

1. Story

This is the tale of the Vic Viper. If you don’t know that name, hang your head in shame because you are no Shmup fan. But fine, the Vic Viper is the spacecraft you fly in the Gradius series, destroying the Bacterion Empire’s forces, which are bent on universal domination and conquest of all.

Like most shooters, there is little to no plot. You’ve got aliens to kill baby! That’s all you need to know. Shoot first and shoot second. Plot is for the dead.

But Gradius V does try to give a plot besides the typical “gotta kill ’em all” mindset. At the beginning of the second stage, you will encounter a temporal rift and encounter a Vic Viper from the future who has come to keep the Bacterion army from winning this war. But other than that, it’s you shooting up aliens, space ships, and even some characters from other games (Lifeforce fans, prepare to squeal like a little girl who just got a pony for her birthday!).

Gradius V tries for more of a plot than any of the other games in the genre. It’s interesting to see all the shooters this year, like the aforementioned MS3 and R-Type Final have all put more of an emphasis on plot than the previous games in their respective series. Sure, there’s still not much, but any improvement IS an improvement.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Okay. This is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. The backgrounds and cut scenes are jaw-droppingly stunning. I was amazed by the graphics in this game. Especially the opening demo. I was floored by how far these games have come since I was plunking down quarters in a Pizza Hut Galaga machine.

And even better is there is next to no slowdown. I was ecstatic when I had 4 multiples, all with 2 way missiles and there were things exploding all around me and the game didn’t hiccup once. This is a graphical miracle that the internal processors of the PS2 weren’t crying in pain from all that I was seeing on my screen. That’s a total of 15 shots coming from my Vic Viper combined with a few dozen enemies on the screen. No words can describe the feeling I got from how amazing the game looked, especially after starting with this series on the venerable NES.

Then factor in when all the enemies are firing countless rounds off at you, and you have a screen of a lot of explosions and you trying to weave the Vic Viper through a hail of lasers.

The enemy ships and aliens are both realistic and awesome to behold. A lot of fun to just watch the happenings on the screen. But I do have a feeling this game is going to cause seizures in someone..

Best looking Shmup ever. EVER.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

There’s voice acting in this game. I know! Voice acting in a shooter! And it’s pretty good. I mean, it’s not academy award winning, but it serves its purpose and sounds great.

Sound effects are excellent as well. Sure, everything explodes in the same way, but when a boss goes boom, you can’t help but smile and feel like a 7 year old again.

The music adds a great deal of effect to the game as well. Normally in a shooter, one tends to totally tune out the music as it can be a tremendous distraction to all things happening on your screen. After all, in a shooter, even a millimeter off target can mean death.

I love all the sounds in the game. Like the graphics, everything vocal here in this game blends together seamlessly for an amazing experience.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control

Guess, what, besides the D pad (Do NOT play a shooter with the analog. Trust me on this people. There’s very little to worry about. Use the O button to select what special weapon you want. Hold down the X button for non stop shooting, and that’s it. Simple, fun, rewarding, challenging. All things a game should be.

What’s great is there are 4 weapon arrays you can choose from, all distinct from each other, and eventually you can unlock a custom edit where you can design your own set of arrays. WONDERFUL!

My favorite array is Type 2. You get two way missiles, front and back guns, and controllable multiples!!! Multiples are little orange globes that mimic your movements and shots. And with type 2, you can hold down the R1 button and use the analog stick to aim the multiples. It sounds complicated, especially with all that is happening on the screen, but it’s so seamless and easy. I love it! A game where an analog pad doesn’t screw up your Shmup! This can’t be real!

The other types are decent, but Type 2 is far and away the most dominant. It’s what I suggest for one to use when they play.

All in all, this game plays perfectly.

Control Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

Oh my, if you even want to beat this game, you’re going to be playing it for a long, long time indeed. It’s that tough. You’re going to have to be one heck of a pilot to beat this game even the first dozen times you play it.

But what’s great is that the game logs how long you play it. Not how long you have it on, but how long you actually PLAY it. For each hour you play, you get an extra credit or continue. Once you have accrued 17 hours of play time, you get unlimited credits.

Let me say right here, this is the f*cking way to do this. No more wimpy gamers who continue every 5 minutes and abuse the crap out of the continue system then say the game was too short or too easy. No, you have to WORK for those unlimited continues. And if you have put 17 hours into a shooter and you still can’t beat it, then yeah, you have EARNED the non stop credits. And it shuts you up about saying the game is too easy when the truth is that you’re just that damn bad at the game. Hell, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t get past level 3 when I first got the game. Now I can beat level 1 totally loaded up with power ups and without dying once. I admit I am not the greatest shmup player in the world, but I love them.

There’s also other modes, such as Stage Select and score attack which you can then upload scores onto the net. I’m happy with my scores, and I was very highly ranked on the Ikaruga boards, but damn am I looking at some of these scores and shaking my head in disbelief. I look like a newbie compared to some of these guy on the Japanese score rankings. Just gives me all the reason to get that much better. After all, I am the Main Eventah. Too bad this is review month from hell for me or I’d be doing nothing BUT slaughtering Gradius V with the same psychotic frenzy with which I played Ikaruga.

Damn you Treasure. Why must your shooters steal my soul and refuse to give them back to me until I have vanquished your games full of fast flying spacecrafts and hundreds of explosions on my screen at once?

Yeah, this is one of those games you’re going to be playing a year later and still have not mastered. And at $29.99, I can’t recommend a game this month with more value for your buck.

Replayability Rating: 8/10

6. Balance

It’s a shooter. It’s one hit, and you’re dead. It’s amazingly tough and a genre which most of today’s gamers just can’t handle the challenge of or possess the reflexes to play without abusing continues. However, it’s just like any other game in the genre with that respect. It’s a lot faster than R-Type Final and also is about blowing stuff up a lot more than squeezing through type spaces.

Now. Treasure has given you the stage select to help you get better at a level you can’t get past. They’ve given you four different weapon arrays and the ability to unlock a weapon array edit. They’ve given you the ability to earn unlimited credits and thus cheese your way through the game if it’s not something you can beat through sheer skill alone.

Yes, Gradius V is not a game that is high on the toughness scale and nil on the forgiveness scale, but it makes up for it by giving you ways to get better instead of wimping out on the challenge. The day a shooter is not frustrated, is the day there is a bad shooter released.

Balance Rating: 10/10

7. Originality

It’s a shooter. The fifth in the Gradius series. And although there are some new things in the game, a lot of it is still the same original game from the mid 1980’s we all loved with a massive graphical update.

Treasure however has succeeded in regards to what 2D shooters need nowadays; they need to feel familiar and comfortable, yet give new challenges, level designs and tests of your reflexes.

This is an amazing game, and a vast, VAST improvement over Gradius III and IV. But there’s only so much innovation you can do with this genre.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

I don’t want to review Fable or Bubble Bobble Advance or Kingdoms under Fire. I just want to keep playing Gradius. Who cares that I’m the only Kliq member that does timely and quality reviews with the quantity I have been doing this months. I just want to play Gradius. I want to be able to pass the fifth level without using a continue!

My god I love this game. I keep taking breaks from writing this review to play a level, pause the game, and come back to it. This is one of the best shooters ever. It really is. I can’t imagine a fan on this genre not locking themselves away with this game and just playing their little gamer heart out.

If you enjoy this genre at all, please buy this and let all of your passion out into the controller. You won’t be disappointed.

Addictiveness Rating: 10/10

9. Appeal Factor

I hate the average gamer of the 21st century. With their Tomb Raider games that suck but get bought because of boobies. With their Grand Theft Autos where they think killing hookers is fun. With their emphasis on graphics over gameplay. With their inability to appreciate a good game simply because it’s not shoved down their throat with marketing or the publisher didn’t buy a good review from a magazine or website. Most gamers will never get the joy of Gradius V. It’s proof that even gaming can have a generation gap. Most will say it’s too hard. That it’s too fast. That there’s too much on the screen at once.

But you know what? Fuck ’em. Let those gamers have their Final Fantasy where it’s the same game every single time just with new mini games and a different sort of skin over the two-dimensional angst and pathos filled main character. Let them have their newest Madden which is pretty much the same game as it has been every year before with a slight graphical and roster update but costs fifty bucks exposing a form of sports gaming OCD. I’m more than happy to stick with a game that is both cheap and brilliant. I just wish I could get other people into the genre as well. Shooters are the last bastion of constant quality gaming. It’s sad to see their slow death in America. But wonderful to see how great the games still are.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10 Miscellaneous

Up up down down left right left right L1 R1 Start.

Up up down down left right left Right L2 R2 Start.

The code still survives from its humble beginnings in 1986. I can’t explain to you how much this means. Or how awesome Treasure is for putting this in the game. This code, which Konami later added to other games, such as in Contra where it gave you 30 lives, is part of gaming folklore. It’s survived this long. There are T-shirts blazing the code on it. There are casual games that know what that code means even if they have never played Gradius or Contra or Lifeforce or any Konami game that doesn’t have vampires in it. It’s something people who haven’t gamed in forever still know and can tell you what it mean. It’s folklore people. And Treasure has kept it alive. Thank you. Even if you did destroy Guardian Heroes and made me want to poop in a box and keep it under a heat lamp for a fortnight and mail it to you for making such a horrible game and destroying one of your most beloved creations for a cheap buck, all that you did with Gradius V makes me forgive you.

But I will never forget. No, never.

Gradius V is one of those games that I think everyone needs to play. It’s not going to be in stores long, and preplayed versions are going to be expensive after a while Just look at Gradius III and IV. And that disc compilation rather sucked. This game reassures me that shooters still have a lot of life in them if only gamers could be pulled away from their Halos and their WWE wrasslin’ games and tried to see what made this genre one of the most popular back in the 1980’s. To see how graphics and gameplay can merge with a great deal of challenge to give you a gaming experience unlike any other. Play this. Love this. Cherish this. Most of all: OWN THIS. So that we can get more like it.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Treasure has redeemed itself. And only a few days after I had worked myself up into bitter pissy rage that scared our own Bebito Jackson. Gradius V is in a deadlock with Metal Slug Three for best shooter of the year and is, in all honesty, a GOTY contender in my opinion. At only $30, if you own a Playstation 2, you owe it to yourself to experience Gradius V. Love it while you still can, and hopefully I’ll see your name on the scoreboards soon.



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